By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The year 2016 was a particularly bad one for Venezuela, with shortages of everything from banknotes to medicine but with an all-time high murder rate, according to analysts.
However, in a speech Wednesday, embattled President Nicolas Maduro claimed he finished 2016 “advancing victorious having defeated all wars.” Maduro has blamed a U.S.-backed "economic war" for everything negative that happens in Venezuela, from inflation, to the cash crunch and, of course, the homicidal murder rate.
There were 28,479 homicides in Venezuela in 2016, or 91.8 killings for every 100,000 inhabitants, where 2015 recorded about 27,875 such events, according to the yearly report of local NGO “Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia”, released Wednesday.
The government only admitted to 18,000 homicides in 2015, partly because a large chunk of homicides was still listed as being “under investigation”, a practice NGO’s here have denounced as just so much cooking of the statistics in order to make the government of Nicolas Maduro look not as bad. In 1998, when the Bolivarian Revolution of Maduro and his mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez began, there were about 5,000 homicides in Venezuela.NO BILLS
As news of the new and tragic record sinks in, Venezuelans still don’t know what they are going to use as cash in 2017, and that uncertainty has already done its part in fostering unrest and downright violence in an already very dangerous country. The new bills promised by Maduro for December 15th had not arrived in banks or businesses as of this writing.
On Christmas week, Maduro ordered the country's largest bill, the Bs 100 (worth about four U.S. cents) out of circulation and worthless in “just 72 hours.”
The measure proved both impossible to implement (the banknote represented 48% of all bills and coins in circulation and more than 70% of liquidity) and highly traumatic: only 36% of Venezuelans have access to debit and/or credit cards and cash is king, particularly in the hinterlands. It wasn’t long before riots began. Maduro recanted and extended the life of the bill until January the 2nd, but to no avail: unrest continued and at least seven more Venezuelans died.
Bad policy made December, already the most murderous month of the year in Venezuela, an even more dangerous one.
“They tell me the Bs 50 coins have started circulating in Catia (a pro-Maduro neighborhood). But nobody has seen them,” a journalist asks a colleague. “Have you seen them?”
The Banesco bank in Los Palos Grandes paid an Bs 18,000 check (about US$4) in all Bs 100 bills, which are hours from becoming extinct. And, at the drugstore and bakery, another new Maduro measure awaits Venezuelans: cash transactions are already paying 12% VAT, while debit and credit card purchases are only levied with a 10% rate.
This year was also the year of three food riots a day (according to another NGO, OVCS) and mere world-class inflation becoming hyperinflation, with Venezuela officially qualifying for entrance in the Hanke-Krus Hyperinflation index.
With a surge in kills and no bills yet, 2017 is looking to be another train wreck of a year for Venezuela.