Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I am obliged to learn a new skill this year; how to look at money and detect fakes. In Ecuador, there is a thriving industry in counterfeiting, and it is not unusual to receive a fake five or twenty dollar bill. I have watched everyone who receives a bill of more than one dollar look closely at the bill through the light and mark it with a special marker to ensure it is not a fake. Until today, I have not looked too closely at the money I use, but a taxi driver passed his counterfeited five dollar bill to me today. I did not pay attention until he was long gone, and I don't know if he did it knowingly or not, but I am quite sure there is no recourse (buyer beware!). I did not feel comfortable using it again (I could have simply passed it on), so I held on to it and when I came home I sat under the light and examined it closely. I realized that it did look different, that it was not a perfect copy of an American dollar bill, but on the other hand, it is close enough to survive in circulation for a time.
Ecuador has been using the United States dollar since 2000, in an effort to stabilize the economy. Adopting the dollar makes it impossible to print more money (they do make coins however) and limits inflation and forces fiscal responsibility. There are many arguments for and against dollarization, but in fact, Ecuador appears to have done well with the policy. The economy has improved since the adoption of the dollar.
I am told by Ecuadorians that the dollar has also attracted immigrants and criminals from all the surrounding countries, and that much money laundering is going on all over the country. When I ask about the plethora of construction projects on every corner, I am told that building and renting are routes of investment for 'dirty money', or ways to clean up the money.
Counterfeiting appears to be a successful business, and although people are very cautious and try to check carefully when receiving a suspicious bill, there are fakes in circulation all the time. Fidel told me he could go to the bank and trade the bill for cash, but I have decided that it will be a keepsake for us, part of the many interesting experiences we have encountered in this country.