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

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. It turns out that Venezuela’s petro is hard to spot almost anywhere. Over a period of four months, Reuters spoke with a dozen experts on cryptocurrencies and oil-field valuation, traveled to the site of the pledged oil reserves and scoured the coin’s digital transaction records in an effort to learn more.

The hunt turned up little evidence of a thriving petro trade. The coin is not sold on any major cryptocurrency exchange. No shops are known to accept it. The government pegged the value of the petro to the price of one barrel of Venezuelan oil – currently around $66 – and promised to back it with crude reserves located in a 380-square-kilometer area (147 square miles) surrounding Atapirire. U.S. President Donald Trump in March banned Americans from buying or using the petro. Analysts are skeptical of Maduro’s claims that the petro has already brought in billions in hard currency. They say digital records associated with the initial coin offering, or ICO, do not provide enough information to determine how much, if anything, has actually been raised.

A visit by Reuters to the area around Atapirire, meanwhile, showed little oil-industry activity. The only visible rigs were small and aging machines installed years ago. Several were abandoned and covered in weeds. In an opinion piece posted August 19 on Aporrea, an online Venezuelan commentary and analysis site, former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez estimated it would take at least $20 billion in investment to tap the reserves, money that Venezuela’s troubled state-owned oil company PDVSA does not have.

Special Report: In Venezuela, new cryptocurrency is nowhere to be found, Reuters, Aug 31
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