In June, the parliament of El Salvador allowed the use of Bitcoin as an official second currency. That is great news to those earning Bitcoin through trading (you can also learn how to when you visit https://bitcoin360ai.com/de/).
Now the corresponding law has come into force. But many questions remain unanswered. President Bukele seems to want to test his power rather than promote the financial inclusion of his poor country.
In June, the Chamber of Deputies, dominated by a majority of the ruling Nuevas Ideas party, quickly waved through the law to introduce Bitcoin as the official second currency for El Salvador. The law came into force at the beginning of September. It is a very short legal text with only 17 articles. However, the brevity and the unclear or not formulated procedural rules carry a great risk in such sensitive decisions.
President Nayib Bukele announced his decision to introduce Bitcoin during a conference in the US. The conference participants were experts and lovers of technology and cryptocurrencies. At the same time, El Salvador is one of the poorest countries in Latin America.
In his own country, which is about the size of Hesse, Bukele limits his appearances on the subject of Bitcoin to the medium Twitter, which he prefers. So far, there has been no press conference in which the Salvadoran population has been told how to imagine how to deal with Bitcoin.
President Bukele praises the installation of around 200 Bitcoin ATMs on social media almost as a panacea. How the setting of the exchange rate between Bitcoin and the official national currency US dollar is to work, the law does not specify. It is also concealed that when exchanging Bitcoin into US dollars, 5% fees are charged on the transaction.
Opportunities for financial inclusion
Populist Bukele justifies his decision with the opportunities of financial inclusion and the associated freedom that many people will have if they use Bitcoin to enter the formal economy. Bitcoins also have advantages for withdrawing home transfers from the USA, which account for 20% of GDP. For wallet-to-wallet transactions, the withdrawal in El Salvador would be free of charge, but the sender must also have Bitcoin. The government is trying to make the project palatable to citizens by giving everyone $30 in Bitcoin. To a certain extent, Bukele also seems to have the intention of detaching his country from the controls of the international financial system with the introduction of Bitcoin.
In the future, taxes should be able to be paid with Bitcoins, and every company and every business is obliged by law to accept Bitcoins as a means of payment. An app should be used for this. How this works, however, is still unclear. Training and further education opportunities for entrepreneurs or banks have so far been lacking, but they would be urgently needed. Stakeholders are not necessarily critical of the project but are unsettled by the lack of information and the legal basis.
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It is a very high-risk experiment
Although the charismatic president, in the eyes of many, despite his authoritarian traits, remains certain of the approval of most Salvadorans, the risks of the latest decision seem to clearly outweigh the opportunities.
Bitcoin has a very volatile value. In order to pay taxes or fines, for example, the law would have to set the applicable exchange rate of US dollars in Bitcoin. For loans in Bitcoin, this volatility is also an extreme problem. Whether the established trust fund of 150 million US dollars will be able to cushion the volatility of Bitcoin remains open.
Transactions with Bitcoins are registered, but it is difficult to understand who made them from which device. This lack of transparency provides an optimal breeding ground for money laundering and the establishment of a tax haven. This is also the biggest concern of international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody’s. Consequently, it remains to be seen what decision the IMF will make regarding the $1.3 million loan to El Salvador currently under negotiation. It is a very high-risk experiment.
A government test run
The actual motives for Bukele’s decision are assumed to be a possible de-dollarization. That would intensify the confrontation with the US. When in May this year the impeachment of all judges of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General became known as the first decision of the newly elected Chamber of Deputies, which was characterized by a majority of the ruling party, the US called for the preservation of the separation of powers as the basis of a stable democracy.
Bitcoin seems to be a test run of the government to observe how quickly such unclear decisions are accepted by the population. That doesn’t bode well. It is clear that the authoritarian traits of the president, with support in parliament, are becoming increasingly apparent. Obvious resistance did not flare up until September 15. On this day, Central America celebrates two hundred years of its independence. But the protesters’ motives are diffuse, with some protesting the introduction of Bitcoin and the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional decision to approve the president’s direct re-election. Others protested against planned constitutional reforms and the restriction of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, while others protested against the sluggish reactivation of the economy. Protesters pretend that they have not taken to the streets out of fear. Whether these protests will continue or intensify remains to be seen.
Role model for other Central American countries?
Not only since the introduction of Bitcoin in El Salvador, other Central American countries have also become aware of the potential of digital currencies. In Honduras, the central bank is already researching the introduction of digital central bank money. Central banks around the world are working on developing a digital form of their respective currencies as well as regulating cryptocurrencies. In Panama, a draft law was presented at the beginning of September, which, however, only provides for the regulation of cryptocurrencies as an alternative means of payment and does not make adoption mandatory. Although the introduction of Bitcoin could further advance the integration of Central America, especially in the commercial and financial sectors, transparency and a clear legal framework must be guaranteed for such a system to work. Digital currencies offer enormous potential for people without access to the banking system. However, it is important to differentiate between the different forms of digital currencies and their functions: While Bitcoin is less suitable as a means of payment due to its high volatility, so-called stablecoins, a version of cryptocurrencies whose value is pegged to that of reserve currencies such as the US dollar, have high stability. Many users use Bitcoin more as a form of investment than as a medium of exchange. Thus, it seems highly problematic when transactions are obliged to accept a volatile cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. Even supporters of a currency competition should therefore treat El Salvador’s decision with caution.