“Good Muslims pray five times a day. You know what bad Muslims do? Bad Muslims sell carpets! A Visa card makes the carpet fly! And if you buy now, we’ll give you this genuine Turkish imitation Samsonite bag for free!” – Carpet salesman in Cappadoccia, Turkey.
Here’s a little something that I found intriguing and wanted to share with you good folks, particularly you, Emil. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what the purpose is exactly, but I guess there are lots of reasons that a Venezuelan or anybody could need a quick five grand de los verdes. And before I launch into what a taxi driver in Panama explained to me, here’s a link to a blog in Spanish that ponders this same issue. To wit:
In an attempt to justify to me why he had attempted to charge me $10 from the Panama Canal to the Hotel Latino, a trip that had cost $5 in the other direction, my taxi driver launched into an unprovoked 25-minute monologue about what he, a knowledgeable, experienced and all-around bona fide taxi driver could do for me, or, say, a Venezuelan who needed cash. I, no doubt like you folks, had no idea why getting money out of an ATM should be any more difficult for a Venezuelan than, say, a Canadian, whose withdrawals, in extreme cases, may be limited by his stunted intelligence, leading to an inability to operate modern devices properly.
The taxi driver said that big, bad Hugo has limited the amount of money that Venezuelans can spend abroad to $5000 per year. Venezuelans cannot spend more than $5000 on items not quoted in Bolívares, the local currency. And this is where the taxi driver gets off trying to charge ten bucks for a five-buck schlep: he and other shysters like him know where to go to help Venezuelans get that five large in fast cash.
Now why would a Venezuelan not be able to change Bolívares to dólares in Venezuela? I have no idea. I didn’t think to ask. But Hugo must not allow that, either, or else there would be no point to what the taxi driver told me, incidentally, after telling me that he couldn’t tell me. What he told me was that first, the bad Venezuelan has to go to the free zone in Colón, at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal, where shops sell stuff like electronics in bulk. The easiest way to do go to Colón for a bad Venezuelan in a hurry is… wait for it… with my man the taxi driver, who swears he gets no piece of the following action, only the $70 fare to Colón (and likely a $70 fare back to Panama, I suppose, but I didn’t think to ask that, either). Once in Colón, the Vennie has to head to an electronics shop of ill repute, and the taxi driver knows which one this might be. The anti-Chavezite then spends his entire $5000 limit on ten sick TVs, or ten million replacement snaps cell phone covers, but doesn’t take the merchandise. No, he leaves it there, and instead walks out with ninety-something percent of the $5000 purchase price, with the bad Panamanian keeping the rest.
Obviously, this saves the Venezuelan a great deal of time and ATM fees otherwise accrued by withdrawing five Gs at $300 per day. The taxi driver said that a fair number of Hugo-haters come to Panama for this purpose and this purpose only. If anyone knows what the deal is here, or if you, Emil, heard anything about this law during your town on the ground in the Bolivarian Republic, I’d love to hear what you have to say.