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Venezuela to boost cryptocurrency use amid U.S. sanctions

Venezuela to boost cryptocurrency use amid U.S. sanctions

In a strategic pivot amid tightening U.S. sanctions, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), plans to increase cryptocurrency usage in its crude and fuel exports.

As the U.S. Treasury Department declines to renew critical licenses that facilitated oil trades, PDVSA is accelerating its shift towards digital currency to preserve trade continuity and financial stability, as reported by Reuters

Context and sanctions overview

The Biden administration has taken a firm stance on Venezuelan oil sanctions in light of the government’s failure to comply with agreements designed to ensure fair presidential elections in 2024. Specifically, the expiration of General License 44, which allowed transactions related to Venezuela’s oil and gas sector, marks a significant tightening of sanctions.

A new temporary license has been issued, providing a 45-day wind-down period for businesses to adjust to the new regulations.

Despite the U.S. dollar being the preferred currency for global oil market transactions, PDVSA has progressively transitioned its oil sales to USDT since the last quarter of 2023. 

This digital currency, whose value is pegged to the U.S. dollar, is now required to prepay half of each oil cargo’s value. The company is also requiring all new customers to manage transactions through a digital wallet, a mandate that extends to certain existing contracts as well.

In a recent statement to Reuters, Venezuelan oil minister Pedro Tellechea added that, in some contracts, digital currencies might be the preferred payment method:

We have different currencies, according to what is stated in contracts. 

Pedro Tellechea

Operational challenges and compliance

The unusual nature of these transactions often fails to meet the compliance requirements of traditional traders, necessitating the use of intermediaries. This reliance on middlemen, while facilitating the continuation of oil exports, could potentially reduce the portion of proceeds that PDVSA ultimately receives.

The recent U.S. license allowed trading houses and former PDVSA customers to resume business with Venezuela, but most of them have resorted to intermediaries to meet the digital transaction requirements.

Industry analysts remain skeptical, cautioning that even with approvals from Washington, the overall capacity for Venezuela’s oil output and revenue generation may soon reach its limits

As PDVSA adapts to an increasingly hostile regulatory environment, its move to cryptocurrencies represents a critical effort to maintain operational viability and secure revenue streams. 

The effectiveness of this strategy, however, will depend heavily on the evolving landscape of international sanctions and the company’s ability to manage the complex dynamics of digital currency transactions in the global oil market.

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