The US added another weapon to its armory of sanctions against Venezuela on Monday by prohibiting all US trade in the petro, a digital currency launched by the government of Nicolás Maduro this year in a bid to skirt earlier US measures. In an executive order that takes immediate effect, President Donald Trump banned “all transactions related to, provision of financing for, and other dealings in, by a United States person or within the United States, any digital currency, digital coin, or digital token [issued by the Venezuelan government since January 9]”.
The White House noted that Venezuela’s own democratically elected parliament had already declared the petro unlawful. The Maduro regime launched the petro last month amid great fanfare, saying each token would be backed by one barrel of oil from the country’s vast reserves. It said it planned to issue 100m tokens, potentially raising about $6bn. A month ago it started a presale of the currency at a reference price of $60 per token, claiming to have raised $735m on the first day. According to a white paper, it will begin an initial public offering this Tuesday at the same reference price.
Economists and opponents of the regime have dismissed the petro as a farce, designed to divert attention away from Venezuela’s real problems. The country is suffering one of the biggest economic crises in Latin American history. Its economy has shrunk by about a third over the past five years and the International Monetary Fund expects gross domestic product to contract by 15 percent this year.