As Venezuela‘s economy continues to nosedive amid hyperinflation, some drivers are ditching the country’s currency to pay for gasoline — which has long been dirt-cheap because of government subsidies — in favor of food, snacks and cigarettes.
Many have taken up the barter system to fill up their vehicles as the socialist country’s paper currency, the bolivar, is not accepted by some.
“You can pay with a cigarette,” Orlando Molina told The Associated Press while filling up his subcompact Ford Ka in Caracas. “Heck, it’s no secret to anyone that it goes for nothing.”
Some drivers don’t pay anything as gas station attendants wave them through and some attendants don’t even know the price of the dirt-cheap fuel they’re selling.
The trading of items for everyday expenses comes as the bolivar has been rendered almost worthless in the oil-rich nation. City buses and banks have stopped accepting the 50 bolivar bill, the smallest in circulation, which is worth a quarter of a U.S. penny.
The largest bill, 50,000 bolivars, equals $2.50. Many argue it would take a thick wad of bills to pay for even the most modest of items.
Service station attendant Orlando Godoy stacked the food and drinks he received from drivers on top of the pumps — a bag of cooking flour, cooking oil, a bottle of mango juice.
“A lot of people show up saying they don’t have cash to pay,” he told the Associated Press. “The idea is to help people because Venezuelans are going through a rough situation.”
Caracas resident Maria Perez filled up her vehicle recently, paying the equivalent of a U.S. penny.
“Our roads are unbearable,” she said, noting that Venezuelans would gladly pay the true price of gasoline if it meant the government would use the money to improve services and infrastructure. “There are huge holes — craters — that not only damage our cars but also put our own lives at risk.”
Gas prices are a serious issue in Venezuela. It sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves which once made the South American nation one of the western hemisphere’s economic leaders. A tank usually costs the equivalent of a few cents.
But declining oil prices and what critics allege as corruption and mismanagement under President Nicolás Maduro‘s socialist government has wreaked havoc on its economy. Nearly 4 million Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries amid the political and economic crisis that has been dogged by violence, malnutrition and disease and alleged criminal wrongdoing by the government.
Amid the chaos, Maduro has refused to raise gas prices. The state-run oil company, PDVSA, loses billions of dollars annually because of the disparity between the cost to produce gasoline and the price at the pump, Maduro has said.
Officials have blamed U.S. sanctions for gas shortages in parts outside the capital of Caracas, where drivers sometimes wait for days to get fuel.
Maduro’s reluctance to raise fuel prices may be reinforced by the violent protest in Ecuador that began when President Lenín Moreno recently floated ending fuel subsidies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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