Original art by @modográfico

I’ve been watching with concern how the Venezuelan government says something bold and the media rushes to print it. A prime example? This Tuesday’s extremely confusing petro (PTR) launch. The media says the petro was “launched”, but was it really?

As of today, the official website allows you to register — if you’re patient enough to endure a myriad of errors — maybe you’ll get a confirmation email hours later, which you’ll have to click before the timeout expires and only then you can tell the government how much you’re willing to donate to their cause of ruining Venezuela. And when you click the button to buy, nothing will happen.

You can register with a fake name and passport and say you’re going to buy a gazillion PTR. That’s what was launched. There’s no way to actually buy the damn thing or set up a petro wallet.

The network for transferring PTR allows anyone to see the full record of transactions, and there have been zero —  all petros are controlled by one address.

But the most scandalous statement the government gave (and everyone rushed to print) was that they had raised an amount of money so large that it would put the petro team in the top three valuations for Initial Coin Offerings, above teams backed by deep-pocketed venture capital firms.

Now, I won’t bother to publish the figure here for the same reason one shouldn’t print the names or pictures of mass shooters: when a nefarious actor that you want to stop seeks attention, you ignore it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and the evidence here is quite weak. The NEM blockchain (the network for transferring PTR) allows anyone to see the full record of transactions, and there have been zero —  all petros are controlled by one address. So how exactly did they raise that much money? On promises that they’ll send investors PTR in a few days? Who is that gullible?

Caption as of February 22nd, 12 noon: the blockchain shows that one address controls 100 million petros (PTR), 78.6 “petros-presale-transfer”, and 38.4 million “petro-presale” (no, we don’t know what these are).

The figure Maduro gave is an anchor. If you read it, it’s now stuck in your head. If you publish it, it’ll be stuck in your readers’ heads. It’s newsy and it’s part of the strategy to sell their coin to as many people as possible. Combine it with the completely made-up $60-per-petro price (remember, the oil backing is false), and an attractive 60% discount (a mind trick – 60% off an arbitrary price), and you’ve got yourself a good strategy to exploit human irrationality and scam fools.

What should we do when Maduro says he got 8 million votes on the Constituyente? When he says he’s partnering with a huge blockchain company that nobody’s heard of? When he swears he raised one hundred madurillion yuans? That’s right: ignore him.

Calma, pueblo; because the petro hasn’t raised a dime. You claim otherwise? Show me the blockchain transactions and the audited government bank accounts. Then we’ll talk.

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