People exchange US dollars and Venezuelan Bolivares "fuertes" bills in Caracas. (AFP PHOTO / Thomas Coex)
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The arrival of a Liberian-flagged freighter with Ukrainian, Arab and Filipino sailors spells one thing for Elena – dollars. And dollars are king in Venezuela, the 32-year-old prostitute says.Within hours of hearing of the ship's imminent arrival, she has packed her bags and is heading to the crumbling city of Puerto Cabello. It is a 450-kilometer journey from her home in the Western state of Zulia that Elena finds herself doing more often now as Venezuela's economy contracts, the bolivar slumps and prices soar. Greenbacks in the black market are worth 11 times more than the official rate as dollars become more scarce in an economy that imports 70 percent of the goods it consumes.The bolivar has fallen to 71 to the dollar from 23 on the black market since President Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez in April 2013 .A typical stint with a dollar-paying foreigner would earn a prostitute about 6,800 bolivares in fees and currency exchange arbitrage in the black market.The price of the credit default swaps implies a 49 percent chance that Venezuela will stop paying bondholders in the next five years.
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