Vendor counts Bolivar notes at her stall in Caracas
Caracas - AFP
Venezuela announced Tuesday it was easing strict currency controls by allowing dollars to be bought and sold through banks and brokerage houses.
It was unclear what the impact will be on the value of the bolivar, officially 6.3 to the dollar but many multiples of that on the black market.
The changes are aimed at easing a fiscal deficit aggravated by plunging oil prices amid a severe recession, inflation and shortages of basic goods.
The new system adds a third tier to Venezuela's strict exchange controls.
Importers of vital goods such as food and medicine will still have access to the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars to the dollar.
Importers of other products considered part of the "basic basket" of consumer goods will be able to buy dollars at a rate set by the so-called "Ancillary Foreign Currency Administration System" (SICAD).
That rate will initially be set at 12 bolivars to the dollar but will fluctuate -- within a range controlled by the government -- according to currency auctions.
Others in the market for dollars will now be able to access them through a new "Marginal Currency System" (SIMADI) that the finance ministry said would fluctuate freely according to supply and demand, for the first time since exchange controls were introduced in 2003.
"SIMADI is open, it's a free market where sellers and buyers can exchange with each other," said Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres, promising that further details on the new system would be revealed Wednesday.
Central bank chief Nelson Merentes said the new system would ease the price of the dollar on the black market, where the exchange rate stood at 185 bolivars to the dollar Tuesday.
The high price of dollars in Venezuela has caused crippling inflation of 64 percent and widespread shortages.
The South American country is estimated to have the largest oil reserves in the world but depends largely on imports for basic goods, including food and medicine.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the political heir to late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, is struggling to reverse his flagging popularity ahead of key legislative elections this year.