Domingris Montano did the calculations as she stood in the rain at the midpoint of a queue outside a bank in Caracas. She needed to buy groceries. A package of rice would cost 3,500 bolivars, more than half the daily withdrawal limit, and the automated teller machine might be empty by the time her turn came. Maybe she could hit a few more before dark?
“I’ve had to go to six different ATMs just to get 6,000 bolivars,” said Montano, a 36-year-old hair stylist, poking her head out from under her umbrella to see if the people ahead of her at the Banesco Banco Universal CA branch were moving forward. They weren’t.
Lines are nothing new in Venezuela, where the economy is shattered, inflation is soaring and the currency fell a staggering 67 percent against the U.S. dollar on the black market last month alone — making 6,000 bolivars worth just $1.30. Now added to the indignities of daily life in a country desperately short on most everything except crime is the ATM hustle, as banks crack down on what customers can take out, setting measly maximums.
Resourceful residents employ a variety of tactics, including the multiple debit-card ploy: If you somehow wrangle more than one, you can go to town at the dispenser, to the horror of those behind you. Banks have set it up so people have to retrieve their money in as many as seven transactions — maybe the hope is they’ll get tired and give up — and everyone who can see what’s going on at the window counts. At seven, there’s a sigh of relief that deliverance is a step closer. If a second card appears and the whole process starts over, there’s swearing under the breath and praying the guy doesn’t pull out a third.
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