Caracas, October 25, 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) opened a lawsuit in a US federal court in Delaware on Friday against the Miami-based currency website Dollar Today, which it accuses of destabilizing the Venezuelan economy by publishing false exchange rate data.
“Dollar Today is doing harm to the Venezuelan economy by exacerbating inflationary pressures, diminishing Venezuelans’ buying power, and undermining the authority of the Central Bank,” reads a statement by the multinational law firm Squire Patton Boggs on behalf of the BCV.
As the most popular Venezuelan currency website with 1 million visitors daily, Dollar Today publishes an illegal dollar rate for the Venezuelan bolívar that as of Monday is four times the highest official rate of 200 bolívars and 130 times the lowest government rate of 6.3 bolívars per dollar which is used for essential imports.
Since 2003, Venezuela has maintained a three-tiered currency system based on tight exchange controls, in which the government promotes the import of key products such as food and medicines by making dollars available to private importers at subsidized rates.
According to the government, Dollar Today undermines this system by speculating on the value of the bolívar and consequently unleashing an inflationary spiral in Venezuela in which consumer prices soar as the black market bolívar continues to plummet.
Dollar Today reports to base its rate on that used by the currency exchange counters in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, which allegedly sell bolivars at a rate far below that of the Colombian Central Bank, with the full knowledge of Colombian authorities.
Cúcuta is also a key nexus for the illegal cross-border contraband economy that sees thousands of tonnes of subsidized Venezuelan goods, including gasoline and food items, regularly smuggled to Colombia and sold for obscene profits. These are in turn exchanged for bolívars at the black market rate, further fueling Venezuelan inflation, which the government currently estimates to be around 80%.
For Venezuelan authorities, the objective of Dollar Today, which regularly publishes extreme anti-government political commentary in addition to economic information, is political as much as economic destabilization.
The website has also been criticised by Venezuelan economists, as well by entrepreneur Carlos Delgado, the owner of Venezuela’s principle FOREX centre, ItalCambio. They accuse the website of inventing “shameless” and “impossible” exchange rates in a bid to bring the national economy to its knees.
In its official statement regarding the lawsuit last week, the BCV noted that the three Venezuelans behind the website, Gustavo Díaz, Iván Lozada-Salas, and José Enrique Altuve Lozada, “are conspirators who fled to the US after having an important role in the 2002 coup against the Venezuelan government.”
Notwithstanding Dollar Today’s alleged destabilizing role, the BCV has stated that its aim in filing the lawsuit is not to shut down the website, but rather to oblige it to refrain from publishing false information regarding Venezuelan exchange rates as well as pay compensation for damages.
While currently blocked by the Venezuelan government, Dollar Today is consulted by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans via Twitter daily. Many venders in their country also calculate their selling prices based on the website’s illegal rate, which is now considered an offense under the new price regulations approved by the Maduro administration last week.