Venezuelan economy increasingly depends on bartering and dollars

CARACAS, Venezuela – At 21 years old, David Soho trades plantains in the streets of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. He said finding a job has been difficult without work experience, so it was easier for him to start his own business.

Soho barters plantains for items like soap, butter, and rice, which he resells in bulk to a local market. He said he can earn up to $15 on a good day.

“Working elsewhere at the moment is very complicated,” Soho said in Spanish.

To deal with Venezuela’s currency instability, street vendors have been bartering for years, and there appears to be more of them in the streets of Caracas during the coronavirus pandemic.

Artists use Venezuelan devalued banknotes to sell them in downtown Bogota, Colombia, on May 18, 2019. Photo by Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

With hyperinflation, President Nicolas Maduro replaced the bolivar for the bolivar soberano in 2018. Each bolivar soberano was worth about 100,000 bolivares. It became so worthless, street vendors started to use it as craft paper to make art.

The rebranded currency, which Maduro pegged to the Petro cryptocurrency, wasn’t the fix he was hoping for. After his administration relaxed currency controls in 2019, the use of the U.S. dollar accelerated and he welcomed the “dollarization” of Venezuela.

Henkel García, of Ecoanalitica, a Caracas-based consultancy firm, said he is expecting the economy to improve this year, but not because of government policies. He estimates more than 50% of transactions in Venezuelans’ main cities are carried out in U.S. dollars, including Maracaibo with more than 80% of transactions.

Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.