Nicolás Maduro’s petro cryptocurrency is still viewed by many as a scam, but with the launch of crypto exchanges such as Amberes, Venezuelans are starting to buy and trade the token for a variety of reasons.
State-sanctioned crypto exchange Amberes reports petro trading is growing steadily in Venezuela. But why? Peculiarity, profit, and politics.
The petro is at once the technological savior of Venezuela’s economy and the biggest fraud ever perpetrated by President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government, depending on which news outlet you read.
It’s easy to sacrifice nuance given the petro’s highly politicized nature: the petro is, of course, Maduro’s pet “cryptocurrency,” while opposition leader and self-appointed interim president, Juan Guaidó, has called it an outright scam and “illegal” under his government.
But regardless of the political stand-off, and who’s really in control of Venezuela’s government, the truth is Venezuelans are slowing beginning to trade petros. They’re doing it on state-sanctioned exchanges and informally among themselves. And they’re doing it for reasons ranging from the practical to the political.
Amberes is one such crypto exchange in Venezuela where petro trading has come alive. Currently, the Venezuelan government only allows the purchase of petros (PTR) through an authorized exchange, using BTC or LTC, or directly from its Sunacrip offices with fiat. A spokeswoman for Amberes, however, tells Decrypt that the exchange is currently the only one that has “enabled the PTR/BTC [trading] pair.”
The spokeswoman for Amberes would not provide precise figures but says trading volume for the petro is on the rise, despite the PTR/BTC pair only having been activated two weeks ago. Crypto trading, in general, has been “increasing year after year” in Venezuela, she says, “which has opened a door in this field to Venezuelans seeking new alternatives to generate income. And trading is definitely one of them.”
Speculating on the price of the petro is certainly one reason for crypto-curious Venezuelans to take the plunge on the state-backed coin. Amberes’s orderbook shows that the petro is currently priced at around 0.0059 BTC (roughly $30 USD), well below the “basket of commodities” peg stipulated by the government.
Other than designating it an official “unit of account,” Maduro’s government isn’t yet making use of the petro—or buying the token back from its citizens. This is providing pragmatic traders an opening—the ability to “invest” in the petro, just as they would on any other shitcoin with low volume. They can currently accumulate the token at meager prices in the hopes of making a profit when the government expands petro trading and starts buying tokens.
Others, it appears, are buying the petro for the sheer novelty: “I made the first purchase to find out what it was like. More than anything, out of curiosity,” says a Venezuelan trader who prefers to remain anonymous, possibly for fear of political repercussions since trading petros is sanctioned by the U.S. government.
The trader adds that while he’s personally unsure if the petro will ever become a “nationally accepted crypto,” the coin currently “works as comfortably as a bank to bank transfer.” He says he plans to swap his petros for bolivars – Venezuela’s national fiat currency -once trading on Amberes “becomes more dynamic.”
But the fact that the petro is gaining genuine traction among Venezulan traders, even if still in low numbers, hasn’t yet entirely removed the shroud of mystery that envelops Venezuela’s official “crypto.”
A second Amberes user tells Decrypt that while more than 300 petros have already been sold on the exchange, there is currently no way to track the transaction history for any of the token pairs that it lists.
“Someone comes in, buys and that’s it—almost all buyers are takers,” he says. “Any purchase order that they put below the sale order is immediately grabbed. But [the transaction history] cannot be seen. I sold a portion [of PTR] and have no way to see it,” says the trader.
Yet even before petro trading went live on Amberes, Venezuelans who purchased the token directly from the government’s National Superintendency of Crypto Assets and Related Activities (Sunacrip) had already begun to trade the coin via informal “over-the-counter trading” groups on Telegram.
One such group, Petro Exchange, is specifically dedicated to promoting and facilitating trades and sales in petros. The group’s users post an ad offering petros in exchange for bolivars, dollars, or other cryptocurrencies, and the interested counterparty responds through the group – never in private – so there is evidence and witnesses to the sale. Petro Exchange users can even opt to pay a small fee the group’s administrator to act as an escrow.