The government of Venezuela has officially terminated its Petro (PTR) cryptocurrency programme, marking the end of an ambitious but troubled endeavor. Launched in 2018 as a measure to support the nation’s struggling currency, the bolivar, Petro was initially backed by Venezuela’s rich oil reserves. However, the programme faced significant challenges and controversies, ultimately leading to its discontinuation on 16 January 2024.
The Petro project was introduced in February 2018 amidst a severe economic crisis in Venezuela, further aggravated by US sanctions. Designed as a supplement to the national currency, the Petro encountered early opposition from the country’s congress, which declared it illegal to issue debt against oil reserves. The situation worsened in 2019 when US authorities sanctioned a Russian bank involved in financing the Petro.
Despite these setbacks, the Venezuelan government made several attempts to integrate Petro into various services. This included mandating its use for obtaining passports and partially pegging the minimum wage to its value. The Petro was also involved in funding a social housing initiative. However, these efforts failed to stabilize the cryptocurrency or address the underlying economic issues.
Corruption Scandal and the Fall of Petro
A significant blow to the Petro came in the form of a corruption scandal relating to the misuse of crypto assets in oil operations. This scandal led to the resignation of the petroleum minister and a crackdown on Bitcoin mining operations, signaling the end of the Petro era. Following the termination of the programme, any remaining Petros are being converted to the bolivar.
The demise of Petro occurs amidst a dynamic cryptocurrency landscape in Latin America. Despite varied legal perspectives on Bitcoin across the region, countries are actively working on local regulations for cryptocurrencies. Notably, Venezuela and Colombia have robust user communities, and there is a growing interest in crypto investment due to factors such as currency volatility, a large unbanked population, and the prevalence of smartphones. These factors have made cryptocurrencies an attractive option for providing financial stability and security in nations like Venezuela and Argentina.