CARACAS Venezuela's bolivar currency hit a record low 100 to the U.S. dollar on the black market on Friday, making the dollar 16 times more expensive than the strongest official rate, according to a website that tracks it.
The sinking rate of the OPEC member's currency on what is known as the "parallel" currency market has been a major headache for President Nicolas Maduro's government which says speculators drive the bolivar down unrealistically.
Government critics say the high price of the greenback on the black market is a symptom of the failure of socialist economic policies begun by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, who ruled from 1999 until his death in 2013.
Importers unable to access dollars at one of the three official rates under the socialist government's currency controls use the black market instead, while some businesses in Venezuela watch it as an unofficial indicator to set prices.
The closely watched dolartoday.com website, which the government has declared illegal and tried to block, quoted the bolivar at 100.49 to the dollar on Friday afternoon. That compared to 41 a year ago on the black market, it said.
Another website, dolarparalelo.org, put Friday's price at 96.69.
The government operates a three-tier currency control system, with the strongest price of 6.3 available only for priority goods like medicines and essential foods. Two other systems provide limited access to dollars at 12 and 50 bolivars respectively.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by David Gregorio)