Venezuela authorities hunt 'currency tourists'
By Eyanir Chinea
CARACAS (Reuters) - In the immigration area of Venezuela's biggest airport, about a dozen officials in red T-shirts and baseball caps randomly check passengers leaving the country.
The officials are not guards or police: they are bureaucrats at state currency board Cadivi investigating whether travelers' documents match their requests for hard-to-get dollars.
The new checks, launched this month, have contributed to infuriating, hours-long queues at the Simon Bolivar international airport, which serves Caracas, Venezuela's capital.
"Unfortunately, people are always going to try and beat the system," said photographer Francisco Blanco, looking irritated in a slow-moving queue before his flight to Paris.
"The problem is that we still have currency controls. So there are a lot of tricks going on. And with the black market price of the dollar so high, it's difficult to stop them."
So-called "currency tourism" has become a major problem for President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government as Venezuelans make profits using a play on the South American country's tightly regulated foreign exchange system.
There are strict limits on the availability of dollars at the official rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar.
But with an airline ticket, an individual can exchange Venezuelan bolivars for up to $3,000 at that rate. Many of those greenbacks are diverted for sale on the black market, where each dollar can fetch about seven times the official rate. Continued...