Venezuela is currently in the grips of an extreme economic crisis that has their citizens living on barely any food, basic supplies or medicine. Millions of Venezuelans wait in hours-long lines at supermarkets to find empty shelves. Because even plastic is in shortage, there isn't enough to make deodorant containers —people have to bring in their old containers to fill them.
There's no money to buy the items from suppliers. Simply put, the bolivar, the currency of Venezuela, is basically worthless. As we reach the end of 2016 the bolivar is worth around $.0002 to $.0003 cents on the dollar. People are carrying them in trash bags now, they need so many of them.
Venezuela has had their currency and prices under government control since 2003. They set the market at different exchange rates depending on what it is needed for. The bolivar cannot be traded on the open market...officially that is. On the black market, bolivars are traded, but at a very high price.
There's one Venezuelan who's doing something about it, and surprisingly enough he's not even in the homeland anymore. Meet Gustavo Diaz, a 60-year-old retired colonel who works in the hardware section of an Alabama Home Depot. He's also the creator of DolarToday, a site that's very popular with his people and hated by the Venezuelan government.
DolarToday.com tracks the exchange rate for the bolivar using information Diaz gets from black market traders making exchanges on the Venezuelan-Colombian border. The rates put on that site reflect a number much different than the one the government uses. Traders can use info from DolarToday to slip by some of the hardest currency restrictions ever put into effect.
Diaz feels that this is his way of protesting against President NicolásMaduro's harsh economic policies. By giving them access to financial data that's been taken from the people, they can help Venezuelans make the right call in buying and selling black market dollars.
7. The Government's Response to Diaz and DolarToday
It's safe to safe Maduro's not happy the site exists. DolarToday has been repeatedly blocked on the internet and hacked as well. The president has even made a nationally-televised speech calling the site owner "bandits" and threatening to put him behind bars. The Venezuelan government even tried suing them in US court! (It didn't work, of course).
When an economy reaches a point where people think the money is better used as napkins, then there are worst things to worry about. There are rolling blackouts and people aren't having medical procedures because they have to pay for all the supplies. The very government is trading its gold away to pay off its debt.
Diaz was also part of a failed coup in 2002 against Hugo Chavez, and for his troubles received a car bomb attempt on his life. A decade and another continent later, he feels like he is having more of an effect on his native home online than he did in the military.