Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:22AM
A man holds up 100-bolivar notes in a market at the Petare shantytown in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 19, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
A man holds up 100-bolivar notes in a market at the Petare shantytown in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 19, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Officials in Venezuela say three people have lost their lives in violence related to cash shortages caused by a government decision to eliminate the largest denomination currency bill in the Latin American country.

The Attorney General’s office said on Monday that a man, a woman, and a 14-year-old boy had been shot dead on Saturday in the town of La Paragua in the southeastern state of Bolivar, which has been the worst hit by chaos and anger over chaotic currency reforms by the government.

The authorities did not explain who shot the three and why. They said 405 people were arrested during the mayhem.

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) disputed the death toll, saying five people had been killed in the state.

Venezuelan National Guard soldiers patrol the streets of La Fria, Tachira State, on December 18, 2016 to prevent further riots. (Photo by AFP)

Violence broke out in Venezuela on Friday after President Nicolas Maduro ordered the removal of 100-bolivar bills from circulation and their replacement with larger-denomination notes. However, a delay in the arrival of new bills left people without the main means of paying for goods and services.

The 100-bolivar note, which is now worth about three US cents on the black market, accounts for 77 percent of the cash in circulation in Venezuela.

Venezuelans had to stand in long lines at cash machines to withdraw money amid the shortage of notes. Lootings were also reported in shops in several cities.

Soldiers patrolled the streets in various parts of Venezuela on Monday as business owners raked through shops already damaged. Residents mounted barricades on the streets to protect themselves and their businesses from further violence.

The new bills finally arrived on Sunday, according to Venezuelan officials, but will take time to enter circulation.

Raimon Moya, a 29-year-old butcher, stood in the safety of a police station 100 meters away from her shop while looters attacked her shop in Bolivar State’s capital of Ciudad Bolivar.

“It’s like watching them kill a child. You work all your life for something, and they destroy it in minutes,” she said.

An employee of a looted local supermarket inspects the damage, in La Fria, Tachira State, Venezuela, December 19, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The Maduro government has justified the elimination of the 100-bolivar bills as a way of strangling mafia and smugglers on the border with neighboring Colombia. The government has closed the borders with Colombia and Brazil.

Venezuela already has the world’s highest inflation rate, which is set to hit 475 percent this year, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The oil-rich South American country is severely short of food, medicine, and basic household goods.

Opposition groups blame the Maduro government’s policies for the economic crisis in Venezuela; the socialist leader, however, has long been claiming that the economic meltdown is the result of a US-sponsored ploy to destabilize the country.