Venezuela delays removing currency bills amid nationwide protests and chaos

President Nicolas Maduro extended the use of 100-bolivar bills until Jan. 2, after an earlier announcement to pull the highest-denomination bill out of circulation sparked anti-government protests and lootings at scores of shops in the Latin American country.

In a televised address on Saturday, Maduro said the decision to delay scrapping Venezuela’s dominant bank note was prompted because the promised higher-denomination replacement bills were still unavailable, saying that three planes transporting the new notes had become “victims of sabotage.”

The decision to kill the 100-bolivar -which until recently accounted for 77 percent of the cash in circulation in Venezuela- had forced thousands of people from around the country to wait in lines in front of banks to deposit bills or have them changed. Others have had to make purchases with bundles of hard-to-find smaller bills.

Authorities in the southern Bolivar State declared a curfew after people broke into dozens of shops and warehouses in various towns to take out goods. The state governor said 135 people had been arrested during the unrest.

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