Venezuelans recycle their worthless bolivar bills into origami and handicrafts

‘We had a lot of cash but nothing to buy, because in Venezuela your money is worth nothing’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 1:45pm

A family of Venezuelan immigrants to Colombia are repurposing their virtually worthless bolivars into origami-made paper wallets, belts and even purses as the currency plunges further in value amid four-digit inflation.

Each collector item produced by Richard Segovia fetches between US$10 and US$15 – a huge markup from the pennies that bolivars retrieve on Venezuela’s black market.

Segovia, 24, arrived two months ago to the Colombian border city of Cucuta with his wife and a cousin fleeing a dead-end job at a warehouse in Venezuela, where he made the equivalent of just US$2.50 a month. He came up with the idea to make artwork one night when he and his cousin were back in Caracas staring at a pile of cash.

Venezuela’s new 100,000-bolivar bill is only worth US$2.50

“We had a lot of cash but nothing to buy, because in Venezuela your money is worth nothing,” he said.

So, he started folding and creasing Venezuela’s colourful bills into trinkets and then larger creations like purses and bags. Each item consists of around 800 to 1,000 mostly 50 and 100-bolivar notes – with a total cash value of less than 50 US cents.

He has found a sympathetic audience among Colombians looking to extend a helpful hand to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who’ve flooded across the border in recent months.

On a busy day, Segovia can sell as many as 20 items, and a bulk order recently came in from a woman who runs a boutique in Bogota who heard about his creations on local TV.

With his earnings, he manages to send around US$15 to his family in Caracas whenever he can.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough to have breakfast,” he said.

While sales are brisk, he’s hardly living large.

He and his wife, who is five months pregnant, sleep at a flophouse provided for free by a local transport company. They set up shop daily on a busy sidewalk near the bus station, seemingly unconcerned by the prospect of a thief snatching away the piles of money that sit like bricks on their plastic table.

“I’m not going to run out of raw material,” he jokes.