Bitcoin is now becoming a constant part of many Venezuelans’ everyday life.
Whether they’re buying food, plane tickets, or even paying employees, Bitcoin is now a common mode of payment for Venezuelans. Frankly, many people in the country rely on cryptocurrencies for survival.
Survival of fittest
Venezuela’s hyperinflation has rendered the national currency, the Bolivar, nearly worthless. Thousands of ordinary people have begun turning to the world of cryptocurrency to salvage what little value remains in their savings..
One Venezuelan, John Villar, knows the struggle of having a his national currency become worthless, so he sticks with Bitcoin for all of his transactions. He said that his situation, choosing digital currency is not a matter of politics but of survival. Bitcoin transactions are relatively swift for anyone with a smartphone: Websites like LocalBitcoin and Colibit function as exchanges where Venezuelans can buy and sell bitcoins using a local bank account.
Cryptocurrencies have become so fashionable that even President Nicolas Maduro has proposed a government-backed version called the Petro. Members of his administration have met with Venezuelan Bitcoin entrepreneurs to determine how such a currency might work. Though few details have been released, many in the Bitcoin world have responded skeptically to the idea. It seems unlikely that Venezuelans will trust a digital currency issued by a government they have little faith in.
In Venezuela, the so-called "crisis currency" is allowing desperate Venezuelans to make potentially life-saving purchases.
Villar had been unable to find several of the medications needed to treat his wife's multiple sclerosis in Venezuela for the last two years, a story not uncommon in a country whose public health system has been crippled by shortages. Instead, he purchased them abroad with Bitcoin and used courier services to deliver them to Venezuela.
Authorities have largely permitted trading of Bitcoin in Venezuela, though they have heavily fined and detained people who attempt to mine the digital currency. For Villar, the stakes are especially high, and not just for his business. An engineer who once ran a biometrics enterprise, he is staking his financial future on the development of a game involving an alternative cryptocurrency called PepeCash.
A dozen employees operate from a small office filled with computers in an industrial community east of the capital. All receive part of their salary in Bitcoin. His wife, also an engineer, is now largely bound to a wheelchair.
"At this moment, I don't have a single bolivar."
Ambassadors from other digital currency projects, such as Dash, have been trying to familiarize Venezuelans with an array of cryptocurrencies. Earlier this fall, Dash sponsored 12 free conferences in the country in order to raise awareness.