This is an extract of an article written by Carlos Gutiérrez Bracho for Connectas and published on Global Voices under an agreement between these media outlets.
The collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange platform, created by Sam Bankman-Fried in 2019 and declared bankrupt on November 11, has damaged trust in the digital currency industry as a whole. After becoming one of the largest crypto platforms with a valuation of $32 billion, many now consider this to be a painful reminder of the risks of investing in this digital market. Is this the beginning of the end of cryptocurrencies?
Various media outlets often make grim predictions about the cryptocurrency market, which have intensified since FTX collapsed. However, not all countries share these views. For example, although a decrease of 200 percent in the cryptocurrency market “horrified” speculative investors in the United States, the online media outlet Rest of World indicated that Latin American crypto entrepreneurs and enthusiasts are “more optimistic.” This is perhaps owing to them being more accustomed to such volatility.
Argentina has an annual inflation rate of 88 percent and is one of the countries in this region with the highest volume of cryptocurrency transactions. According to Argentine newspaper La Nación, “it is estimated that 17 percent of Argentina’s citizens use cryptocurrencies.” Despite their volatility, “these assets provide a safe haven of value in the face of unstable economies. In certain instances, they also generate returns.”
A steady increase in the use of cryptocurrencies has been recorded throughout Latin America. In fact, the New Payments Index 2022 shows that 51 percent of consumers in Latin America and the Caribbean have carried out at least one transaction with crypto assets. About 54 percent are also optimistic about the performance of digital assets as an investment.
On average, Latin America and the Caribbean had 6 percent of the world’s total volume of cryptocurrencies between 2017 and 2020. In 2020, this rose t0 15.8 percent and has been increasing exponentially ever since, according to the report Cryptocurrencies: A Financial Crime Risk within Latin America and the Caribbean by Global Financial Integrity. What’s more, under the Global Crypto Adoption Index of 2021, there were four Latin American countries included in the world’s top 20: Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil.
A market that grew by 40 percent in Latin America
As highlighted in the 2022 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report by Chainalysis, Latin America received $562 billion in crypto between July 2021 and June 2022. This is an increase of 40 percent in relation to the same period last year. Also, based on its numbers, this region has 5 of the market’s top 30 countries: Brazil (seventh place), Argentina (13), Colombia (15), Ecuador (18), and Mexico (28).
Likewise, El Salvador is a country of note in this region. This September marked its first anniversary of becoming the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. However, Nayib Bukele’s government is now facing intense scrutiny over the lack of transparency in its economic policies surrounding this cryptocurrency. Something else of note here is the Venezuelan Petro. This is the first cryptocurrency to be issued by a government and backed by natural resources. That said, certain analysts do not believe this currency has played a fundamental role in the country’s economy.
Something that experts do agree on, though, is that we are currently experiencing a “crypto winter,” where the entire digital financial ecosystem is affected. This means this crisis will likely pass and the crypto phenomenon will again grow, but most likely with different rules. According to Luis J. Canessa, the Argentine Managing Planner of the Chivo Maker Association, “almost all financial institutions and large companies of various descriptions now have people effectively evaluating the crypto ecosystem in order to break into it.” Chivo Maker is made up of individuals and businesses who are “convinced of the world's transformation with solutions that revolve around bitcoin, he adds.
Canessa, who also participated in Bukele’s project, considers cryptocurrency’s arrival to be a significant paradigm shift in the global financial industry, with this technology being “something quite revolutionary.” This has undoubtedly sparked a debate between the traditional model and crypto technology itself. “Although this isn’t the same,” it draws comparisons with the tensions between Uber and traditional taxis. That is to say, “what happened traditionally versus new technological innovations bringing about change.” He maintains that this phenomenon is somewhat normal, given that “every time any disruptive solution appears on the market, someone will be annoyed by this disruption.”
Salvadoran economic journalist Mariana Belloso agrees that these times of crisis are temporary and that we will indeed see a “move towards tradition” in the future. In other words, towards the use of cryptocurrencies issued and controlled by central banks. For her, the main problem isn’t so much technology, but rather the greed of those who wish to make easy money and take advantage of others. She elaborated that this lack of control has led to company decisions being made by young professionals who tend not to have much experience in administration or finance.
Challenges in its adoption in the region
Global Financial Integrity (GFI) also explains that there are two major issues surrounding Latin America’s adoption of said cryptocurrencies. The first of which is the people’s limited understanding of this matter. On a scale of 0 to 5 (where 5 is maximum knowledge) they scored a mere 2.08.
The other issue is governments’ inability to prevent, detect, investigate, or prosecute the economic crimes that can arise from the adoption of these crypto assets and other upcoming technologies. According to a GFI analysis, cryptocurrencies have been used to commit crimes, such as fraud, scams, ransomware, and extortion. The Economist concurs and states that there “are many money launderers, sanction evaders, and scammers” involved in these digital transactions.
GFI is of the opinion that crypto assets are here to stay, but ought to be regulated to provide assurance and protection for users and investors alike. Amongst other such actions, it recommends measures be implemented to better understand the crypto ecosystem within each country. These include: developing regulations to ensure clarity and predictability, fostering subject-matter education and exchanging information between different sectors of society.
However, regulation is perhaps the greatest dilemma that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin face. According to Argentine researcher, Julio César Marchione, and a team of colleagues, this is the first to be completely decentralized, open and unregulated in making peer-to-peer transactions. Researchers highlight that decentralization is its very foundation, which in turn means “not having any limitations on its usage” or requiring any authorization. Even though these researchers emphasize it is the most representative of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, it is not the only one. There are around 8,000 others, which despite their specific features, share this same principle.
Admittedly, we are dealing with a technological financial resource, which has generated significant financial losses and many a headache owing to its ongoing faults causing considerable doubt. However, as noted by experts, the outlook is not entirely grim, nor are cryptocurrencies about to disappear. It now falls to governments to find procedures that ensure investment security and investors must also learn to better manage their digital currencies.