El Salvador and Bitcoin: An Uncomfortable Truth

El Salvador's President, Nayib Bukele, declared that his country will embrace Bitcoin as legal cash during this year's Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami.

The Salvadoran Congress adopted his plan to declare Bitcoin legal cash on Wednesday. According to the new law, it is the state's responsibility to support people' financial inclusion, and it is "essential to legalize the circulation of a digital currency whose value responds only to free market parameters" in order to support the nation's economic prosperity.

In Bukele's opinion, that digital money is Bitcoin, and any "economic agent" (merchant) in El Salvador is now compelled by law to accept Bitcoin as payment when provided by a buyer. Furthermore, El Salvadorans can now pay their tax obligations with Bitcoin.

It's too early to say where El Salvador's Bitcoin initiative will lead the country. There are obvious concerns, not least Bitcoin's well-documented price volatility, but we can learn a lot from prominent Bitcoin influencers like Peter McCormack, Caitlin Long, and Michael Saylor who have praised the move.

“Today, the world changes for the better,” tweeted Jack Mallers, who announced Bukele's revelation at the Bitcoin conference in Miami. Humanity has made significant progress in fostering human freedom, financial inclusiveness, and so much more.”

The only issue? El Salvador is far from being a shining example of human liberty and financial inclusion. And it's possible that Bukele isn't the hero Bitcoin is looking for.

Any Bitcoiner will tell you that Bitcoin is the answer to many of the world's financial issues, such as inflation, excessive government spending, and corruption. Fix the money, and the world will be fixed.

Why have Bitcoiners lost their principles now that a government like Bukele's has embraced Bitcoin? El Salvador's descent towards dictatorship has been well documented, but now that the Central American country is front and center on the Bitcoin stage, it's worth examining the country's history.

Behind some of the figures is a highlight reel of Bukele's political decisions, all of which are diametrically opposed to every Bitcoiner who pledges "human freedom, financial inclusiveness, and so much more," as Mallers put it.

Armed military and law enforcement agents escorted Bukele into the country's parliament building in February of last year. The president requested that opposition MPs support his request for a $109 million loan to aid the military and police against criminal gangs, which he said would support the military and police.

Five of Bukele's advisers, including his Chief of Cabinet Carolina Recinos and Minister for Security and Justice Rogelio Rivas, were designated as "credibly alleged" to be corrupt by the US in May of this year. In his management of the COVID-19 epidemic, Bukele's anti-democratic tendencies were on full show. Bukele routinely defied Supreme Court judgments requiring him to protect human rights while enforcing quarantine laws as the virus progressed.

Security personnel are also said to have arbitrarily imprisoned people in detention centers, with hundreds of prisoners being held in "overcrowded, unsanitary circumstances that imperil their health," according to Human Rights Watch. 

El Salvadorean police were captured on camera viciously assaulting an 80-year-old man for allegedly failing to comply with COVID regulations. This is somewhat unsurprising, considering Bukele's clear instruction to law police and the military to "be harder with anyone who violate the quarantine." He also said that if cops "bent someone's wrist" during an arrest, he wouldn't object.

Bitcoin has long been popular among libertarians and other proponents of limited government. Bitcoin's key features, including as peer-to-peer transactions, greater anonymity, and absence of government control, have helped it gain popularity among cypherpunks all around the world.

However, while Bitcoin offers a particular political ideal to those who believe in it, there has been no pushback to an undemocratic head of state adopting it.

Despite this, Bitcoiners on Crypto Twitter have routinely disregarded anybody who raises political concerns.

According to Jason Deane, Bitcoin analyst at Quantum Economics, "there has been some criticism from the media that Bitcoiners should not support a 'pseudo-authoritarian' government adopting Bitcoin as a national currency," "but this reflects a lack of knowledge of what it represents.

Bitcoin, according to Deane, is apolitical. “This is why Bitcoiners in particular—and humanitarians in general—celebrate this as a huge step forward in the quest for individual and (in this case) state monetary independence, and they do so without hesitation.

Others have attempted to reconcile the inherent conflict between Bukele's dictatorship and Bitcoin's supposed potential by drawing a contrast between his record and his opinion on the cryptocurrency.

“I have constantly urged people to praise the deed rather than the leader,” he says. “A significant human rights victory since it will empower Salvadorans, connect them to the rest of the world, and provide them with money that cannot be debased, censored, or remotely confiscated.

The technology behind Bitcoin is truly apolitical. Bitcoiners, on the other hand, have made it obvious that they are not—many of them came to crypto because of their strong political opinions. And, though they may not admit it, their new favorite nation to tweet about, as well as its political leader, are polar opposites of their political principles.


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