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What Happens When An El Salvador Surf Town Goes Full Crypto?

An anonymous donor turned a tiny Pacific coast town without a bank into the world’s biggest Bitcoin experiment — this is the epic story of how El Zonte Beach in El Salvador transformed its future by starting a movement which ultimately led to President Nayib Bukele’s government passing historic laws that made bitcoin legal tender, the first country in the world to do so.

History Has Been Made

It all started in El Zonte about 15 years ago when Román Martínez dreamed of bringing about change to his community, long before bitcoin existed. As his social project gained traction, an anonymous U.S. donor who heard about the community project and donated a large sum of Bitcoin.

Oct 2021: Román Martínez sharing his vision for Bitcoin Beach in El Salvador.

That sparked an idea that evolved into Bitcoin Beach, and in time, the bitcoin economy emerging in El Zonte would become the catalyst for the government of El Salvador passing the laws that made Bitcoin legal tender. An epic story indeed. Now in El Salvador businesses must accept Bitcoin and people can pay in Bitcoin.

Social projects have flourished in El Zonte Beach, powered by Bitcoin. This is because the anonymous donor made three deliveries of $40, converted to bitcoin, for each of the community’s 500 families, and they were trained to use the application and now it’s normal for them to buy with Bitcoin. Román Martínez has seen his community grow and reinvest in itself. There is even a Bitcoin ATM in El Zonte now, which gives dollars in exchange for Bitcoin or takes dollars and gives credit in Bitcoin.

Alongside Bitcoin, the U.S. dollar has been the official currency  of El Salvador since 2001. With the adoption of cryptocurrency as legal tender it has helped to reduce the country’s dependence on the decisions of a foreign central bank, and simultaneously allowed thousands of “unbanked” citizens to finally have financial access in the form of a crypto wallet — in lieu of a traditional bank account.

“The first rule of Bitcoin is: You do not sell your bitcoin. The second rule of Bitcoin is: You do not sell your bitcoin.” – Tyler Durden on #Bitcoin

What makes El Zonte Beach an extraordinary epicenter for this world-leading initiative is that El Zonte is not a tech hub, it is not a flashy town with modern infrastructure. Instead the vast majority of houses are made of sheet metal or concrete blocks. Its roads are dirt and many are impassable due to the mud when it rains. The drainage system is faulty and the lighting is poor. Unyet, the humble shops in this area pioneered the adoption of Bitcoin for trade long before the rest of El Salvador did, and anywhere in the world for that matter. 

A Sign of Things To Come

So how does this story end? Will the outcome of this epic societal shift help deliver freedom from regulation that its proponents envision — or will cryptocurrencies be used as another tool of control and enrichment for autocrats and corporations? We think you can’t tame a system that was designed to be untamed. Bitcoin is about decentralization and stripping away the barriers of control.

A sign at the entrance to El Zonte Beach in El Salvador – credits AP and US Today.

Bitcoin is designed around the idea of using cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money, rather than relying on central authorities. Though it’s difficult to predict where things are headed long-term, in the coming months one thing is for sure — all eyes will be on El Salvador and Bitcoin Beach. What happens there will determine the fate of cryptocurrency across the world. 

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