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Venezuela seals Colombian border as nationals scramble to spend 100-bolivar bills

As Venezuelans prepare for the country's largest note to be taken out of circulation, President Nicolas Maduro has closed the border to Colombia. He has accused "mafias" of plotting to destabilize the economy.

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Inflation-hit Venezuela orders new bank notes

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered on Monday for the border with Colombia to be sealed for 72 hours. The measure is part of crackdown on what Maduro was described as "mafias" who he accuses of conspiring to destabilize his country's economy by hoarding bank notes.

"I have taken the decision to close the border with Colombia for 72 hours," the leftist leader said in a nationally televised address.

Earlier on Monday, supporters of Maduro's socialist party circulated drawings on social media of criminals trying to smuggle cash into Venezuela like drugs.

The president's announcement came just a day after he signed an emergency decree to pull the largest bank note from circulation because of what he called a US-backed plot against Venezuela's troubled economy.

The 100-bolivar bill is currently worth around just 3 US cents at the widely used black market rate.

In the wake of the 100-bolivar note's demise, six bank notes worth between 500 and 20,000 bolivars will be made available, and three new coins. One US dollar can buy up to 4,400 bolivars on the black market.

Rush to spend 100-bolivar bills

Critics have been quick to denounce Maduro's decision to take the 100-bolivar note out of circulation. They argue that Maduro should fight against the use of contraband bills on the Colombia-Venezuela border, and that there was no realistic way for Venezuelans to exchange 100-bolivar bills currently in circulation within the allotted time. Data from the central bank showed there were more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation in November, which is about 48 percent of all bills and coins in use.

As a result, Venezuelans rushed to spend their 100-bolivar notes Monday, before the government's Wednesday deadline for taking the note out of circulation. An estimated third of Venezuelans have no bank account and keep their savings in the soon-to-be-worthless bills.

Maduro also warned on Sunday that people would not be allowed to bring back 100-bolivar bills from outside Venezuela to exchange them for the new bank notes.

No official data exists for inflation in Venezuela in 2016, but economic consultants Ecoanalitica has estimated annual inflation for this year to be more than 500 percent. The Venezuelan currency fell 55 percent against the US dollar on the black market in November.

ksb/kl (AFP, AP) 

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