For the 15th time this century, Colombia on Wednesday began a process to remove three zeros from its national currency, the peso, in an effort to simplify accounting and hurt money launderers.
The latest attempt was proposed by Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez, who sees it as a way to fight organized crime by making their cash holdings invalid.
“So the old pesos lose circulatory power, that is, they cease to be currency. And if they stop being currency, they’re going to get stuck,” Martinez said in February at a banking conference.
The proposal is supported by the national government, particularly President Juan Manuel Santos and Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas.
“Let this also serve to identify those ill-gotten monies that are “stashed” and that will have to leave and then be confiscated,” Cardenas told journalists in February.
Other benefits according to the government would be to simplify price lists, accounting, and foreign exchange.
Nonetheless, those opposed say it would be too costly and would take too long to change the currency to have any effect on criminals.
“If the implementation is long, underground economies or illegal groups or former groups will quickly know how to replace their currency with foreign exchange and other goods little by little,” said the head of the University of Rosario, Jose Manuel Restrepo.
Colombia’s National Bank estimates changing the currency would cost $140 million.
Changing the currency could also lay waste to new bills which began circulating in 2016, but Cardenas said those bills were purposely written with “mil” instead of three zeroes so it could be crossed off the bill easily.
While the government thinks the change would simplify the daily lives of Colombians, others think it would do the opposite.
“It won’t mean anything because it won’t affect the economy, but it will confuse the user,” said a faculty director of the Free University in Bogota Jorge Rodriguez.