Venezuelan travelers take 1,400% forex hit

A customer receives money at a currency exchange office in Caracas on February 19, 2015 (AFP Photo/Frederico Parra)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela announced a new system of foreign exchange controls Wednesday, including a 1,400-percent increase in the rate that citizens traveling abroad will have to pay for dollars.

The struggling oil giant, whose import-dependent economy is deep in recession, is facing a foreign currency crunch as depressed crude prices erase its reserves.

In an effort to shore up its foreign cash supply, the socialist government announced that dollars for travelers -- previously available at the rate of 13.5 bolivars -- will now be sold at a fluctuating rate, to be set initially at 206.92 bolivars to the dollar.

The official value of the bolivar is 10 to the dollar, but the black-market rate is more than 1,000 to the dollar.

The new system, the latest tweak to the complex forex controls, establishes two exchange rates: "Dipro," for essential goods such as food and medicine (10 to the dollar) and "Dicom," for travelers able to provide documents proving an upcoming trip overseas.

Venezuela, which relies on oil sales for 96 percent of its foreign currency, owes some $12 billion in unpaid imports. It risks defaulting on its debt if its deep economic crisis continues, ratings agencies say.