TL;DR: Letters from Venezuela is an exclusive CoinSpice series, documenting the South American nation’s last stand among sanctions, political unrest, international condemnation and concern, economic collapse, and the spectre of cryptocurrency possibly demonstrating its main use case. This letter details how the internet is becoming a grey space for people to exert their liberties due to the government’s phishing and blocking apparatus. Gold’s destiny is uncertain in the country as well, and living conditions for the average person are worsening.
Government Phish-Attacks Activists; Internet Blocks Keep Happening in Venezuela
The Venezuelan government is now being accused of turning the internet into an uncertain territory for activists seeking to collaborate with the recently named president Juan Guaidó. According to a report from Motherboard, the site voluntarionsxvenezuela.com, which directed people to sign up and give their support to president Juan Guaidó, suffered a redirect to a similar domain (voluntariovenezuela.com), where users are prompted to deliver some of their personal information in a show of support.
IP of the redirected-to site was also used by several fakes that sought to take the log-in info from popular sites like Gmail, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter among others — all with a domain ending in .ve, which probably means under the direct control of the government. The objective would be to steal info from these people to arrest them, according to a local hacktivist, Jose Luis Rivas. “That’s what they are after. Identifying who’s opposition and doing arbitrary detentions,” he declared.
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) February 18, 2019
This is in combination with other forms of constant censorship the government is exerting over popular alternative news sources like YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, just to name a few. These incidents have been documented by Netblocks, ranging in duration from 12 minutes to even hours. Responsibility for data blackouts has not been claimed by any group, but the modus operandi is consistent with how the government of Venezuela has conducted previous actions.
Venezuelan Gold Keeps Making Headlines for the Wrong Reasons
Talk show host Max Keiser tweeted about a new situation developing with Venezuelan Gold supposedly being confiscated in order to be liquidated. According to his source, 1.4 million troy ounces of gold, worth more than 1 billion dollars in cash, could be confiscated by Citi Bank if the Venezuelan government does not pay a loan due in March. However, with the severe economic problems Venezuelans are facing right now, it is highly unlikely that this gold will be repatriated, at least not quickly.
— Max Keiser, tweet poet. (@maxkeiser) February 16, 2019
This is another possible use case for cryptocurrencies. Gold is a difficult asset to manage, and to liquidate it, security and logistics must be taken into account. However, cryptocurrencies are easier to handle and to liquidate for real cash. Volatility and liquidity could be a problem in the short term, of course. Supposedly, the country has asked Citi not to move ahead with liquidation plans, but money can’t wait.
Prices Skyrocket, Situation Worsens, Venezuelans Leaving the Country
Amidst turmoil and political unrest, there is also a worsening in the economic situation generally. Venezuelans routinely have to skip meals and limit their intake to make ends meet. The situation is so bad that a thread explaining the current prices of basic articles went viral, and even Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance, answered in support.
That sucks, we need a global currency free from dictatorship control.
— CZ Binance (@cz_binance) February 19, 2019
The original author of the thread, Victor, took the task of posting some basic articles, explaining prices in dollars, comparing them with the minimum wage in Venezuela. For example, a box of tea bags costs around 6 dollars, nearly the total amount of the country’s minimum wage. This puts in perspective the difficulties they are having just to eat a daily meal. There are no real statistics about how many Venezuelans earn minimum wage, but it must be a pretty significant amount.
Price = Bs. S 17127.95
Price in US dollars = US$ 5.91
It represents 98.44% of the monthly minimum wage. pic.twitter.com/b4YVAJ4zDk
— Víctor (@Victor2612) February 18, 2019
This is accelerating the process of Venezuelans getting out of the country to find a better life, opportunities in other countries. The ones lucky enough to get a Visa can go to the United States, while the rest just go to neighboring countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. But even in these countries, there is no infrastructure to support them, and chaos and poverty are spreading through Venezuelan ranks. People have to resort to even selling their own hair to survive, to make hair extensions, a pretty popular beauty upgrade for women in Colombia, according to The New York Times. Still, the ones that left the country say they won’t come back by any means, even preferring to sleep on the streets of other countries.
Read earlier Letters from Venezuela to get informed about what is happening in the country.
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