El Salvador buys 500 bitcoin as crypto market sell-off continues

For months, the International Monetary Fund has bemoaned Bukele’s bitcoin experiment.

In January, the IMF pushed El Salvador to ditch bitcoin as legal tender.

IMF directors “stressed that there are large risks associated with the use of bitcoin on financial stability, financial integrity, and consumer protection, as well as the associated fiscal contingent liabilities.”

The report, which was published after bilateral talks with El Salvador, went on to “urge” authorities to narrow the scope of its bitcoin law by removing bitcoin’s status as legal money.

The IMF report went on to say that some directors had expressed concern over the risks associated with issuing bitcoin-backed bonds, referring to the president’s plan to raise $1 billion via a “Bitcoin Bond” in partnership with Blockstream, a digital assets infrastructure company. However, that bond offering was put on ice in March, due to “unfavorable market conditions,” according to Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya.

Part of El Salvador’s nationwide move into bitcoin also involved launching a national virtual wallet called Chivo that offers no-fee transactions and allows for quick cross-border payments. For a country where 70% of citizens do not have access to traditional financial services, Chivo is meant to offer a convenient on-ramp for those who have never been a part of the banking system.

IMF directors agreed that the Chivo e-wallet could facilitate digital means of payment, thereby helping to “boost financial inclusion,” though they emphasized the need for “strict regulation and oversight.” Many Salvadorans have reported cases of identity theft, in which hackers use their national ID number to open a Chivo e-wallet, in order to claim the free $30 worth of bitcoin offered by the government as an incentive.

A report published in April by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research also showed that only 20% of those who downloaded the wallet continued to use it after spending the $30 bonus. The research was based upon a “nationally representative survey” involving 1,800 households.

El Salvador has been trying since early 2021 to secure a $1.3 billion loan from the IMF — an effort that appears to have soured over this bitcoin row.

The country will need to figure out some other backstop to shore up its finances. The IMF predicts that under current policies, public debt will rise to 96% of GDP by 2026, putting the country on “an unsustainable path.”

This content was originally published here.

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