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All about the bolivars

With the 1,000 bolivar fuertes I had set aside, I was hoping to buy an inflatable Hugo Chavez doll or some other souvenir of the late leader for sale in Venezuela, where I was reporting last week for JTA.

When I got to Simon Bolivar International Airport, however, I discovered that while El Comandante’s image adorns many a poster around town, none of the airport vendors sold Chavez paraphernalia.

No matter, I thought, I’ll just exchange my Venezuelan money for dollars in Miami.

Big mistake.

Because shortly after landing in Florida, it became apparent that outside Venezuela bolivars are essentially worthless.

Exchanges specializing in Latin American currencies like Nicaraguan cordobas, Honduran lempiras and Colobmian pesos would not give me and my thick wad of useless green notes the time of day.

I was stuck, fuerte.

Back in New York, I passed the notes around for my coworkers to see. Turns out they’re real numismatics (people who collect currencies, who knew?).

My difficulty exchanging bolivars served as a reminder of the hardships suffered by 30 million Venezuelans as a result of the fiscal policies of their government. For me, the loss of about $150 stung a little. To them, it is a daily bane. I put the aside 1,000 bolivars for a souvenir of Hugo Chavez. In the end, that’s just what I got.

Check out more about my Venezualen journey covering the Chavez funeral.