Why Venezuelans Are Carrying Backpacks of Cash on the Streets


Terrible hyperinflation is ruining the country’s economy, and could mean the end of Chavizista socialism in upcoming elections

When Cesar Rodriguez travels across Venezuela on business for an aluminum company, he likes to carry the equivalent of $200 in cash as well as his debit card. But since Venezuela now has an inflation rate of more than 150 percent—the worst in the world—that means taking more than 180,000 bolivars, the local currency, which fills up half of a backpack. And with the greater fear of getting mugged, he also stashes bills in his socks and various pants and shirt pockets, in case his bag is taken. “Just making simple transactions has become a real challenge,” says Rodriguez, 42. “I have bills counted out in bundles of 2,000 or 10,000 bolivars, so I can pull them out quickly without showing all my money.”

This hyperinflation has become one of the most visible symbols of the crumbling economy of this South American nation, ruled since 1999 by the socialist alliance of the late Hugo Chavez. The currency crisis has vaporized people’s salaries and contributed to chronic shortages of everything from chicken to toilet paper. The political opposition, which has come together in the Democratic Unity coalition, has put the economy at the heart of its campaign for Congressional elections held on Dec. 6. Recent polls show it ahead by 15 points or more, putting it on a path to break the rule of the socialists, or Chavistas, in the National Assembly after 16 years.