Is El Salvador’s Bitcoin Experiment Authoritarian Propaganda?

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Is El Salvador’s Bitcoin Experiment Authoritarian Propaganda? (



from the legal-tenderizing dept.

What exactly happened after El Salvador president Nayib Bukele made Bitcoin a legal tender for the country? “As Bitcoin has dropped more than 50 percent of its value this year, there have been suggestions that El Salvador’s investment has pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy,” writes a Salvadoran political/human rights journalist in the New York Times.

“However, implying that the country’s risk of default derives from the crypto-enthusiasm is wrong: The economic turmoil preceded and is bigger than that.” The article notes that prior to their move into Bitcoin, “the Salvadoran economy was already stretched. Total debt amounted to about 90 percent of G.D.P., a large chunk of which had been accumulated by prior administrations or spurred by pandemic-related expenses.”

But what are we missing with this focus on Bitcoin?
Mr. Bukele has weaponized Bitcoin to whitewash his government’s growing authoritarianism on the world stage. By spreading his propaganda, Bitcoin believers are promoting a product — and lining their pockets — at the expense of our rights and livelihoods…. Over the past three months, the government has used a state of emergency to imprison almost 40,000 people, often without defense. Mr. Bukele has begun to crack down on press freedom, through a gag law that prohibits reproducing messages from gangs and his government hasn’t investigated the illegal use of Pegasus spyware to monitor dozens of journalists who cover El Salvador, including me, from independent news outlets between 2020 and 2021. Reporters have already fled the country, fearing reprisal for doing their jobs….

It’s pretty obvious to anyone who visits any place in El Salvador other than its beaches that Mr. Bukele is not building a techno-utopia; he’s building a run-of-the-mill authoritarian state in a tech disguise. Bitcoiners would do well to remember that when they cheer for Mr. Bukele, they’re not ushering in the technology of the future; they’re enabling a regime that’s violating the human rights of its citizens. After all, the economic freedom Bitcoin promises is worth nothing to Salvadorans if it’s the only freedom we can hope to have.

But even ignoring human rights issues — the Bitcoin experiment remains unpopular in El Salvador:

Remittances account for more than 20 percent of El Salvador’s G.D.P., because of a large diaspora mainly based in the United States. But, according to the Central Bank of El Salvador, only 1.5 percent of remittances went through digital wallets in April, which shows Salvadorans haven’t gotten onboard with Bitcoin despite the promise of needed savings. And Mr. Bukele’s plan for selling his Bitcoin bonds has stalled.

Just one year into Mr. Bukele’s Bitcoin experiment, average Salvadorans can tell that Bitcoin isn’t working for them. In May, a national poll showed that 71 percent of Salvadorans said they didn’t see any benefit from the law for their family economy. Another found that about two of every 10 Salvadorans support the decision to adopt Bitcoin. Those Salvadorans haven’t adopted the currency. A paper published in April by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that “despite the legal tender status of Bitcoin and the large incentives implemented by the government, the cryptocurrency is largely not an accepted medium of exchange in El Salvador….” A December national poll showed that only about 11 percent of respondents believed the main beneficiaries of the Bitcoin law are the people, while about 80 percent believed it’s either the rich, foreign investors, banks, businesspeople or the government.

There are three kinds of people: men, women, and unix.


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