Buenos Aires And The Bitcoin Posted on 23 May 04:02 , 0 comments

Article by Chris Sorrentino.

After seeing images from the recent 6k Star Wars marathon in San Isidro on May 4th, no one would be shocked to come across hordes of Argen-nerds decked out in Viva Satoshi tee shirts.

Yet, Bitcoin is heard in taxis, cafés, bars and on buses. It seems BA has become one of the first homes of the infamous and inspiring crypto-currency. According to Bitpago’s Sebastián Serrano, Porteños are only behind New Yorkers and Tel Avivians when it comes to coin users and meetup participants.

In fact, I was both shocked and reassured after seeing Bitcoins being sold on Mercadolibre, Argentina’s ebay. Of course some entrepreneurial locals were “fraccionando” Bitcoin like the salami and expensive cheeses also found on the site. The rates were pretty terrible compared to international markets, but Bitcoins have been sold for a while on the ubiquitous platform.

While crypto currencies like Bitcoin are still mysterious for many, they’ve been accepted into an increasing number of lay and professional circles. The interest and attention has been so extensive that a local tech startup Xapo (a Bitcoin wallet and vault) recently raised an eye popping $20 Million USD from Silicon Valley investors.

Vaults are something of an Argentine pastime, with the former President Kirchner having gotten a reputation for gleefully micromanaging the construction of his multiple personal walk-in models.

This tradition, stoked by a local history of unstable banks and currencies, means that for the past two years Xapo has “been in stealth mode […] managing Bitcoins for large institutional clients – think investment banks and financial firms.” Xapo stores your Bitcoin on “100% safe” insured offline vaults, providing unparalleled Bitcoin security.

With their newest offer including debit cards for easy spending from an accessible online wallet, their aim is to provide individuals with the same class of services they’ve been providing large institutions. Is this bubble talk, or is something important happening in local and international banking?  For Bitpago’s founder Sebastian Serrano it’s an answer to a historical problem not only in Argentina but South America “el 50% de la población de Sudamérica no está bancarizado” y que la moneda virtual puede resultar “un medio de pago en línea que permite hacer compras a quienes no tienen tarjeta“.

The scene is relatively new, but growing. Locals are clearly “in long” on Bitcoins, but like the infamous and inspiring Freudianism, will Bitcoin be ghettoized as another quirky BA hobby? Or is it yet another revolutionary idea looking for the country’s unique combination of freedom, rule of law, and anarchy that give movements like crypto-currency the space to evolve and grow?

While Bitcoin’s daily market price is made or broken by Chinese and US regulatory announcements, I’ve decided to explore this crypto currency in action, in a city which has happily given it some space to see what can happen. 

Stay tuned ……