Will the Bank of Venezuela be able to operate with the “petro”? That is the question that both market agents and politicians ask themselves when faced with the last order given by socialist leader Nicolás Maduro for the country’s largest bank to operate with the cryptocurrency.
Certainly, Maduro’s announcement on July 3 that all the offices of the state-owned bank will allow users to operate financially with the cryptocurrency can be read as one more attempt by the regime to lift the falling Venezuelan economy.
“I give the express order for petro counters to be opened in all the headquarters of the Bank of Venezuela, so that people can begin to work with the petro all their financial transactions and the one who does not know it (…) can join (…) and have his wallet and petro bank account,” was the text of Maduro’s remarks.
However, the president, whose status is in dispute and who made his statements in the framework of an event celebrating 10 years of the nationalization of the Bank of Venezuela, did not explain more details of this measure.
Moreover, bank president José Morales stated a few days later that the entity will structure “bank counters for transactions with petro,” but there has been no subsequent news about how it would be implemented.
The petro and the Bank of Venezuela: Maduro’s last ‘ditch effort’?
Certainly, the few reactions to Maduro’s announcement about the Bank of Venezuela did not attract attention, as uncertainty has characterized the effective functioning of the ‘petro’ since it was launched in late 2017.
As Maduro explained at the time, the cryptocurrency will be backed by crude coming from a block of the Orinoco Oil Belt, the vast region located in the north of the country that has the largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world.
However, the criticisms did not take long to arrive and, in fact, the National Assembly—made up mostly of opponents of Maduro—declared the currency null and void since, it uses the nation’s oil as a guarantee, a measure that is constitutionally prohibited.
José Guerra, president of the Finance Commission of the National Assembly, said, “How can there be a cryptocurrency that uses oil reserves as a guarantee if they cannot be sold?”
“The petro is not a cryptocurrency,” pointed out the deputy Alfonso Marquina in Twitter, and that in reality the currency “represents a contract of purchase/sale to future whose underlying asset is a barrel of petroleum.”
How could the petro work under the Bank of Venezuela?
After the official launch of the cryptocurrency by Maduro last year, other announcements came, including the publication of the white paper on the functioning of the petro, the creation of the Superintendence of Venezuelan Cryptoactives and Related Activities, and so on.
In the white paper, for example, it is specified that the ‘petro’ will be used as a medium of exchange to acquire goods or services, trust money, and other cryptoactives.
It was also announced that the national government would accept it as a form of payment for contributions, taxes, and fees, according to the price of a barrel of oil in the Venezuelan market the day before.
According to the Venezuelan government, the ‘petro’ moves millions of dollars in the market and can be exchanged for other digital currencies.
However, after many comings and goings, the cryptocurrency has not seemed to take off.
In addition to the Assembly’s declaration of nullity, on March 19, 2018, the White House, through an executive order, prohibited U.S. citizens or individuals in its territory from acquiring or negotiating any digital currency or digital asset issued by the Government of Venezuela.
In fact, not only have politicians criticized the initiative, but specialists like Coinsetter’s Marshall Swatt say that there can be no guarantee that the project will move forward until there is a stable legal system in Venezuela.
And the little evidence on the matter seems to affirm those words: an investigation carried out by Reuters last year determined that the petro is not sold in any important cryptocurrency exchange.
The report—based on data collected over 4 months—details that there are also no known stores that accept it and few buyers who published their experiences in online cryptocurrency forums, and none wanted to identify themselves.
“We have found no evidence that anyone has been issued a petro, nor that it is actively negotiated,” Tom Robinson, a data director and co-founder of Elliptic, a London-based blockchain data company, told the British agency.
“Unlike buyers of well-known crypto coins like Bitcoin or Ethereum, petros headlines are hard to find,” the Reuters report points out.
Will the new announcement by the Bank of Venezuela, which has 790 branches throughout the country, allow millions of people to access the petro? Experience shows that it seems difficult to achieve.