TL;DR: Letters from Venezuela is an exclusive CoinSpice series, an inside look from a reporter on the ground, documenting the South American nation’s last stand among sanctions, political unrest, international condemnation and concern, economic collapse, and the specter of cryptocurrency possibly demonstrating its main use case. In this installment, the Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Foreigners (SAIME) started accepting bitcoin as payment for passport processes for users abroad.
Bitcoin Now Accepted as Payment for Passport Processes
The Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Foreigners (SAIME) has reportedly started taking bitcoin as payment for passport processes, according to initial reports posted to Reddit and confirmed by several sources. However, the is available just for citizens requiring their passports renewed abroad. While the system also offers credit cards as alternate payment, that option is temporarily disabled and marked as coming soon. Previously all processes for citizens abroad, including passport payments, were paid using debit or credit cards; now bitcoin is the only option.
— Dennis Parker (@Xentagz) June 24, 2020
The new system is using a version of BTCPay, an open-source BTC server that allows anyone to take bitcoin payments with no third party gateways involved, something that would be essential for the Venezuelan government, which has faced a slew of new and tightening sanctions from the US government just this year alone. The move from traditional payments to cryptocurrencies surely seeks to shield income from possible foreign government sanctions. The so-called Bolivarian Diaspora (Venezuelans who fled looking for better opportunities in the midst of the socialist revolution) is composed of 5-6 million Venezuelans who might still need to use passport services actively.
According to reports from citizens trying to pay for passport processes, the Venezuelan government is using a lower bitcoin spot price than the current market consensus, meaning users have to purchase more in bitcoin to pay for the $200 price of the passport.
Petro Used to Pay for Passports Inside Venezuela
The move to use cryptocurrencies to pay for several key state-provided services is not new. The Venezuelan government announced that their official cryptocurrency, the Petro, would be used to pay for state-provided services back in January. President Nicolás Maduro issued an executive order stating that documents regarding purchases and sales of vehicles and rent contracts, jet fuel, and international port expenses would be settled in Petros, and even a percentage of the oil produced would be sold in Petros. However, currently, only passports for citizens in the country are being actively paid in Petros.
Venezuelans have been driven to alternative payment methods via sanctions and restrictions from banks and financial institutions abroad. Just last month, Wells Fargo removed the ability to use Zelle, a popular platform for transactions without costly fees, for Venezuelans with bank accounts living abroad.
While the logical move would be to also use the Petro for official payments abroad, that notion has already been sanctioned by the Trump Administration since 2018, when the US President issued an executive order barring US citizens and companies from purchasing Petros.
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