Cash-strapped Venezuela on Tuesday became the first country to launch its own version of bitcoin, a move President Nicolas Maduro celebrated as putting his country on the world's technological forefront. In its first hours on the market, the so-called petro racked in $735 million worth in purchases, Maduro said, without providing details. The petro is backed by Venezuela's crude oil reserves, the largest in the world, yet it hit the market as the socialist country sinks deeper into an economic crisis marked by soaring inflation and food shortages, the AP reports. "We have taken a giant step into the 21st Century," Maduro said in a nationally broadcast show. "We are on the world's technological vanguard."
The petro's unveiling played out before a live studio audience inside the presidential palace. Maduro authorized payments in cryptocurrency for Venezuela's consulate services and fuel on the border, saying it is just the "kryptonite" Venezuela needs to take on Superman—code for the "imperialist" United States. Venezuelan officials, however, have released few of the nitty-gritty details of how it will work, and analysts offered potential investors fair warning. "My advice would be to tread very carefully with this—especially considering the track record of the Venezuelan government," said Federico Bond, co-founder of Signatura, a digital startup based in Argentina. The US has warned American citizens and companies that buying the petro would mean violating sanctions.