In just over a month, two bank robberies were carried out in Lebanon by people who wanted to withdraw their own money blocked at the branches. On Wednesday (14), a woman organized an armed robbery with friends to take the family’s money and pay for her sister’s cancer treatment. She posted moments of the action on social media and was praised for her attitude.
“My name is Sali Hafiz and I came to collect the deposits of my sister who is dying in the hospital,” she says in the video. “I didn’t come to kill anyone or start a shooting. I came to claim my rights,” she adds.
Another woman who appears in the video claims to have redeemed more than US$ 13 thousand (just over R$ 67 thousand in the current conversion). A man was also carrying what appeared to be wads of plastic-wrapped bills.
In August, a Lebanese man robbed another bank in Beirut at gunpoint to withdraw some of the $200,000 in frozen assets and pay his sick father’s hospital bills. The man was arrested but quickly released. In January, another client detained dozens of people in the east of the country after learning he could not withdraw their savings in foreign currency.
Withdrawal limit and blocked dollars
The government has limited withdrawals to the equivalent of 2,000 reais per month, as Lebanon is experiencing a currency devaluation. In December 1997, the exchange rate was fixed at 1507.5 Lebanese pounds per US dollar. However, since the 2019 economic crisis, exchange at this rate is generally not available and an informal currency market has developed with much higher exchange rates. The economic crisis was reinforced by the Covid-19 pandemic and the explosion of the Port of Beirut in 2020.
“The Central Bank of Lebanon has a liquidity crisis and has taken out loans to pay off other loans. The government cannot generate dollars with exports and, therefore, cannot import either. It is a dire situation”, comments Andrew Traumann, PhD in History and professor of international relations at UniCuritiba.
As a result, the country has one of the lowest minimum wages in the world, hovering around $30 a month. There is also a lack of medicines, fuel and electricity. “Historically, Lebanon has had problems with its energy supply, but power cuts, which used to last for 3 hours a day, now last 12 to 22 hours,” says Traumann.
This situation also results in food insecurity, since without electricity, food cannot be well preserved. Food poisoning has become a common illness in the country.
State hospitals were also unable to guarantee expensive cancer treatments and the health care system collapsed.
Traumann points out that the number of people trying to leave the country has increased by 73% in the last year. Lebanese resort to clandestine ships to try to cross the Mediterranean, experience accidents or fall into the hands of coyotes, who charge large amounts for the service of crossing without safety.
As if the economic and health crisis were not enough, Lebanon is experiencing, once again, a strong polarization between Lebanese Christian forces and Hezbollah in the Parliament elected in May this year. The country is also directly influenced by the geopolitical context in the region, being affected by the negotiations on Iranian nuclear energy and the clashes between Israel and Iran.
Lebanon is in the midst of conflicting dynamics that overtake it, once again, in its turbulent history. Meanwhile, the United States has relaxed support for the country and, since the war in Ukraine broke out, Lebanon has lost ground on the international agenda as a whole.
Despite the clear diagnosis that the country is in a generalized crisis, the authorities are beginning to reveal that they cannot find a way out.
“If we don’t act very quickly, the already catastrophic economic and social situation will get even worse,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Saadé Chami, told the French newspaper. Le Figaro.
Chami is also an economist and the government’s head of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He pointed out that losses in the Lebanese financial sector reached an unprecedented figure: 72 billion dollars (3.5 times the country’s GDP).
“If all the wealth produced annually by all Lebanese were entirely devoted to filling this loss, it would take the country three and a half years to get there,” he explained.
“There is little liquidity in the system and, at this rate, it will run out by the end of the year,” lamented Chami. liquidity and make the machine spin. But it still hasn’t moved.