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. The country now has its first Bitcoin ATM thanks to Arley Lozano, co-founder of Panda Group. We chatted with Lozano about this important milestone and prospects for cryptocurrency adoption in the beleaguered nation.
Venezuela’s First Bitcoin ATM
Several months ago a Panama-based company, Cryptobuyer, announced they were setting up a more traditional Bitcoin ATM in Caracas, the capital city, but the machine was never available to the public, though tests were conducted. A first Bitcoin ATM is important for any country, of course. Venezuela is no exception. This time around, it has taken a slightly different turn.
The machine is now sitting inside a travel agency located in the border town of San Antonio del Táchira, near Colombia. That first Bitcoin ATM is actually the latest wrinkle in crypto adoption here. Venezuelans continue to use LocalBitcoins, and more franchises are using crypto-enabled Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems. It’s still early, and much too slow for enthusiasts, but decentralized, stateless money is making its way in the land of Maduro.
Cryptocurrency startup Panda Group is the company responsible for the installation of the country’s first Bitcoin ATM. The PandaBTM, as it is called, is a small device that feels more like a phone than a traditional first Bitcoin ATM, and also serves as a crypto PoS for regional businesses looking to accept payments in cryptocurrencies. The PandaBTM lets customers buy or sell BTC, bitcoin cash (BCH), dai (DAI), and dash (DASH) with fiat bank transfers. The Panda Group PoS is part of their XPay line of products, already in use by local pharmacy franchise, Farmarket.
Interview with Arley Lozano, Panda Group CEO
Arley Lozano, also known as “vakano” within internet circles, is one of the earliest cryptocurrency advocates in the region, being active in the scene long before it got to the mainstream. He’s a firm believer in using crypto as a currency, and so he co-founded Panda Group with his wife, Leidy Angarita, and a group of Venezuelan investors. Going from a tiny startup to distributing PoS terminals in Colombia and Venezuela, Lozano really knows the dynamics of the cryptocurrency market in these latitudes.
However, even with all that knowledge, developing and installing a cryptocurrency ATM in Venezuela is no easy task due to the stringent government regulations and unstable economic situation. Lozano tells CoinSpice how he’s dealing with all these problems, and why a working Bitcoin ATM available to the public matters.
CoinSpice: Can you explain the process to set up a cryptocurrency ATM in a country like Venezuela?
Arley Lozano: Well, we first started consulting all the laws regarding cryptocurrencies and making sure we would be able to fulfill all the requirements to act as an international enterprise conducting money transmission businesses. We worked in that, and we presented the idea that was accepted by government regulators. I think now it’s the time for big startups and small companies to enter Venezuela and start populating this cryptocurrency ecosystem.
Why did you install the ATM in a small town like San Antonio?
San Antonio was a prime spot to install the ATM because I feel like it’s my home. The location being near to the border is also favorable because many Venezuelans and Colombians could use it to exchange their fiat currency for crypto before traveling to the neighboring country. We also have plans of expanding this to other locations in the future, but the idea behind this is to get people to use cryptocurrencies as a tool to benefit them.
How have people received this Crypto ATM? And how has the government reacted to its existence?
We have had constant conversations with the government, and as long as we comply with their requirements, they are fine with us operating. Since we onboarded the Farmarket franchise, they have been saying to us that Petro support was not required, but that in the future there could be heavy competition from other actors supporting it. We always act respecting the local regulations. People are already using the cryptocurrency ATM, and the first operations have already been conducted. Panda is the only company that offers settlement in Colombian Pesos or Venezuelan Bolivares in the border, all through bank wires.
The PandaBTM devices can also act as XPay devices and process cryptocurrency purchases of goods and services. This is a great solution for stores that want to sell cryptocurrencies, and still use the PoS for their main use case: payments.
Do you have plans to keep expanding the cryptoculture in Venezuela?
Yes, absolutely. The great thing about Panda is that all of our products were created to be used in Venezuela. We will have 50 more PandaBTM machines all across the country, giving Venezuelans an option to conduct their crypto transactions close to them. We also have more than 120 stores signed up in our XPay system that can be used with only a phone and its free to register. Farmarket was just the start, and we hope that more and more stores will use these payment utilities in the future.
What is your eventual goal?
My personal goal is to expand the cryptocurrency usage in Venezuela. We have shown that operating here is possible even being an international company if you follow local regulations. Cryptocurrencies were once considered a scam, but nowadays most doors have been opened and people are more receptive to new forms of payment.
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