Crypto May Be the Future of Humanitarian Aid
Donations of digital currency like bitcoin can get money, and power, to people suffering under authoritarian governments
A video from San Cristóbal, Venezuela, dated March 2019 shows a never-ending line of people waiting on the street. They are all waiting, the narrator tells us, for their turn at the bank, hoping to withdraw money to buy food and goods before hyperinflation drives the value of Venezuela’s currency further into the dirt.
Venezuela’s political and economic crisis has been escalating since 2010. President Nicolas Maduro’s refusal to declare a state of national emergency means aid groups can’t intervene on the people’s behalf, and in February 2019 the government began to block shipments of supplies donated by U.S.-backed aid groups. Maduro feared the supplies would foster favor toward the U.S. and the leader it had recognized as legitimate in his place, Juan Guaido.
Many Venezuelan citizens have tried to leave the country, some hiding rolls of dollars in their hair to keep it from being stolen at the border. Venezuelans need a way to access the world economic marketplace that bypasses the regime’s control, a way to attain a degree of financial independence. And for some citizens of Venezuela, help has arrived in the form of bitcoin.
In countries where the government controls their people by controlling the money, digital currency can be a powerful solution for the oppressed.
As a cryptocurrency, bitcoin is built on a decentralized electronic ledger called a blockchain. That ledger isn’t controlled by any one person, but by multiple users around the globe running “nodes,” copies of the entire ledger, on their computers, which can’t be cut off or censored. Cryptocurrencies are stored in digital wallets, which can send or receive bitcoin from anywhere in the world — bypassing banks and paying far less in cross-border transaction fees. In countries where the government controls citizens by controlling the money, digital currency can be a powerful solution for the oppressed.