On the coast of El Salvador, lies a small rustic beach town of 3,000 locals, known as El Zonte. A surfer’s paradise, the village is frequented by those seeking an authentic and rustic vibe. Like so many Central-American beach towns, the families of El Zonte were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While other tourist hot-spots continue to struggle as borders remain closed, the people of El Zonte have forged their own path forward, thanks to its newly formed Bitcoin economy.
The Secret Bitcoin Donation
Sometime in early 2019, an anonymous donor with a fondness for El Zonte discovered a forgotten thumb drive loaded with Bitcoin. He had originally purchased the asset when it was priced at around 5-10 cents, and put it aside for several years. Upon realizing what his holdings were now worth, the donor spent several days attempting to unlock his wallet. After many futile attempts, the donor was finally able to remember his passphrase and retrieve the funds. A believer in using blockchain technology to boost inclusion for the unbanked, he decided to seize this stroke of luck and put the funds to good use by allocating a multi-year six figure donation to El Zonte.
After meeting with several philanthropies in the region, all of which wanted to take the funds and convert them into fiat to cover the community’s immediate needs, the donor partnered with Michael Peterson, a San-Diego native that spends up to 9 months of the year volunteering in El Zonte. Michael was given the opportunity to administer the Bitcoin on one condition – he would not cash it out. Beneficiaries of the digital currency had to learn how to use the Bitcoin itself, creating a Bitcoin economy. This was the birth of the Bitcoin Beach initiative.
Bitcoin Beach set out to create a sustainable Bitcoin ecosystem, where the majority of residents are unbanked and the local businesses don’t meet the requirements that would enable them to accept credit cards.
Michael Peterson developed a proposal for a Bitcoin circular economy which factored in remittances, tourism, public service and small business. Parallel to El Zonte, Bitcoin was also injected into another beach community 3 hours away, Punta Mango. The goal is for Bitcoin adoption to grow in different communities and fill the gaps in over time.
A popular criticism of Bitcoin is the high fees and slow processing speed of the network. Using Bitcoin can be impractical when purchasing a cup of coffee, for example. The Bitcoin Beach initiative addressed this challenge head on.
“Originally, it didn’t make sense for 25 cent transactions, but did for 5 dollars. But when the transaction costs ramped up again, we…