El Salvador made history (and headlines) after becoming the first nation to endorse and approve the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, as a legal tender. The move makes Bitcoin acceptable for transactions within the Central American country alongside the U.S dollar, which has been serving as the paper currency since 2001. This comes after the so-called “Bitcoin Law” came into force after passing legislation in June of 2021. El Salvador’s government announced that it had purchased 400 Bitcoin in 2 tranches of 200 each and plans to get more in the future.
The move to adopt Bitcoin has been justified by the government’s need to boost financial inclusion in the country. It is estimated that 70% of El Salvadorans do not have access to financial services and the government believes that Bitcoin can help close the gap. The Bank of America has outlined a few benefits that they believe will result from El Salvador’s bitcoin adoption. These include promotion of financial digitization, streamlining remittances as well as opening the country to digital currency miners. However, not all agree that the move is a step in the right direction.
Amongst the detractors of the scheme are the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, each having warned El Salvador about the risks of Bitcoin’s use as legal tender. The World Bank has been irked by what it described as “environmental and transparency shortcomings” with bitcoin, while the IMF cited “economic and legal concerns” in relation to the move.
Other than the push back from these international bodies, there has been some internal opposition to the adoption of Bitcoin. Citizens had held protests over Bitcoin’s adoption in August and about 67.9% of respondents in a poll said they disagreed with the government’s decision to adopt crypto. The results of the poll showed that 8 in 10 people had little confidence in the use of bitcoin as the currency.
In spite of the criticism, El Salvador’s government is moving forward and has reportedly installed 200 Bitcoin ATMs across the country. And in response to the World Bank’s environmental concerns, El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, has said the country plans to power mining activities using renewable energy from the country’s volcanoes. In order to incentivize the use of Bitcoin in the country, any citizen who signs up for the country’s “Chivo” wallet will get 30$ worth of bitcoin.
All in all, the adoption of a cryptocurrency by a sovereign nation is seen as a testing ground for many, as this is a use case Bitcoin has never experienced in its 12-year history. Countries such as Brazil and Panama seem to be watching the move to draw insights on whether to follow suit.