Two dollar bills are relatively rare but are still legal tender and can be ordered from the U.S. Mint. While most Americans may look a little surprised to receive one in Ecuador people are overjoyed.
It all started fifteen years ago when Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency. It was a contentious issue and it still stirs debate to this day. It was so unpopular that when it was first announced protesters took over the capital and the government collapsed. The next government stuck with the plan because The Sucre, Ecuador’s native currency, was in the throes of a decade of hyper-inflation that was destroying the economy.
In 1990 $1 bought you 900 Sucres while in 2000, the Sucre's last year, every citizen was forced to trade 25,000 Sucres for each dollar. The effect was to wipe out the savings of an entire nation.
Today the economy is doing better with GDP growing, poverty coming down and inflation significantly lower. But in the midst of all this economic stability a curious devotion to the $2 bill emerged.
“They bring us good luck. If you keep a $2 bill with you it will bring more money,” said one resident.
The devotion to the two dollar bill seems to stem from Ecuador's strong Catholic majority and long tradition of superstition that dates to before the arrival of the Europeans. Many cities have giant statues of various virgins perched on hills that watch over the city, similar to Brazil's iconic Christ The Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.
When Ecuador dollarized, our Federal Reserve flew them plane loads of cash. They didn't send any two dollar bills though, which makes them rare.
Ecuador actually mints its own coins and mixes them in with U.S. coins that have the same size and value, but all dollar bills are flown down from the Federal Reserve every few years. During years when cash is not delivered tourists add small amounts of new bills while they visit the country.
Breaking out a two dollar bill in a crowded market elicits reactions such as “My God! Look! Look! A two dollar bill” and “How much do you want for each one?”
People willingly pay many times more than face value to get one of the rare bills. As Ecuador moves to a new digital dollar, where each is in theory backed by a physical U.S. bill, demand for twos seems to be un-dented.
“I don’t care if we stop using the dollar,” a woman selling bananas was quoted as saying. “I’m going to hold on to this bill right here.” Holding up her two dollar bill “This will bring me more money no matter what currency we use."