Venezuela has sealed its border with Colombia for 72 hours to prevent cash smuggling after 100 bolivar notes were withdrawn from circulation. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the step was taken as "mafias" were trying to destabilise the economy.
Venezuela's chronic economic crisis, which has been adversely affecting citizens, worsened when the government announced that 100 bolivar notes, worth just 2 or 3 US cents, would no longer be valid from next week. Shortly after the announcement on Sunday, 11 December, people were seen rushing to exchange the withdrawn notes. Many others were also going to the border towns in Colombia to either spend the bolivar while it was still valid or to exchange them for US dollars.
"Let's destroy the mafia before the mafia destroy our country and our economy. This measure was inevitable, it was necessary. The mafias will go bust," the socialist leader said in a televised national address. He also urged his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos to act on the matter.
When Venezuela unilaterally shut the border with Colombia in August 2015, it caused a major disruption in the border region before it was formally sorted out by the two countries.
The Venezuelan ministry of popular power for external relations expressed its "deep concern for the different actions that have been carried out by criminals against the Venezuelan currency and economy from the territory of Colombia through the extraordinary extraction of bills of national currency," according to an official statement.
The Venezuelan government had also announced earlier that six bank notes worth between 500 and 20,000 bolivars would be introduced quickly to handle the currency shortage. There are about six billion 100 bolivar currency notes in circulation, according to the country's Central Bank figures. Officially, the country is suffering from what is known as hyperinflation as the IMF predicts the rate would hit 1,600% in 2017. There is no exact figure available from Venezuela on the rate of inflation.