While Venezuela earns record proceeds from oil exports, consumers face shortages of meat, flour and cooking oil. Annual inflation has risen to 16 percent, the highest in Latin America, as Chávez tripled government spending in four years.
The bolivar has tumbled 30 percent this year to 4,850 per dollar on the black market, the only place it trades freely because of government controls on foreign exchange. That compares with the official rate of 2,150 per dollar set in 2005. Chávez may have to devalue the bolivar to reduce the gap and increase oil proceeds, which make up half the government's revenue.
As the gap between the official exchange rate and the black market rate has increased, so has the incentive to exploit rules, like a regulation that allows people to spend $5,000 a year on their credit cards while traveling abroad.
Some Venezuelans travel to nearby Curaçao, where they buy $5,000 of casino poker chips with their credit cards, exchange the chips for cash and then sell the dollars on the black market back in Caracas.
Chávez, who is seeking to end presidential term limits, has taken $17 billion of foreign reserves from the central bank and expropriated dozens of farms that he deemed underutilized.
He nationalized Venezuela's biggest private electric and telephone utilities and took majority stakes in oil projects owned by Exxon and ConocoPhillips. Foreign direct investment was a negative $881 million in the first half as foreign companies pulled out money.
Chávez terminated the broadcast license of the country's most-watched television network in May, sparking weeks of student protests. He has threatened to take over cement makers, hospitals, banks, supermarkets and butcher shops, saying they were not obeying price controls.