The government's announcement drew strong criticism from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who said that the government's heavy spending was to blame for the situation and that officials were trying to slip the change past the public at the start of a long holiday weekend.
"They spent the money on campaigning, corruption, gifts abroad!" Capriles said in one of several messages on his Twitter account. Capriles was defeated by Chavez in an October presidential vote that was preceded by a burst of heavy government spending.
Capriles criticized Vice President Nicolas Maduro's handling of the situation. Maduro, who was named by Chavez as his preferred successor before undergoing cancer surgery Dec. 11, has taken on more responsibilities and a higher profile during the president's nearly two-month absence.
"They give Mr. Maduro a little more time in charge and he finishes with the country," Capriles said. "Look at the inflation in January, and now the devaluation."
Maduro said on television that the measure had been approved by Chavez. He said the change was necessary in response to a recent "speculative attacks" against the country's currency.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.
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