Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, came out Tuesday fighting the acute depreciation of the bolivar against the U.S. dollar by ordering the indictment and jailing of the creators of lechuga.com, a popular website that thousands of Venezuelans consult everyday to check currency exchange quotes in the parallel market.
Maduro issued the order as part of his government’s effort to contain the impact on the economy of the two back-to-back devaluations of the Venezuelan currency. The first one — of 32 percent — was announced on Feb. 7, when the exchange for special sectors went from 4.30 bolivars per dollar to 6.30 bolivars. The second one took place five weeks later, with the decision of auctioning foreign currency for another group of sectors.
Experts attribute the loss of value of the national currency to an economic mismanagement that has prompted Venezuela to experience one of the highest inflation rates on the planet, forcing it to import a large part of the products it consumes.
The annual inflation rate rose to 22.8 percent in February, the highest in 10 months, according to Bloomberg News.
Yet the Venezuelan government sees the bolivar’s loss of value as the result of efforts by the “capitalist oligarchy” to sabotage the national economy.
Maduro, who temporarily assumed the presidency after Hugo Chávez’s death, identified on Tuesday one of the great conspirators against the national currency — the creators of lechuga.com, a website that published the price at which the dollar could be bought on the street.
“This bourgeoisie that doesn’t love the nation has created a perverse mechanism of fixing the so-called parallel dollar through something called lechuga.com,” Maduro said. “I have ordered an investigation and I am asking for expediency so that those behind this economic sabotage through the parallel dollar will go to jail.”
“We have an objective with the complement system: to fully twist the arm of the parallel dollar, and we are going to achieve it,” Maduro said on the program Bolivarian Dialogue. “Those who wish to sabotage our economy are screaming because they know we are going to seize their businesses and we are going to neutralize that disturbing factor of the dollar.”
The Internet page, which had become the point of reference to those who wished to buy dollars in the country, was closed by Tuesday afternoon; so were its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The nation’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, responded immediately to Maduro’s statement.
“I will immediately launch an investigation of the facts that you are denouncing about trafficking of foreign currency and we will defeat the parallel dollar,” Ortega said.
Economists consulted described as ridiculous Maduro’s efforts to try to curb the monetary depreciation by fighting transactions on the street, pointing out that the extremely high levels of monetary liquidity created by the government have turned the bolivar into a currency that very few Venezuelans wish to carry.