In El Salvador, the Bitcoin Libertarian Stream meets an autocratic system

1641148824 In El Salvador the Bitcoin Libertarian Stream meets an autocratic

In early June, pre-recorded video informed El Salvador citizens that they were about to take part in a major test. Spokesman Nayib Bukele, the 40-year president of the country, stated that he had a plan for a better future: Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency became a legal tender in the country, he said - the first globe to rise to the same legal status as the US dollar, the national currency of El Salvador since 2001. This would help those without earnings, he said, and those left by banks. But for a plan that meant fighting the Salvadorans, they were clearly absent; Bukele did not even speak Spanish. Instead, the message was played out to a large crowd of international Bitcoin enthusiasts at a conference in Miami.

In the capital of San Salvador, Mario Gomez, a 36-year-old charismatic software developer and founder of a "hungry place" for coders, was skeptical. "I'm not entirely sure about everything these people are selling," he explained later. A fan of open source technology, he does not see himself as an enemy of Bitcoin, but was tempted by how the government seemed to be denouncing bitcoin on its people. So he took to Twitter. Over the past few weeks, criticism of the plan has grown in size, as have the following.

Chivo ATM for the El Salvador national Bitcoin app in Oakland, California.

Photo: Cady Voge

On Aug. 31, Gomez tweeted several slides of an app called Chivo, the upcoming government’s Bitcoin wallet, along with critics. The next morning, he was driving his mother to work, as usual, when he was pulled over by the national police. There was a problem with his car, officials told him, though they would not tell him what the problem was. Gomez remembers feeling more upset than scared. He quickly sent a message to about 8,000 Twitter followers before officers seized his phone. His mother photographed him loaded into the bed of a police truck, which he took to a nearby station and then to another, where he says he was not allowed to get a lawyer. Meanwhile, a complaint on Twitter prompted his release. After six hours, the authorities released him.

Salvadoran police have since said Gomez is being investigated for undisclosed financial crimes, though no charges have been filed. Gomez and lawyers from Cristosal, a human rights group that represents him, claim that the arrest is linked to the information he shared about Chivo and was a source of fear for his talk. -mach. His phone has never been returned, but he has since returned to Twitter, where he says he's still just a commentator related to his work. He finds it somewhat ironic. Bitcoin has long been maintained as a beacon of freedom from banks and governments. And yet, somehow, by opposing his country’s acceptance of Bitcoin, Gomez had become a credible political dissident. The national police did not respond to a request for comment.

Strongman appears

Bukele’s announcement came in June of Bitcoin as he tightened his grip on power. The first sign of a strong man appeared a year earlier, when he lost a legislative vote, he entered the country's Legislative Assembly with police and armed soldiers on all sides. Sitting in the chair reserved for the presidency of the legislature, Bukele prayed to God, who later said he would have patience. He did not have to wait long. In May, after gaining sovereignty in the legislature, the Bukele coalition voted to oust the attorney general and the five members of the country's constitutional court and send loyalists in their place. Shortly afterwards, Bukele devised an extension of his presidential term beyond normal limits.

El Salvador's authoritarian leg has issued warnings from the U.S., which has cracked down on Bukele's close relatives for corruption and says it will shift government support to civil society groups. But within El Salvador, Bukele is in high demand, with opinion polls raising its approval rate by more than 80 percent. For a time he changed his Twitter bio to “the coldest dictator in the world. (He now reads "The President of El Salvador.") The cult of personality is of particular concern, I think, to many because it reminds us of much of Latin America. warlords of the past, ”says Eduardo Gamarra, a political scientist at Florida International University.

Bukele has positioned Bitcoin as an opportunity for Salvadorans, primarily as a way around high taxes for people receiving U.S. dollars from abroad, a stream that represents nearly a quarter of El Salvador's economy. It is said with confidence that the value of Bitcoin will rise, bringing the wealth of the country. But despite Bukele 's size, Salvadorans seems to be routinely unsure of who will benefit. An opinion poll in September found that more than two-thirds of Salvadorans agree with the "Bitcoin Law," and objections to the use of tax money to buy volatile cryptocurrency have attracted thousands. Campaigners such as Gomez say the government has acted too quickly and that the difficult people Bukele says he wants to help those most likely to sustain losses. In the poll, respondents' biggest concerns about Bitcoin were so volatile that they did not know how to use it.

But Bitcoin 's effort has only grown in scale and hype in recent months - much of it driven by Bukele's personal Twitter account. The government is pushing measures to attract foreign investors, including a $ 1 billion Bitcoin-backed bond, economic zones with lax rules, tax breaks, and permanent residence for high-dollar investors. These policies were largely formulated by a small group of presidential advisers, many of them foreign, according to those involved in the negotiations.

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