Sunday, July 14, 2024

LATIN AMERICA | 09-06-2021 09:33

El Salvador first country to approve bitcoin as legal tender

Lawmakers in El Salvador approve bill that will eventually allow digital currency to be used for many aspects of daily life, from property purchases to tax contributions.

Bitcoin is to become legal tender in El Salvador, the country's president said, making it the first nation to adopt a cryptocurrency for everyday use.

Lawmakers in the Central American nation's Congress passed a bill late Tuesday that will eventually allow the digital currency to be used for many aspects of daily life, from property purchases to tax contributions.

"The #BitcoinLaw has just been approved by a supermajority" in the legislative assembly, President Nayib Bukele tweeted after the vote late Tuesday.

"History!" the president added.

The 39-year-old leader said a majority of 62 out of 84 lawmakers approved the bill, which he proposed just last week. 

The law passed with the support of Bukele's allies despite minority opposition parties – who had criticised the speed of the vote – refusing to back it.

Cryptocurrencies have soared in popularity due to their use as a store of value, the relative anonymity they offer users and wild price fluctuations that present opportunities for greater profits than investing on the regular stock exchanges of the world.

The volatility of bitcoin – currently priced at US$33,814 – and its murky legal status have raised questions about whether it could ever replace traditional currency in day-to-day transactions.

But El Salvador – a small nation where four out of 10 people live in poverty – has turned to the top crypto asset that has been backed by billionaires like Elon Musk and large financial companies such as PayPal in a bid to boost its remittance-reliant economy.

El Salvador's main currency is the US dollar and it remains unclear how the country plans to implement bitcoin as a functioning currency.

Yet the Salvadoran leader has hailed the virtual currency as "the fastest growing way to transfer" billions of dollars in remittances and to prevent millions from being lost to intermediaries.

Remittances from Salvadorans working overseas represent a major chunk of the economy – equivalent to roughly 22 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

In 2020, remittances to the country totalled US$5.9 billion, according to official reports.

'On the world's radar'

Before the vote, Bukele said adopting the cryptocurrency would bring "financial inclusion, investment, tourism, innovation and economic development" to the country.

"This is a law that will put El Salvador on the world's radar, we will be more attractive for foreign investment," Romeo Auerbach, deputy of the Grand Alliance for National Unity party, an ally of Bukele, said.

El Salvador’s Central Bank President Douglas Rodríguez said in an interview with state TV on Tuesday that Bitcoin is already used in the country and “it’s not something people need to be afraid of,” while adding it won’t replace the US dollar.

The cryptocurrency market grew to more than US$2.5 trillion by the middle of last month, according to the Coinmarketcap page, driven by interest from increasingly serious investors from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

Between the beginning of 2020 and a peak in mid-April of US$64,870, the price of bitcoin gained nearly 800 percent. 

But since then, the cryptocurrency has fallen in value by more than 50 percent.

Its price has fallen sharply towards a symbolic US$30,000 threshold it has not crossed since January, dragging other cryptocurrencies in its wake.

After Tuesday's vote, the price jumped more than five percent.



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