On 7 September 2021, in the small Central American state of El Salvador, the Bitcoin ley came into force, wanted by the young and ambitious president Nayib Bukele . With it, the cryptocurrency took on the status of legal tender together with the US dollar, adopted in 2001 to remedy the systematic hyperinflation of the old state currency, the colon.
The history of El Salvador has sadly similar connotations to those of many other countries in this geographical area. Centuries of brutal exploitation by the Spanish conquistadors first and then by the American mega corporations. A systematically corrupt political class. A military coup that establishes a fascist dictatorship. Thirteen years of bloody civil war and, more recently, a resurgence of criminal violence that earned him the title of nation with the highest murder rate in the world. It is difficult to stimulate the economy in these conditions.
It is in this context that the bet of President Bukele, very popular in the country, fits. An event historic in its own way and an unprecedented initiative. An opportunity too good for those who, like me, deal with human rights and to disclose the peculiarities of Bitcoin as a powerful tool to protect individual freedoms.
And for this reason, at the end of November 2021, I decide to transfer my work to the country and spend three months there, spending only Bitcoin. To be able to closely observe the effects of technology in society and the economy, to be able to talk to the population and verify first-hand if cryptocurrency can be an opportunity for redemption here.
The effects of such an innovative law are manifold and this is a game that is played on several tables.
In the international geopolitical context, the announcement of legal tender Bitcoin went around the world, certainly making Bukele the most popular president of Central and South America. The goal in this case is clear: to attract investments from abroad and make El Salvador a kind of cryptocurrency Mecca. The law, in fact, introduces tax breaks for those who invest in the local economy and even guaranteed citizenship for those who move, bringing with them a treasure of more than 3 Bitcoins, at the current exchange rate of around 120,000 euros.
El Salvador is also buying Bitcoin for its treasury, counting on the capital gains that the digital currency will realize, with good probability, in the years to come. In the coming weeks, parliament will be called upon to approve the new law on digital financial assets, thanks to which it will be possible to introduce the first state title based on Bitcoin in the world, which will be followed by the construction of an entire city, the Bitcoin City, which will be proposes to be, in the words of the president himself, a new Alexandria, a beacon of technological development and a popular destination for all those who believe in the need to create a new, more equitable and sustainable economic model.
Traveling around the country, one has the distinct feeling that this government agenda, as aggressive as it is far-sighted, is the aspect of the law that is working best. There are countless foreign entrepreneurs that I have met and who have come from all over the world to visit El Salvador and to make arrangements to transfer part of their business here. After only three months from its entry into force and evident as a nation that until recently few would have been able to indicate on the map, today it has suddenly become of great interest to those involved in blockchain at various levels.
On the other hand, the question relating to the adoption of Bitcoin as a form of digital payment among the population is quite different. While every Salvadoran has a smartphone and the country’s internet coverage is total, the best in this geographic area, on the other hand this is a company deeply linked to cash, with digital education problems and pockets of extreme poverty. Coinciding with the introduction of cryptocurrency, a government-developed application has been made available that allows electronic payments in both dollars and bitcoins, a kind of PayPal on steroids, but very little has been done to teach people the characteristics of the cryptocurrency. technology and how to use it correctly.
And yet for me it was fun to travel even to the most remote areas by spending only Bitcoin. It was possible because the app is very widespread, many traders have seized the opportunity and there is great curiosity about such a futuristic and innovative tool. It will take time but El Salvador could really be the perfect laboratory to detoxify a population so harassed by the harmful consequences of fiat currency and educate it to an economic system that is based on such different principles.
The propellant of this revolution will certainly be remittances from abroad. Two and a half million citizens of El Salvador have emigrated and work away from home, especially in the United States. For them, until now, sending money to their families has been a nightmare and a robbery. 75% of the population here cannot have a bank account because the traditional financial system marginalizes them not considering it profitable to be present in the area. Receiving money therefore means turning to private money transfer services which in countries like this are capable of applying commissions of up to 30%. Real legal loan sharks in the modern era. Thanks to Bitcoin, anyone with a mobile phone can now send and receive money instantly and almost for free.
After only three months it is difficult to give an overall assessment and say what will become of this experiment. But it is clear that here there is great vitality and great dynamism towards a new and very radical idea. Comparing this climate to the sleepy and gerontological one that reigns in Italy, a nation in which there is still no law defining a basic regulatory framework on cryptocurrencies, makes one wonder which of the two countries is actually the third world.

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