Does Bitcoin make you rich? | DW Documentary

Does Bitcoin make you rich? | DW Documentary

Does Bitcoin make you rich? | DW Documentary

European conquistadors once came to Latin America to rob the indigenous population of its gold. Today, people from the global North are coming again. This time, they claim to be bringing gold with them. Digital gold, that is. Namely, Bitcoin.

While here in Europe, cryptocurrency is perceived by many as a speculative object with a dubious reputation, in the global South it is seen as an opportunity. Why is that? The documentary “Bitcoin in Latin America” takes an exciting road trip through Guatemala and El Salvador.

The Bitcoin utopia promises more financial participation, the expansion of infrastructure through green mining, and new investors attracted by mega-projects like the planned “Bitcoin City” in El Salvador. But what lies behind these promises?

In Guatemala, a U.S. citizen and former military doctor in picturesque Panajachel is trying to mine gold from trash through Bitcoins. But doesn’t that sound too good to be true? In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele even introduced the Bitcoin as a second state currency – one year later, however, there was less and less evidence of Bitcoin living up to the hype. Is the Bitcoin utopia just that – a dream, without any bearing on reality? Or can it actually change something?

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Video Transcript

El Salvador at the foot of the conagua volcano this is the future site of Bitcoin City here’s how it will look says the country’s President little step there well it’s not clean now I we’re we’re just arriving uh but uh yeah a little uh lay down a mattress uh got um little micro kitchen just to uh just just a oneman little Citadel Hut no front door um it’s it’s pretty

Safe around here I haven’t seen a bad guy since since I’ve been here and so I and or I can sleep out on the beach or you just you know there’s there’s no trouble or you know worries got to wash it let’s see it’s a little

Dirty hi my name is Corbin Keegan elbit coino the first resident of Bitcoin City Bitcoin here in El Salvador is that that Beacon of light and hope for Humanity Bitcoin fixes not just the money but everything built on the Money here in Guatemala lake atan is dying and Bitcoin mining is the solution all of that material is waste that can be turned into energy that can be turned into Bitcoin almost no one knew El Salvador before lots of us are only here because of Bitcoin it’s an opportunity for global economic

Collaboration it’s a business for the elites I think it’s the poorest communities who have the least to gain from an economic system like this so when you talk about Sal it is related to bitcoin well if the Bitcoin is going bad H so your country so that’s what’s happening right

Now it’s what we’re here for with the bitcoiners bringing this to the people and explaining what a great opportunity it Is Guatemala here in panel to bitcoiners want to shake things Up tourists love this small town on the volcanic lake at it Lan with its picturesque Landscapes and strong indigenous culture this is elazar hello how are you I’m just getting the oil old frying oil that will turn into new Bitcoins let’s go to Kaboom this is a the big problem in

Guatemala if we don’t collect the oil people will just Chuck it somewhere which is bad for the environment because when it rains it goes right into the lake but now we have a solution for that and wow it’s incredible in the backyard next to a car repair shop is Kaboom a homemade Bitcoin

Machine elazar akihi wants to use it to mine digital gold first he filters food residues out of the old cooking oil then it’s ready to fuel the old diesel machine the electricity generated Powers small computers which perform cryptographic operations for the global Bitcoin blockchain in return they receive small sums of Bitcoins

This one mines about $3 a day they don’t run overnight but $3 plus about $1 a day on this one I’m happy I can pay for my coffee in Bitcoin living right next to Kaboom is rimondo I’m a musician I play various instruments trumpet BAS drums keyboard marima

Violin he doesn’t understand why it has to be so noisy here I keep telling them to get a muffler then it’ll be quieter an Americano I’ll pay with Bitcoin creating Bitcoins from waste was an idea that elazar Akai got from Patrick melder well this is what I call the hidden

Jewels they’re all covered in Vines and and foliage and if you look at what’s going on here we’ve got the necessary ingredients to break down organic waste and create methane and for our purposes we would capture this methane and flare it create energy and mine Bitcoin the organic waste plant has been inactive

For years connecting it to the grid is too expensive so waste water just flows past it could Bitcoins from methane mining finally get it up and running this is loow hanging fruit for us to help the community and again it’s just another demonstration that Bitcoin is

The only thing that could come in here and fix this problem the next level would be the solid waste facility and then we have created a a real virtuous cycle of taking waste and creating Bitcoin and improving the economy improving the community and protecting the environment Patrick melder came here

From the US as a Christian Missionary now he leads the lgo Bitcoin project with the same Zeal I have a love for this community I have a love for Guatemala and I love to help people so if I have a tool that I can use to help

People then you know why not why not do that most people here have no bank account and don’t save money these two want to change that they’ve already convinced shopkeeper Patricia test sun in the past if she had spare cash she used it to buy more stock now she has a

Bitcoin wallet and new customers they scan the QR code and Bitcoins land in her wallet on the blockchain Bitcoin is great it’s a way of investing Patrick told us that the price fluctuates but if I regularly invest some of the profit I’ll have more later because at some point maybe not

Now but in a year or two the price could explode ready to Orange build yeah this looks like a great place to orange pill someone is to on board them to bitcoin how are you I’m elazar from the Lago Bitcoin project Bitcoin makes practical sense for your

Business why because you get a lot of tourists from the US and the rest of the world they pay with Visa or Mastercard and those companies get a 5 to 8% commission it’s different with Bitcoin the customers can send you money directly without Commission the motorcycle rental company is

Skeptical in 2021 El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as legal tender Jeff Gallas is a bitcoiner from Germany he’s part of a German delegation touring through Bitcoin country there’s a big conference coming up that’s the special thing about Bitcoin there’s no headquarters instead there are

Where people meet and bring this internet culture into the real world and El Salvador is really special because it’s a whole country that accepts Bitcoin so it’s like one big laboratory after one failed attempt he pays in Bitcoin now it’s worked this is Jeff gisa’s second visit ever since El Salvador adopted

Bitcoin as a currency it’s been a promised land for bitcoiners but what about the locals do they share in this Euphoria list let’s go I’m Victor p a journalist from El Salvador since the state of emergency independent journalism has become increasingly dangerous there are threats and restrictions some people are

Wiretapped and spied on When the whole Bitcoin thing started in 2021 the government launched a big campaign to say we were on the way to becoming a world economic power as the first country to implement Bitcoin but on September 7th the oneyear anniversary the government didn’t say a single word about Bitcoin the

V in 2022 after a spike in homicides authorities declared a state of emergency in El Salvador Victor Pena takes us to Plaza libertad in the heart of the capital San Salvador to see some of the Effects we’re going to a kind of Black Market the goods for sale here are often obtained illicitly but that’s a form of trade that many people here depend on to get their living a black market right in the city center until recently it was a very dangerous place to visit El Salvador is

One of the highest rates of gang violence in the world since declaring a state of emergency the government has imprisoned over 66,000 alleged gang members without valid trials there was always conflict here The Gangs used to clash with each other but that’s pretty much over now so in a way the

Government is doing a good job because they’re trying to do something good for the people but lots of people are having a hard time because their innocent relatives are imprison in the war on gangs more security comes at a cost of basic human rights the Bitcoin Revolution is on hold

The state’s Bitcoin wallet Cho has been largely abandoned only a few locals use it Bitcoin yes we have the app it was doing pretty well in the beginning but less So lately I don’t know why there’s little sign of Bitcoin Euphoria in the center of San

Salvador the next morning we head to one of the poorest regions in the country the president’s high-profile project is underway here Bitcoin mining using volcanic energy journalist vikor Pena wants to find out if locals will benefit from the project he meets with Community leaders in the municipality of ber

In Hello nice to meet you I’m Victor P it’s a great pleasure on the way to one of the nearby Villages Oscar Vasquez wants to show us something that’s worrying people there it is that’s the power station where they’re developing the Bitcoins a raw material says the government

But as a community we don’t really know what’s going on and we’re the ones who could end up suffering negative consequences if there are profits how will they be distributed among the citizens in the end that’s the most important there are rumors of money coming in that will be very welcome in

This impoverished region Bitcoin base camp in San Salvador and we’re leaving now so pick up us let’s go the Bitcoin delegation is also heading to Berlin on an exclusive visit to the geothermal power plant you don’t see a geothermal power plant like this every day all those

Pipes in the steam the power coming out of the mountain and also getting to see how it’s used directly for mining there’s at least one mine in there maybe they’ve even expanded the mining operation a bit visitors are rarely allowed inside the power plant geothermal energy is an

Important source of power for the country heat from the nearby volcano turns groundwater into steam which drives turbines that generate green electricity president naib bua has promised that this kind of green energy will supply Bitcoin City this would make green Bitcoin mining po POS Jeff Gallas has already visited this site last

Year to expand in the operation yes we’re allowed to look inside but he won’t tell us which devices are in there what the current hash rate is on the network or how much has already been mined that’s all classified a bit unsatisfying right let’s see if we see anything it’s not over yet

Here we go a few kilometers away we learn about living conditions here how many families live here there are 76 families in the community see no one has running water no there’s no well here the community collects rain water in this Rusty tank this is their drinking water soon it

Will be the dry season thank goodness we haven’t had any terrible diseases the children sometimes get diarrhea from the water but to improve the situation we need support from a governmental or non-governmental Institution especially when the tank gets empty we’d like to have a proper water pipeline so that the families will

Always have supplies in the middle of this Lush Forest water is a luxury families live here with minimal infrastructure no sewage systems no paved roads rationing is common why is there a lock to stop people stealing the water we only open the tap when we hand out the water

Rations four buckets of water per family per day in dry months even less some of the energy generated at the geothermal power plant goes towards a Bitcoin mine on site the delegation wants to know how many Bitcoins are being mined with the computers here but they only get a quick

Look inside and no answers nothing has changed compared to last year we’ll try to analyze it a bit more later from the photos and we know roughly what’s going on here no big leavs that much is clear a year ago president bua touted geothermal mining as the key technology

For the Bitcoin isation of the country today the project feels neglected an ultramodern pkin Village back in the real village with the Sanchez family Douglas and his wife have raised Seven Daughters and several grandchild children without access to clean drinking water really he offers rainwater with sugar to his guest Victor

Pena pretends to drink out of politeness see sugar water is also said to help with anxiety a little it’s just water with sugar don’t all you hear about is how these Bitcoin profits are going to solve the country’s problems and maybe something will change if it’s true that it will support

A lot of projects that’s great I don’t want to be sish but we have a real emergency here with drinking water without infrastructure investment Dugas Sanchez’s grandson will also grow up without running water Victor Pena doubts that Bitcoin will help with [Applause] that maybe it will help the big investors and the government itself everyone who believes in and promotes this Bitcoin religion but I don’t think it will help communities like these at least I don’t see a plan that also takes the poor people into account it really gets to me it hurts to

See children in these conditions especially because I have a daughter I identify with them I always say that I do this work because I have the advantage just seeing these needs right on the front lines but it really gets to Me it’s just painful to see children having to live like this I want to give these people a voice people who’ve been condemned to silence since the start I think I can bridge the gap here that’s why I’m doing everything I can to tell their stories back in

Guatemala Patrick melder and elazar Akai have set up a Bitcoin wallet for the staff of a motorcycle rental company look he sending you money right now it’s reached you transactions are instantaneous instantaneous you have now you now have $1 of Bitcoin and where can I withdraw this in cash

I’m like a human ATM you call me and I’ll give you the money you give me Bitcoins and I’ll give you cash it’s very simple and we don’t charge you anything for the exchange very exciting once people understand how it works everyone will want to use

Bitcoin I have some doubts I’ll have to discuss it with the boss first let’s see looks interesting but I’m not totally sure especially because the value fluctuates so much sunrise in panel the street dogs are waking up Patrick melder is speaking at a school today we’re going to introduce

The new Bitcoin coursework uh me put him out of Bitcoin and uh 3D printer it’s going to be exciting the children at this private School are supposed to learn about Bitcoin and why it’s important for them well welcome everybody Bitcoin is a is a money okay just like what I have in

My pocket it’s a money that’s paper money Fiat and Bitcoin is a digital money let’s talk about Bitcoin Bitcoin is digital money translates because Patrick melder doesn’t speak Spanish the difference between this and this is the government says this is worth something but the government says this isn’t worth anything I can buy

Hundreds of these pads and and make as much of this as if I wanted to print a kit out on this I could make make as much of it as I wanted to that’s essentially what the government’s doing with the kit out Bitcoin is like gold

It’s what we call digital gold you can start saving in it now so that when you’re older uh you have much greater wealth proponents claim that bitcoin-based development Aid would help reduce dependence on the global North and that this autonomy would create sustainable Prosperity not everyone trusts these Grand promises there have

Been too Many in San Salvador Jeff Gallas and his delegation are about to attend an event at the ministry El Salvador native Nelson Ino is also joining them the event is geared towards bitcoiners I’m excited to hear about the digital strategy there are still some unanswered questions even from last year

What’s going on with Bitcoin City what’s planned what’s happening in my experience we can ask pretty open questions at these meetings and also talk to The Experts and they answer to the best of their knowledge Nelson Ino has lived in Germany for several years he hopes Bitcoin can help his native

Country a year and a half ago I only thought of El Salvador as somewhere to visit because my parents live here but I’ve started to see how much their business could develop lots of people are saying that El Salvador could eventually become a country like Singapore and I see that the

Opportunities are there but we have very big challenges Nelson Ino is looking forward to getting new information from the government just like everyone else here the minister of the economy has cancelled but president bula’s cousin will speak she gives the same presentation about Bitcoin as last year regarding Bitcoin city is there a

Time frame or if you will detailed plan when you’re going to build things like the GE power plant that’s needed to power the city about uh Bitcoin City uh we do not have a time limit of when that is going to be created we just have like the project bitcoiners are starting to

Wonder how seriously the government is taking the Bitcoin project I don’t think the slides or the lecture provided any answers about how this is going to be implemented or a time frame of when it will all take place the question is what’s really behind this is this just bait for investors

What will come of it in the end that’s the question we turn to one of the country’s most critical economic voices Tatiana maroin hello how are you are you sick yeah I have a pretty bad fever but I hope I’ll be better in 2 days then we can Skype in

Peace journalist vikor Pena wants to show us how many people in El Salvador earn Money most people here don’t have a formal job no steady monthly income so they subsist they search as we say Here we arrive at at a traditional cattle market in the east of the country you want to understand the economic dynamics of this country this is the reality people get up very early some drive for 4 hours just to buy and sell cattle Victor Pena has spent years

Documenting these cattle markets for a photo project business here is all cash in hand Anibal Ras is a professional Haggler hey what’s that one worth back there I’m going in lots of strong animals give me 10 more I’ll forget it I’ll go over there every dollar is haggled over the profit

Margins are small and have to stretch far a brand seals the deal $1600 for each do you take Bitcoin no no it’s not worth anything here we don’t know what it is they say this money is in circul but it doesn’t work here we want dollars these livestock Traders don’t

Like the idea of Bitcoin people need to smell the money to feel it in their hands so they’re sure they can use it that’s how the local economy is built Bitcoin has no back at the ministry the bitcoiners confront the government about the crash of the crypto exchange FTX they want to know if state-owned Bitcoins are

Affected answers are not forthcoming FX goes down then we all have a problem do of Salvador keep the the Bitcoin like on its own with own private away from an exchange or do you have an exchange unfortunately have that type of information we will have to come back

For you with that because we are not the ones that manage that some people come for the discussions others to network Bitcoin and the state can it really work C Bitcoin there’s a culture clash between Bitcoin culture and politics Bitcoin is very open and transparent it’s critical in the sense of being scientifically

Inquisitive and bitcoiners are people who are very open and honest who want answers to everything and in general politicians are people who just say whatever they need to when in doubt they’ll say they don’t know rather than giving an honest answer we ask Economist taana maroin

What she thinks after a year of Bitcoin hello the promise was Financial inclusion that’s what the Bitcoin law said we can actually see that there’s no benefit in financial inclusion not for people leaving in El Salvador and not for people being outside and send them remittance to El

Salvador it’s actually too risky and I think it’s the same reason why people in in Salvador is not using it the state gave every citizen a wallet of Bitcoin worth $30 when Tatiana opened hers she saw her account was already being used it was stolen yes Bitcoin in El salvad

It’s a representation of how the government act like hiding a lot of information and they do things from one day to the other and if you as a citizen criticize some of the things or the details about what they are doing they actually harass you so yeah there are a

Lot of journalist that has Pegasus I have Pegasus too Spy software on her cell phone installed by her own Government back to panel it’s an important day for the lgo Bitcoin project the biggest challenge is raising the money and we’re in to bear market right now and when we’re in a bare Market excitement and enthusiasm about investing in Bitcoin projects just kind of goes down naturally as you would

Expect and so it because of that it’s it’s super challenging yeah let’s go Patrick melder has invited bitcoiners from all over the world partly because he urgently needs investors but above all he needs publicity for his mining from waste project the Prototype has to win over his guests Bitcoin mining for

Environmental Protection sounds good but can it be implemented on a large scale everyone here knows that Kaboom only generates tiny sums of money if you were connected to the grid you’d be losing money but because they have free electricity you can it’s it’s all profit

I think it’s great yeah I I don’t know how well it scales up but um it’s it’s a fantastic initiative they say they make money here but but I don’t see any come out all right so uh thanks for coming and and seeing Kaboom yeah it looks

Janky it looks homemade because it is um but what we’ve demonstrated here is a proof of concept there’s a reason there’s no wind or solar capacity here because it’s too expensive it’s way from population centers okay what can we do at the lowest cost denominator the cheapest way possible to get mining

Going in in ponel and this is this is it this makes perfect sense sense for decentralizing Mining and hashing for the Bitcoin Network and this is a way to bring in developing countries in the global South to be a part of this Revolution and um not just creating a

Bitcoin circular economy where people bringing Bitcoin but actually to bring the technology which is you know super super exciting now that they’ve seen the Prototype it’s time for the main project they’re heading into the mountains to a huge dump site [Applause] Today San Salvador begins hosting one of the most important Bitcoin conferences in the world adopting Bitcoin day one this is partly about how you promote the adoption of Bitcoin how you get that out to the people El Salvador is a perfect starting point of course because it’s already relevant here in practice terms

But it’s also about how to make Bitcoin better and faster hundreds of bitcoiners entrepreneurs and developers have arrived undaunted by Price drops in the past few months the conference’s focus is on making Bitcoin more accessible Jeff Gallas is chairing a panel on the Topic while they discuss technical problems on stage others are busy networking yeah it’s just like one conversation after each other I need to hide myself Nelson Ino thinks there’s been too little education so far he’s developed a tutorial to help with that we need more ways of showing

Bitcoin to the people who need it most and these are not the people who come here from Europe or North America it’s the Salvadorans who’d have the opportunity to use Bitcoin every day if they understood it La Union at the other end of the country vikor Pena visits the place

Where Bitcoin city is set to be Built it’s not that people don’t want to dream but we can’t dream of first well projects when we don’t have basic education for all we’ve got poor access to healthcare and economic policies are bankrupt there’s no sign of the mega project the president promised a new airport as a connection to bitcoin City

He promised a Pacific train he promised a bridge for the Los churos Highway he promised a stadium but we haven’t seen any of it so Far could you imagine going abroad if the political situation continues like this only time will tell the aggressions and attacks are getting worse and more threatening and because I’m a pessimist I think we have to go that way eventually but wherever I go I still work as a Journalist hey you Max Kaiser has advised El Salvador’s president that’s the opposite you’re [Applause] free the conference comes to an end there was a lot of talk about freedom and sovereignty and little about this situation in the country the current state of emergency wasn’t discussed on any panel Bitcoin conference we’re at a Bitcoin conference we’re not here to talk about the human

Rights situation in El Salvador I think when you’re in El Salvador you have to take off your European glasses and try to observe it as impartially as possible you need to draw your own conclusions I mean we’re not politicians either we’re individuals who’ve come together here out of enthusiasm for

Bitcoin and right now it’s working in El Salvador maybe they’ll come a point when it doesn’t work any anymore I don’t have any definite answers either Bitcoin in El Salvador today seems like more of a symbol than a payment system and it means very different things to different people for

Some it’s the dawn of a digital future for others it sounds more like another wild goose chase It’s our final stop in Guatemala the plan here is to turn trash into digital gold and help finally tackle the trash problem in Panel it’s very sad to see how trash is managed here in Guatemala in bigger cities you’d see 100 times more the sad thing is that our politicians don’t care about anything there are people who live off trash when it rains this just Pours Down seeps into the wated and then if you get

Over here all of this trash in some form all the contaminants are coming out of this landfill down into the Watershed and into the lake and that’s that’s the problem that we’re trying to solve Patrick melder wants to build a plant for Waste sorting and biogas he’ll make it profitable by using

The electricity it generates to mine Bitcoins think this is a multi-million dollar project in our model we want to take some of that Bitcoin the decentralized basic income and put it back into the community because this is this is their waste so they have a right to retain

That that benefit that gold you know when the Spaniards and the Europeans were here four to 500 years ago they took all the gold from the land massive transfer of wealth from Central South America took it to Europe and bitcoin’s digital gold and the digital gold it

Doesn’t look like gold but it’s energy that’s digital gold and we want it to stay here in Central and South America there’s certainly No Lack of vision among bitcoiners in Latin America they want to believe that Bitcoin will help [Applause] everyone

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