Every Venezuelan I have met is very proud of their country. Rightfully so as I have traveled there and even celebrated Easter on Margarita Island. I can say first hand the people and culture are beautiful. Los Roques archipelago Islands in particular is one of the most amazing, electric kool aid dream lands I have ever traveled. Sadly, in the last few years things have become volatile, politically and economically, and it is no longer safe for Americans or let alone anyone to travel there.
This does not sit right with me. I have broke bread and shared wonderful memories with Venezuelan people. Without getting too much into politics, the “new” Venezuelan government policies have paralyzed an entire country economically and socially. The fall out is crazy inflation with the national currency and many people fleeing the country for better opportunities elsewhere.
In my previous article, “The New Era of Bitcoiners,” I discussed how Venezuelans are adopting Bitcoin more rapidly than other areas of the world out of necessity. A week after I published that piece, I heard Leonardo De Barros on The Bitcoin News Show talking about this exact topic. I remember feeling validated when he iterated my point. Venezuelans are turning to Bitcoin as the only real source of financial planning. I knew I had to talk to Leonardo and dig deeper into this topic.
Leonardo and I started communicating and, the more we spoke, I realized we must do this interview to give the world a feet on the streets, real life perspective of the Bitcoin and Crypto ecosystem in Venezuela. Leonardo is the founder of BitcoinZuela.com as well as VP and founder of PymiAlimetos. He is committed to educating Venezuelans about Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency and promoting adoption. Hopefully this interview will not only educate the masses on what is really going on in Venezuela, but also help the people of Venezuela learn more about Bitcoin: A decentralized, censorship resistant, immutable place to put their money. The way you can help is by sharing this interview and helping us spread awareness.
Name: Leonardo De Barros
Online Identity: @bitcoinzuela Leonardo De Barros
VP & Founder at PymiAlimentos (Venezuelan chamber for the small and medium food’s enterprises) and Entrepreneur
Years in the $BTC game:
Sadly, only two.
How might people know you?
How can people find you?
What is your technical background, education or formal training?
When did you become interested in Bitcoin and Crypto?
First quarter of 2016.
What is the single best experience you have had with Bitcoin?
My first Bitcoin transaction. It was scary.
Tell us your biggest Crypto fail.
Thinking that ETH’s price will ever outrun BTC’s.
Where do you personally get your Crypto news and info?
What do you do for fun when you are outside the Cryptosphere?
I help poor people by handing them books to read and feeding children breakfast at a public school. I also play soccer and tennis when I have the time.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of money?
Given that I am very disappointed of the two forms of money that I used to think were the real money, Bitcoin is my only hope for honest money. In 2008 the USD mafia triggered an economic catastrophe that brought hideous consequences with it. One of them was a confidence outflow of a valuable percentage of people around the world. Then, since a decade ago or so we’ve been watching our local currency [the bolivar] vanish.
How does Bitcoin or Crypto fit into your vision of money?
Bitcoin definitely fits better than fiat or gold. All the fiat systems eventually collapse because their printers are never turned off and the currencies end up by evaporate. The temptation is too high. Then you have gold that isn’t practical at all and even that it has been kept undervalued it has proven to be a more serious form of money than fiat, but who has access to gold? Finally, you have Bitcoin which is an example for the world but most important a competitor for the current economic cartels.
What is the biggest attractor for you to Bitcoin and CryptoCurrency?
I don’t have a big attraction for the other cryptocurrencies like I do for Bitcoin. For Bitcoin my attractors are immutability, scarcity, “nerd money”, sound money, real money but most important honest money.
What scares you the most?
Not living enough to witness Bitcoin eating fiat and disrupting banks.
What is it like living in Venezuela and dealing with the crazy inflation among other things?
When you can’t have financial planning at home nor at work, it gets real messy. If you don’t react quickly you might fall on default. Although you get to learn a lot of economics because you can’t help wondering why is it happening to you. People get jobs to get paid or create them to get revenue but in both cases it is done expecting an X amount of income that would be exchanged for the goods and services that every human needs to live. So when that income stop being a simple X to turn into a complex algorithm where you have to add variables like a four digit inflation, black market speculation and a hourly price variation, your life isn’t that fun anymore because it all comes back to money and a psychotic behavior pops in.
Describe living day to day in that environment i.e. getting gas, food, etc?
Almost everyone’s attention is aimed at finding food and paying bills so that brings a lack of encouragement on lifestyle improvement. Depends on what thrive means to you, but there is an obvious distortion on our society. Otherwise those millions of people wouldn’t have flown away welfare-less.
Do you have any money in Venezuelan Banks? What is that experience like?
It is a rush all the time. I mean you need to have some if you live here but honestly it feels like having a bottle of milk in your fridge that you have to drink before it expires.
Explain the black market money exchanges in Venezuela and how they work?
It is a peer to peer market ruled by one index only and even when nobody has ever claim ownership nor authority of the index, it has been running our economy since the currency exchange control system was imposed. The index is perverse and Venezuelans are masochist in my opinion. The average business person checks the index’s app at least ten times per day.
The international press has published photos of long lines at the super markets and talks about shortages in food and supplies? Can you give us a first hand account of what is really going on?
Yes, the food and supplies situation is critical. The minimum wage equals 300 eggs. The government delivers millions of subsidized food boxes every month to the poorest towns, but I guess is not enough yet. Besides lots of food private companies has shut down due to the snowstorm the economy has suffered. I guess the only positive aspect here is an imminent activation in the agriculture sector to starve-shell us.
What is it like being a Bitcoiner in Venezuela?
It is cool because given the current crisis you already have an audience. However there aren’t any meetups.
How has it changed from when you first got involved to how it is today?
2 years ago almost no one knew about Bitcoin around here. Now in the worst case scenario almost everyone seems to have heard of it.
How rapidly do you see the Bitcoin market growing in Venezuela?
Much faster than other countries. I’m doing my part.
Do you see the same growth in Bitcoin businesses?
Not necessarily. I mean only if their leaders are truly committed to the ecosystem by providing quality services and/or products. Else, avoiding scam coins/schemes at any cost.
Tell us about BitcoinZuela. When did you start your company and what you do?
BitcoinZuela started three months ago. Earlier this year I saw the domain was available and I thought it could stand for the Bitcoin phenomenon that our country is set to star. Right now we are focused on the teaching. We take the time to explain Bitcoin to every person no matter what level of knowledge they are.
Where would you like to see it go?
To achieve the leadership of the Venezuelan Bitcoin phenomenon that is about to explode and to gather all that Bitcoin power and stream it to the rest of the world.
What ages do you see getting interestested in Bitcoin?
From our insights we can tell that from 22 to 36 are the most interested. The storm has reached all of us but everyone reacts individually. For instance, mining has become a nice way to shift your finances and Bitcoin is a better store of value option. We also have elderly people getting buying Bitcoin too. This is unlike most countries where the adoption rate among the elderly is limited.
Explain how unstable internet is affecting Bitcoin and Bitcoin adoption in Venezuela?
If you want to find out what Bitcoin is, that’s fine because you only need to read some content on the web and that you can afford with our speed. Instead if you want to develop a Bitcoin service or product, you are screwed, because downloading the blockchain with our average speed could be a nightmare.
How does this affect nodes and Bitcoin mining?
Mining is not affected as much as nodes are. The mining goes fine with our stretch bandwidth and it keeps increasing though (miners). Hopefully we’ll host more nodes in the future as people will have to figure out a way to do so.
Do you think Venezuelans are more open to Bitcoin adoption than other countries? Why is this?
Definitely. Once you’ve lost respect on your local currency, you are one step ahead on the Bitcoin adoption implicit race. I’ll give you an example:
Bitcoiner: “Hey, have you heard of Bitcoin?”
Venezuelan: “Mmm I think so but I just don’t get it yet”
Bitcoiner: “It is a digital currency that grows in value every year, it is the future”
Venezuelan: “Ok, give me some of that. It can’t be worse than what I have in my pocket right now”
What is the government’s current stance on Bitcoin and Bitcoin mining?
Bitcoin is on a grey area. In one hand the government claimed to be working on some cryptocurrency project but hasn’t released anything yet and in the other hand you see a lot of extortions by police forces going on regarding mining.
How has this changed in the last year?
How do you see Bitcoin and Blockchain playing out in Venezuela?
I see Bitcoin playing a “safe place” for my people to put money. I see Blockchain solving the non-transparent chains by making them public and immutable.
How has cutting off the USD affected the Bolivar and Bitcoin market?
It has affected both. However, we don’t have a black market for Bitcoin like we do for the USD
What is valued more in Venezuela? Gold, Bitcoin, USD, Bolivar or Other?
Medium-class: USD first. Then Bolivar then Bitcoin.
High-class: USD and Bitcoin.
What do you think is the future of the Bolivar?
I hope I’m wrong but I think a demise is imminent. Maybe something like what happened in Brazil with the Cruzeiro taking over the Milreis.
What influence does localbitcoins.com have on the Venezuelan Bitcoin market?
A lot. There is a lot of action taking place within.
What is the price of a Bitcoin in Venezuela compared to the rest of the world?
I don’t know how to put this but one bitcoin equals around 600 minimum wages.
Give us an example of Bitcoin helping people in Venezuela that might go unnoticed?
I think mining and holding Bitcoin as a store of value is helping people to improve their welfare.
Do people in Venezuela care about forks or Altcoins?
They care about altcoins for the simple reason that one Bitcoin is too expensive for the average person. They rather own hundreds of some other coin than a tenth of a Bitcoin. I guess maybe psychologically it makes sense at first sight. With forks I think every Bitcoin holder cares about them.
Where can people in Venezuela or Latin American countries learn more about Bitcoin news, adoption and other legitimate useful information?
The heart of Bitcoin is in English so all the information must be translated to Spanish first before publishing. Bitcoinzuela.com only cares about Bitcoin. We also publish an article for every BTC-fork which contains all the details you should know about the new coin. Besides we have a Forks section were you can learn how to deal with a fork. Although I think they aren’t Spanish equivalents to Coindesk in Latin America yet.
Where can people in Venezuela go to buy or exchange Bitcoin?
There are some local exchanges where you can buy in with Bolivars, but I haven’t try them so I can’t comment. I think it is safer using a foreign USD bank account (if you have one) with a foreign exchange.
How can people send Bitcoin to family in Venezuela?
I guess with a regular transaction from wallet to wallet.
How can they exchange it to Bolivars or use it for transactions?
For Bolivars through localbitcoins. However for transactions there aren’t too much options yet. I mean there is no ATM or physical place providing such service neither has a remarkable institution declared accepting Bitcoin and friends.
If you are in or near Venezuela and want to meet up with like minded Bitcoiners where can you go?
There are some bitcoin events occasionally, but you don’t see that many meetups.
Where do you see Bitcoin in 10 years?
Everywhere. In every home, office, laptop, smartphone and drone. 1 BTC > $1,000,000
Who are your biggest influences in the Bitcoin world?
What are a few book recommendations?
Depends on your angle but for developers I think Mastering Bitcoin by Andreas Antonopoulos is a must. Then for a wide and concise understanding of money, The Coming Currency Collapse, by Jerome Smith will do it. If you have a book recommendation for me, let me know.
Where would you point any Venezuelan reading this who wants to learn more about Bitcoin?
On bitcoinzuela.com we put a lot of effort on didactics trying in order to fulfill every doubt. There is also a few others Venezuelan Bitcoin websites with good content you just need to type Bitcoin Benezuela on google.
Who do you follow in the Bitcoin world that you think others should be paying attention to?
What brings you true happiness in life?
Any last words?
Thank you Satoshi.
Special thanks to Leonardo for doing this interview. English is not his first language. Please help us spread awareness about Venezuela and bitcoin adoption by sharing this article.