On March 22 2019, a Facebook user shared the following post (archived here), purportedly showing unfathomable amounts of money discarded in a gutter in Venezuela. A caption said:
This is a street in Venezuela. That’s money in the gutter. It’s worthless. Welcome to socialism.
Although the image lacked any corroborating information (such as location, date, or news links), it was extremely popular. News stories published prior to the images’ circulation reported that Venezuelans increasingly relied on debit cards due to hyperinflation, and in 2016, a New York Times correspondent in Venezuela described using of massive quantities of cash for the same reasons.
Later versions of the same image appeared on other social media sites. An April 2 2019 post to Reddit’s r/The_Donald bore a similar caption:
A March 12 2019 post on Imgur contained a larger set of images from which the first possibly originated. In addition to depicting currency in the streets, the distinctive red and gray sidewalks with yellow curbs were also seen in the image set. Its caption was different, however: “A bank was looted in Venezuela, and then the people burned the money to show it was worthless”:
One commenter requested a link to more information, but only received unrelated articles about Venezuela’s economy in general:
any source please? I can’t find any news related and it’s driving me crazyy
On Twitter, the images appeared alongside varied commentary. Users added it to posts warning India or the United States about the ills of socialism, and in other tweets it was presented as a selling point for cryptocurrencies. The earliest iteration was shared on March 11 2019 to Twitter, alongside a claim that the images depicted the “looting” of a bank:
The bicentenario bank in Merida was looted, people left the Venezuelan bolivars behind and left the money on the street and set fire to piles of Venezuelan bolivars to prove its worthless #Venezuela #SinLuz pic.twitter.com/YJlT2qFPrY
— CNW (@ConflictsW) March 11, 2019
Saquearon el banco bicentenario que está subiendo por la avenida 3 arriba de glorias patrias y querían saquear los árabes, en Merida.
— Williams Dávila (@williamsdavila) March 12, 2019
Banco Bicentenario en Merida fue robado, sólo habían billetes del viejo cono monetario que terminaron tapizando las calles del centro de la ciudad
Venezuela es realismo magico y tragico
Sarai Suarez pic.twitter.com/lIeo2mpw70
— Noelia Belén Izarza 🇻🇪🇺🇸 (@myteks) March 12, 2019
In the second tweet above, the user references the “viejo cono monetario,” which a rough translation indicated that the cash seen in the streets was old money and had been phased out as currency. According to an archived item on a website about world currencies, Venezuela’s underwent a valuation change in August 2018:
On August 20, 2018, the bolivar fort (bolívar fuerte) is replaced by the sovereign bolivar (bolívar soberano) at the rate of 1 sovereign bolivar per 100,000 bolivars strong. The change was originally scheduled for 4 June 2018 at a rate of 1 per 1000 but was eventually postponed by President Nicolás Maduro.
A March 12 2019 article from a Venezuela news site reported on the incident, and a rough translation follows:
On Monday, March 11 , hooded individuals sacked the Bicentenario bank agency on Avenue 3, Glorias Patrias, in Merida state.
That was confirmed by the deputy of the National Assembly Williams Dávila, as well as by the correspondent of El Nacional in the state of Mérida, Leonardo León.
Through the social network Twitter, they reported that citizens scattered piles of old money bills in the streets, which were then set on fire.
León said that after the incident, the troops arrived from the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), State Police Mérida and CICPC [Venezuela’s national police agency].
According to a local news source, the circulating image and other related ones depicted the aftermath of a bank robbery in Mérida, Venezuela. The currency seen in the street was “old money,” largely rendered worthless due to an August 2018 change in its valuation. Although the money in the gutter was of low value, it was “old money” and was discarded as a result of a bank incident. How much the hyperinflation and ensuing mass devaluation had to do with socialism rather economic mismanagement or simple corruption is a matter of debate both on and off social media, but the images are real.