It has been over a year since El Salvador made history by adopting Bitcoin as its official currency. The decision sparked debates among Bitcoin enthusiasts, financial institutions, and the mainstream media. While some hailed it as a groundbreaking step towards a global Bitcoin revolution, others criticized it as a risky gamble by President Nayib Bukele. In this article, we will delve into the actual results of El Salvador’s Bitcoin project, examining its achievements and challenges, and exploring its potential impact on other countries.
According to Samson Mow, the CEO of Jan3 and a prominent proponent of Bitcoin adoption in El Salvador, one of the most significant achievements has been the country’s successful rebranding as a “Bitcoin nation.” This new identity has garnered international attention, attracting investments and boosting tourism, with a reported increase of 30% in tourist visits. El Salvador has become the epicenter of nation-state Bitcoin adoption, positioning itself at the forefront of this evolving financial landscape.
Contrary to media reports suggesting that El Salvador is at risk of default, Mow argues that the country is far from it. In fact, El Salvador’s GDP has been experiencing double-digit growth, surpassing any potential losses from fluctuations in the value of their Bitcoin holdings. Mow estimates that, assuming a marginal tax rate of 20%, El Salvador could generate approximately half a billion in revenues this year alone.
However, the road to Bitcoin adoption has not been without challenges. One notable issue is the Bitcoin payment infrastructure. The government-backed Bitcoin wallet, El Chivo, faced initial bugs and technical glitches. Reports from journalists, such as Joe Hall, who visited El Salvador, highlight the difficulties with Bitcoin payments, stating that “Bitcoin payments in El Salvador suck.” Mow acknowledges the early problems but notes that subsequent improvements have been made, with additional companies joining the efforts. While some issues persist, particularly regarding Lightning network liquidity, El Salvador aims to provide its population with the convenience of digital payments without intermediaries, similar to popular platforms like PayPal or Venmo.
One of the reasons for the relatively lower adoption of Bitcoin in daily transactions is the need for dollar-denominated value. Most merchants still need to collect payments in dollars due to their suppliers’ preference for the traditional currency. To address this, the government launched Chivo to facilitate zero-fee conversions from Bitcoin to dollars. Tourists can pay in Bitcoin, which then gets converted to dollars on the spot, eliminating the risks associated with Bitcoin’s volatility.
Regarding the adoption of Bitcoin as a medium of exchange, Mow argues that for widespread acceptance, Bitcoin’s value must significantly increase and its volatility must decrease. He suggests that educating the population on Bitcoin usage could accelerate adoption. Mow believes that, given the rapid occurrence of currency collapses in history, Bitcoin’s value could reach the million-dollar mark within the next 5-10 years.
In assessing President Nayib Bukele’s leadership, Mow characterizes him as a pragmatist who takes necessary steps to safeguard the country’s future. Bukele’s adoption of Bitcoin is seen as a way to future-proof El Salvador against potential fiat currency collapses. Mow also highlights Bukele’s efforts in combatting crime and ensuring safety, as these factors play crucial roles in economic growth, investment, and tourism.
Looking ahead, El Salvador aims to introduce a groundbreaking initiative: the issuance of Bitcoin bonds. With a plan to sell $1 billion worth of bonds, half of which will be invested in Bitcoin and the other half in Bitcoin infrastructure and the creation of a Bitcoin city, El Salvador seeks to allow all interested parties, including retail investors to participate. Samson Mow, who is credited as the architect of the Bitcoin bonds, explains that the process involves the approval of the law by Congress, the establishment of a regulatory body, and the creation of a prospectus outlining the bond’s design. While the exact availability date is uncertain, it is expected to be around the end of the first quarter or early second quarter of the year.
One notable aspect of the Bitcoin bonds is their accessibility. The initiative aims to allow individual retail investors, including those in El Salvador, to invest in their own country. Through the Bitfinex securities platform, investors can participate with a minimum investment size of about $100, making it more inclusive than traditional bond offerings. The purchased bonds can be stored in digital wallets, such as Blockstream Green or Jan3 AQUA wallets, providing a seamless and secure investment experience.
El Salvador’s move towards adopting Bitcoin as a legal tender has attracted the attention of other countries. The Central African Republic, for instance, recently followed suit, albeit with a different approach. While El Salvador has embraced Bitcoin’s grassroots movement and leveraged community support, the Central African Republic introduced its own altcoin, the Sango coin, alongside the adoption of Bitcoin. This difference underscores the importance of a strong grassroots community to ensure successful adoption.
As countries evaluate El Salvador’s experience, they should consider the balance between top-down and bottom-up initiatives. A combination of government-led efforts and grassroots movements can foster accountability, practicality, and sustainability in the adoption of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
In conclusion, El Salvador’s Bitcoin adoption journey has brought attention, investments, and tourism to the country. While challenges remain, such as improving the Bitcoin payment infrastructure, the nation has made significant strides in positioning itself as a leader in Bitcoin adoption. El Salvador’s success lies in its ability to educate its population on Bitcoin usage and address the need for dollar-denominated transactions. The upcoming introduction of Bitcoin bonds further demonstrates the country’s commitment to exploring innovative financial instruments. As other nations contemplate adopting cryptocurrencies, they can draw valuable lessons from El Salvador’s experience to ensure a well-rounded and inclusive approach.