Special Report: In Venezuela, new cryptocurrency is nowhere to be found — Reuters

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by
Kevin Helms

Venezuela has authorized six cryptocurrency exchanges to start selling its national cryptocurrency, the petro, according to the government’s website. The petro, which recently became a Venezuelan national currency, can now be purchased at the six exchanges, local media report.

The Venezuelan government has authorized six websites it claims are cryptocurrency exchanges to market and sell the petro, the country’s new national currency.

The Venezuelan government is entering the cryptocurrency space, and the country claims it has already made a splash with its digital currency, called the petro. The government claimed that the pre-sale of the petro drew in $735 million in investments on the first day.

The government also issued a buyer’s manual and indicated that investors are able to purchase petros using both «hard currencies and cryptocurrencies, but not bolivars, according to Bitcoin.com.

The petro pre-sale was scheduled to begin at 4:00 a.m. UTC on February 20 and was set to take place as a private sale, according to the cryptocurrency whitepaper.

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Venezuela’s oil-backed cryptocurrency is hardly used, and the government has made no move to tap into its oil reserves as promised, a report from Reuters found last week.

The petro can’t be found on any major bitcoin exchange, including Coinbase or Bitfinex, and it isn’t accepted by retailers. Reuters found few buyers through online forums.

Crypto-currencies have faced a lot of criticism since Bitcoin first came on the scene 10 years ago.

But for one group of people, they’re proving very useful.

Venezuela has seen its currency rendered practically valueless after suffering one of the worst periods of hyperinflation since World War Two.

A cup of coffee now costs 2,800 bolivars (21p; 28 cents), up from 0.75 bolivars 12 months ago — an increase of 373,233%, according to Bloomberg data. And that’s after a 2018 devaluation that knocked five zeros off the currency.

More than three million Venezuelans have left the country, as essential goods such as toilet paper and medicine have become unaffordable and crime has soared.

ATAPIRIRE, Venezuela (Reuters) — To hear Venezuela’s leftist President Nicolas Maduro tell it, this remote hamlet of 1,300 souls is perched on the cutting edge of an innovation in cryptocurrency.

Located in an isolated savanna in the center of the country, Atapirire is the only town in an area the government says is brimming with 5 billion barrels of petroleum. Venezuela has pledged those reserves as backing for a digital currency dubbed the “petro,” which Maduro launched in February. This month he vowed it would be the cornerstone of a recovery plan for the crisis-stricken nation.

But Atapirire residents say they have seen no efforts by the government to tap those reserves. And they have little confidence that their struggling village has a front-row seat to a revolution in finance.

“There is no sign of that petro here,” said homemaker Igdalia Diaz.

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Venezuela appears to be leveraging cryptocurrencies as part of a larger effort to bypass US sanctions.

According to an investigation by Spanish newspaper ABC, President Nicolas Maduro and his administration are using a digital wallet app called Jetman Pay to convert tax revenue from one of the country’s main airports into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

The newspaper claims to have unearthed a scheme whereby cryptocurrencies are sent to foreign exchanges in Russia, China, Hong Kong, and Hungary.

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