Bitcoin community celebrates El Salvador – but suppresses disturbing realities there

El Salvador has made international headlines with its recognition of Bitcoin (BTC) as legal tender. But there are other developments in the country that do not deserve applause.

Large parts of the crypto scene see El Salvador as a showcase state since the summer of 2021. This is because with the introduction of Bitcoin (BTC) as legal tender, El Salvador under President Nayib Bukele has dared to take a step that is so far unique internationally. Sooner or later, other countries would follow El Salvador’s example, is the often expressed hope from the Bitcoin community. But if you look beyond the crypto realm, you’ll have a hard time celebrating Bukele and El Salvador. Domestically, the government plays hardball.

Prison sentences for abortion or miscarriage – that’s El Salvador, too.

Example number one: El Salvador enforces a ban on abortion that tramples women’s rights underfoot. The Taz recently reported in an article worth reading on how even miscarriages and stillbirths are followed by prison sentences. In plain language: Even a medical emergency is not accepted as such by the state, but is considered an illegal abortion with the consequence of a prison sentence of up to 30 years. President Nayib Bukele may promote Bitcoin with the slogan “financial freedom” – but in the country, women’s prisons are overflowing with personal fates. In November 2021, Bukele again made clear via Facebook that he sees no need for reform on the issue of abortions. Incidentally, Bukele also believes that marriage must be reserved for a man and a woman. Homosexuality is not illegal in El Salvador, but activists repeatedly report discrimination tolerated by the state.

Bitcoin in El Salvador perfect? Foreign capital under general suspicion

Example number two: With the vision of a Bitcoin City, Bukele wants to attract foreign capital and start-ups to El Salvador. But the daily newspaper Welt analyzes in detail how Bukele sees even international aid money as a threat to his power. Similar to what Russia is already doing, Bukele wants to enact laws on “foreign agents” and sharply control financial support to civil society. Experience shows that such plans serve to eliminate critics and have nothing to do with a liberal democracy. Not only the world therefore calls Bukele an “aspiring autocrat” who takes Putin as a model and drives dissenters out of the country. Do Bitcoin fans, who are already dreaming of a life on the Pacific beaches in El Salvador, know this?

President Bukele a “flawless democrat” like Putin

Example number three: On his Twitter profile, Bukele forwardly calls himself “CEO of El Salvador” and exudes international Bitcoin flair. Domestically, however, not even simple democratic rules apparently apply to him. When parliament wouldn’t quickly rubber stamp one of his proposals, he had soldiers march into the Chamber of Deputies in February 2020. During the first wave of the Corona pandemic, Bukele had citizens placed in prison-like camps even for simple curfew violations-against the opposition of the Constitutional Court. Then, when Bukele and his Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party won a two-thirds majority in parliament in early 2021, he simply replaced disfavored judges, up to and including the Constitutional Court – again, bypassing laws.

Western diplomats: Democratic deficits in El Salvador are growing

Even the German Foreign Ministry is not particularly diplomatic in its assessment of El Salvador in light of Bukele’s actions and domestic political developments. Freedom of the press is obstructed and the independence of the judiciary is impaired, finds the official country portrait of the Foreign Office. The tenor here is the same: Since Bukele took office, the situation has deteriorated significantly.

Conclusion: Naivety in the “dream couple” Bitcoin and El Salvador needs correction

It takes quite a bit of naivety to view El Salvador under President Nayib Bukele as a liberal pioneer because of Bitcoin. Respected international media, NGOs, and even diplomats describe the image of a country where Bukele rules through and mimics systems like those in China, Russia, and Turkey. And even if you want to leave all that out: the Frankfurter Rundschau has an interesting background on how, after initial interest from the citizens of El Salvador, payment flows in Bitcoin have decreased again. We therefore believe that praising El Salvador as a “Bitcoin paradise” makes it too easy for oneself and ignores the (political) realities of everyday life away from the famous Bitcoin Beach of El Zonte with its 3,000 inhabitants.

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