Its detractors have accused top officials of exploiting the misery of the wider population by acquiring foreign currencies at official rates and then selling them for a huge profit on the black market at a wildly inflated exchange.
- 'Under the table' -
"We started doing it under the table," said the restaurant owner. "We started taking dollars two or three months ago, but if it was known it could hurt our business because we're supposed to declare everything in bolivars."
Asked if it was illegal, he added with a smile: "I don't know, but it's not authorized."
Madeleine runs a small clothing shop with shiny dresses and sparkling shoes aimed at the middle classes that have some money to burn. All prices are listed in dollars.
"Of course! And if anyone asks, I calculate (the price) in bolivars at the day's rate," she said. "Otherwise I lose too much money. I import everything from Los Angeles. I've got to keep the business going."
A liter of long-life milk costs 8,000 bolivars: half the monthly minimum wage. Not everyone is struggling to make ends meet, though.
Venezuela may be facing a humanitarian crisis and rising poverty due to the lack of basic necessities such as food and medicine -- meaning people need dollars to survive -- but there's another side to the country.
"There's a lot of money in Venezuela," said one person who wished to remain anonymous. "I went to a VIP restaurant on Saturday lunchtime, it was full and it cost $150 for two," she said.