Visit El Salvador to See That Bukele’s Bitcoin Country is Not Utopian or Totalitarian

Shinobi is an opinion editorialist in the Bitcoin space. I recently spent a week in El Salvador for Adopting Bitcoin. It was a great opportunity to share my impressions of the country, having had the opportunity to visit it myself. The topic of El Salvador has been a highly divisive topic in this space since the announcement of the Bitcoin legal tender legislation in 2021. One side has people cheering blindly on President Nayib Bukele and treating any criticism as FUD or misinformation created to attack Bitcoin and its use. On the other, you have people blindly praising him as a dictator and violator human rights and dismissing any positive thing he does for his country as meaningless in light of his disregard for law. Evidently, I am not a Salvadoran. I have not lived in El Salvador and the time I have spent there has not allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the country or the nature of the problems faced by Salvadorans. However, I have a different perspective from the one I had gained by reading about things online. Although adoption has been slow, the seed is being planted. I was skeptical about the Bitcoin law at its inception. My first article for Bitcoin Magazine was about my concerns over how the law could have negative consequences and collapse if adoption of Bitcoin became too rapid. I saw the promise by El Salvador to convert Bitcoin to USD as something that could go wrong if Bitcoin becomes a major source of remittance payments. This would effectively bankrupt the trust that was established for conversion to the dollar side. This did not happen. The country seems to be experiencing a slow adoption wave. Many businesses that used to accept Bitcoin have stopped accepting it in the past year, according to several people I spoke to. Chivo is still having problems. There are still problems with ATMs when trying to sell bitcoin. The UX flows are terrible, making it difficult to pay at the few businesses that do accept BTC. It is not a “Bitcoin country,” but it does allow you to use Bitcoin anywhere. However, the opportunities to use it in El Salvador are far greater than any other physical location I have visited. Although the seed hasn’t yet sprouted, the plant is already in the ground. Bukele is Moving Beyond BitcoinBukele has accomplished a lot over the past year, despite all the controversy surrounding Bitcoin adoption and use. People in this space pontificating online lose sight of the fact that there is more to the country than just Bitcoin adoption. While Bitcoin is an important part of the plan, it is not the only thing. This is a nation with more than six millions people, and President Bukele is responsible for it. His concern is not, and should never be, to only benefit Bitcoin through his actions in office. El Salvador’s citizens and their well-being are his primary concern. This is his main concern. When I was in El Salvador to Adopt Bitcoin, I met someone who had lived in El Salvador for 10 years and only recently became interested in Bitcoin due to the Bitcoin Law that Bukele passed a year ago. He had nearly a decade of experience in El Salvador before Bukele. The reality was more brutal than any statistics can portray: street merchants were murdered because they couldn’t afford 16 cents of protection money; corruption was widespread across the government; racketeering, robbery, and murder. Gang members would murder, be arrested, and then be on the streets within a few months because it was so easy to bribe officials. He would often go to bed listening to gunshots coming from rival gangs who were fighting for the same block. It was a complete chaos. I can’t imagine living in such an environment. I have lived my whole life in one the most dangerous places in America. All that changed with President Bukele’s declaration this year of martial law and an all out war against the gangs. The results of the year have been dramatic. Nearly 60,000 gang members were arrested. The murder rate has dropped, people are now going out at night when before that was not possible and tourism is increasing. I’m not unfamiliar with living in places where you need to keep your head up and pay attention to the surroundings. But, I never felt that there was any chance of something bad happening. It felt completely safe to me as an outsider. The man who lived there for ten years described it as a completely different country than the one he left 10 years ago. Are there any cases of false arrests. Yes. Is it possible to ignore the due process in order to address the violence in the country? Yes. But what alternative solution would anyone else offer? It was common for people to be killed over small amounts of money. In the United States, many would tell a cashier to keep it as they don’t want that little change in their pockets. While due process is an essential element of a stable society’s foundation, isn’t it more important to be able to live in peace knowing that you won’t be murdered for your pocket money? It is easy for people who are not in the same situation to lecture others about how to handle them. I believe the best approach to the situation should be to think of it as an intellectual exercise with the ultimate goal of finding a solution. The reality is not like that. The real world is messy and perfect solutions are almost impossible to find. To actually encourage economic growth, it is necessary to get rid of the large number of gang members in the country. If gangs are coming in to steal money every day, you can’t have an expanding economy. It is unlikely that anyone from outside the country will want to take their money and put it in such an environment. It is imperfect, but it is a solution. NOTUS Energy from Germany announced its intention to invest $100 million into energy infrastructure in the country. It specifically mentioned security improvements in recent years as a factor. If Bukele and the current government keep going on the same path, it is likely that interest in similar investments will grow. It is not an intellectual exerciseThe Bitcoin Law has not brought El Salvador instant prosperity, but it is laying the foundations for that. Although Chivo still has its problems, there are ways to improve them and create private solutions that meet the needs of El Salvador. Although Bitcoin use has not yet exploded across the country, the seeds have been planted. The crackdown on gangs in this country has not turned the country and economy around overnight, but it has planted the seeds for something. The streets have been cleared of gangs, which has allowed for economic growth where it wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Things are moving in the right directions. People from the outside have attempted to paint Bukele’s efforts as either unimaginable totalitarianism, or a complete process of creating a utopian dream. They are neither, in my opinion. He is a man who is helping Salvadorans to have the freedom and space to create their own economic prosperity. It will take time. No. Is it certain that it will have a positive result? No. He is working as hard as he can to clean up 30 years of corruption after a civil war. Bitcoiners need to take a step back and see that this is a country with real people, not an intellectual exercise to debate on the internet. Things are moving in a positive direction for me, and I hope they continue to do this. This is Shinobi’s guest post. These opinions are not necessarily those of BTC Inc.

 

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