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. She launched into a diatribe about her town’s crumbling school, pitted roads, frequent blackouts and perpetually hungry citizens.
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 few buyers Reuters could locate were those who had posted about their experiences on online cryptocurrency forums. None would identify themselves. One complained of being “scammed.” Another told Reuters he had received his tokens without problem; he blamed U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and “awful press” for...