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Bitcoin Has Saved My Family

“Borderless money” is more than a buzzword when you live in a collapsing economy and a collapsing dictatorship.

This essay has been updated to reflect news developments.

CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela — On Tuesday, I went shopping for milk. With the chronic food shortages in Venezuela, that errand already is very complicated, but there’s an extra layer of difficulty for me: I don’t own bolívars, Venezuela’s official currency.

I keep all of my money in Bitcoin. Keeping it in bolívars would be financial suicide: The last time I checked, the rate of daily inflation was around 3.5 percent. That’s daily inflation; the annual inflation rate for 2018 was almost 1.7 million percent. I don’t have a bank account abroad, and with Venezuela’s currency controls, there’s no easy way for me to use a conventional foreign currency like American dollars.

Things just keep getting crazier here. Venezuela now has two presidents. One of them, Nicolás Maduro, wants to take on the British billionaire Richard Branson in a competition of charity concerts. While we Venezuelans are going hungry, there have been violent standoffsover humanitarian aid piling up at the borders with Colombia and Brazil. And before I can buy milk, I need to convert Bitcoins into bolívars.

Actually, that part is easier than you might think. I go through the listings on LocalBitcoins.com, the exchange that most Venezuelans seem to use, looking for offers to buy my Bitcoins from people who use the same bank I do; that way the wire transfer can go through immediately. Once I accept the offer, the Bitcoins get deducted from my wallet and are held in escrow by the site. I send my banking information to the buyer and wait.

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