Venezuelan security forces have arrested more than 300 people, including members of the opposition Popular Will and Justice First parties, in protests sparked by the elimination of the country’s most popular currency, the 100 bolivar note, before new notes were ready, President Nicolas Maduro said Sunday.
An economic crisis has engulfed Venezuela amid low oil prices and price controls that led to a three-year recession and shortages of food and medicine. The elimination of the 100 bolivar ($10.01) note, which produced a cash crunch, sparked two days of protests that left one dead and scores of businesses ransacked. More lootings were reported Sunday.
The decision to eliminate the 100 bolivar note led to long lines at banks as Venezuelans attempted to get rid of the bills last week before the ban took effect, the Associated Press reported.
A new batch of currency was due to arrive Sunday afternoon, including notes up to 20,000 bolivars ($2,001.99), but the planes were rerouted, teleSur reported.
Maduro accused the arrested members of the opposition of carrying out U.S. orders to create chaos in the country, and accused U.S. President Barack Obama of trying to incite a coup. He said the elimination of the 100 bolivar note was an effort to urge Venezuelans to use electronic transactions and curb organized crime. However, 40 percent of the population does not have a bank account.
Maduro said the government has collected 4 billion bolivars ($400.4 million) from “financial mafias” that have been hoarding the 100 bolivar notes in what he described as an economic war against the country.
“The only person guilty of the chaos and violence of recent days is Nicolas Maduro,” the Justice First party said.
Protesters across the country burned bolivar notes and railed against Maduro, a former bus driver who has seen his popularity plunge to just 20 percent, according to pollster Datanalisis. Police used tear gas to control protesters and looters in the southern state of Bolivar where some of the worst looting has occurred.
The 100 bolivar note was taken out of circulation Friday, leaving Venezuelans unable to buy food or fill their gas tanks. Maduro then suspended the order Saturday, saying the bill would be valid through Jan. 2, but some businesses were still refusing to accept the notes, Reuters reported.
The opposition has been trying to force Maduro to resign. His term runs through early 2019.
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