Venezuelans enjoy Black Friday shopping amid U.S. sanctions
People leave a shop with purchases during the Black Friday sales in Caracas, Venezuela November 29, 2019. /VCG photo

People leave a shop with purchases during the Black Friday sales in Caracas, Venezuela November 29, 2019. /VCG photo

Venezuelans flocked to shopping centers in Caracas, the country's largest city, on Friday to take advantage of the first "Black Friday" discounts in recent memory.

For the first six holiday seasons of his presidency, President Nicolas Maduro attempted to keep consumer goods prices low as the U.S. imposed rounds of sanctions in a continuous effort to suffocate the Venezuelan economy. This year, as other OPEC nations fell under the whip of U.S. sanctions on its oil industry, the Maduro's government had loosed control on its economy. 

"My sister saw it on social media and said, 'Look, there are 70 percent discounts at the Sambil,' and we came running," said Elizabeth Diaz, a 42-year-old bank worker from the city of Los Teques some 35 km (22 miles) from Caracas' Sambil mall, where she was waiting in line outside a toy store to buy gifts for her three grandchildren.

Malls and small retailers across the country advertised discounts of up to 80 percent on goods from shoes to electronics, hoping an influx of Christmas shoppers could compensate for weak sales so far in Venezuela's sixth straight year of economic contraction amid tightening U.S. sanctions. 

In January, the government said it would make price controls more "flexible" and loosen currency controls. That has led to a wider circulation of foreign currency, as Venezuelans turn to the dollar to protect their earnings against a fast-devaluing local bolivar.

The reforms, however, have not revived the economy. Inflation in the nine months through September was 4,680% while commercial activity fell 39.2 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period last year, according to the most recent central bank data. 

But the contours of Venezuela's economic crisis have shifted. While price controls once led to bare supermarket shelves and long lines, stores are now better stocked but with goods.

"Sales are down 50 percent so far this year, so we decided to do Black Friday to get people excited and boost sales," said Rosmary Mogollon, 42, who works at a shoe store in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city, which has been hard-hit by blackouts and gasoline shortages this year. Stores in the western city of San Cristobal also joined the rest of the country in offering discounts.

(With input from agencies)