Chavismo’s Shifting Crypto Strategy

His team didn’t deliver on the promise of raising billions through an ICO.

Photo: Globovisión

Venezuela’s crypto superintendent, Carlos Vargas, left his position on June 20. While his Twitter persona appears to be gracefully passing the baton to his successor, most Venezuelan outlets report he was fired –some even speculated that Maduro ordered his arrest and SEBIN was looking for him. We don’t think that’s true, as some Caracas Chronicles team members saw him partying hard that night at a Caracas nightclub.

Why was he fired, then?  

Well, it’s been four months since the petro was endorsed by Maduro himself, the launch was a technical disaster and his team didn’t deliver on the promise of raising billions through an ICO. Remember back when Maduro said the petro would raise $5 billion, then saying they’d raised $3 billion already? As of today, only 2,266.57 petros have been transferred on the distributed ledger that tracks their every movement. Even if all these petros were bought at a $60 price, the government has raised no more than $136,000.

His team didn’t deliver on the promise of raising billions through an ICO.

What Vargas did deliver on was in setting up a central miner registry aiming to track, tax, and, let’s be honest, coerce and extort cryptocurrency miners in Venezuela. Most miners we know refuse to register: remaining stealthy is widely perceived as the safest option. Once you become legible to the state, you’ll never be in peace.

We know little about the new crypto superintendent, Jocelit Ramírez, and the new team. He’s very close to Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who recently vowed to crack down on bitcoin trades he doesn’t like. Taken together with new recommendations issued by the regime’s top “economists,” and the recent blocking of popular AirTM money exchange service, it seems like the government will be looking to restrict or outright ban cryptocurrencies they don’t control. China has been trying to do this for years, with limited success.

Venezuela’s government has stayed in power by making people subjects of the state. This is partly thanks to its monopoly on the money supply and enforceable capital controls, which is why it was so strange to see them endorsing cryptocurrencies. It was only a matter of time until they realized that censorship-resistant money represents a challenge to their power.

And the time has come.