tl;dr Summary: 44 delegates from developing nations traveled to El Salvador last week to take part in meetings of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion. Although not technically a bitcoin event, El Salvador’s new bitcoin economy was on display front and centre, with delegates taking a trip to “Bitcoin Beach.”
In September 2021, El Salvador’s enigmatic President Nayib Bukele famously declared bitcoin to be legal tender in the Central American nation. Last week, El Salvador played host to economic representatives from 44 developing nations, hosting the Alliance for Financial Inclusion 25th Digital Financial Services Working Group (DFSWG) and 18th Small and Medium Enterprise Finance Working Group (SMEFWG) meetings.
The event was co-hosted by the Alliance for Financial Inclusion and the Reserve Bank of El Salvador, and ran from 16-19 May. Unsurprisingly, discussion was focused on the topic of financial inclusion. Interestingly, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion did not include bitcoin on the official agenda, but it seems fair to say the digital currency was front and centre.
The Alliance for Financial Inclusion describes itself as a “policy leadership alliance owned and led by member central banks and financial regulatory institutions with the common objective of advancing financial inclusion at the country, regional and international levels.” The organization is formed of 89 ‘developing and emerging’ countries, and has over 100 global institutions as members. Last week’s meeting marked the first following a two-year hiatus secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After three days of presentations, delegates took a visit to the famous surf break at El Zonte Beach on day four. El Zonte is also known as “Bitcoin Beach” after becoming the ‘home’ of the bitcoin experiment in El Salvador initially in 2019. It remains an iconic tourist destination for Bitcoin enthusiasts. Delegates were encouraged to transact with local vendors using bitcoin wallets and the lightning network, and even posed for a group photo shouting “Bitcoin” to the camera, captured on the Bitcoin Beach Twitter account.
The event has sparked debate on Twitter, with some suggesting that El Salvador was forcing bitcoin upon what was not strictly a bitcoin event. For others however, cryptocurrency and bitcoin are synonymous with the organization’s goal of financial inclusion. Bitcoin payments platform Galoy, who created the ‘bitcoin beach wallet,’ surmised this issue in a blog about the event, stating;
This sentiment was echoed in the opening remarks of AFI Policy Programs & Implementation Director Eliki Boletawa, who congratulated El Salvador on their recent adoption of Bitcoin, stating it demonstrates “commitment to balancing innovation with its basic mandates of stability, integrity, and inclusivity.”
In January, the International Monetary Federation (IMF) warned El Salvador about the risks associated with its new bitcoin economy, and urged the nation to remove bitcoin as legal tender. President Bukele has shown no signs of heeding the IMF’s advice however, and remains adamant that the bitcoin experiment has been a great success, drawing on favourable GDP and tourism statistics. The Central African Republic recently became the second country to accept bitcoin as legal tender, and to many it seems only a matter of time before more nation states follow their footsteps.