Audience: Master students and researchers Leiden, UvA, VU, UU
Amount: around 50 participants (to be confirmed soon)
Seminar motivation and idea
For decades, various countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have faced persistent economic challenges, such as chronic inflation, hyperinflation, and far-reaching economic constraints due to international trading sanctions and closed borders related to geopolitical interests and global energy markets. These regional economic precarities have pushed both lower and middle-class communities in Latin America and the Caribbean to look for alternatives when they see again their income evaporate and empty ATMs. The recent Covid-19 crisis has once more revealed how unexpected economic backlashes, tied to overlapping health and (geo)political crises, further exacerbate existing economic and social inequalities in the region.
At the same time, we are facing an enormous growth of new digital solutions for day-to-day economic exchange and trade in Latin America. One of the most widespread recent trends associated to digital economies is bitcoin and other global cryptocurrencies, such as ethereum, or local criptomonedas, such as el petro in Venezuela. The premises of freedom, decentralization, autonomy, self-learning, and resistance –renewed promises deriving from the invention of the blockchain– has increasingly attracted many Latin American and Caribbean communities (Pinheiro and Vasen 2021).
On the one hand, cryptocurrencies’ autonomy from formal bank systems and national borders through a peer-to-peer exchange with mobile phones and PCs provide interesting new venues for local communities that are otherwise excluded from local cash flows and global financial markets due chronic inaccessibility to stable currencies and steady markets. On the other hand, the extraction of cryptocurrencies (or crypto mining) creates new rent opportunities that benefit from the often cheap or almost free energy supplies and geopolitical gray zones with modest energy policies, such as countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, El Salvador, and Cuba. The new digital solutions have turned into safe-havens for many people living in these crisis-driven and troubled economies (Cifuentes 2019; Musialkowska et al. 2020; Rosales 2019). Latin America is now even now coined as the continent for exponential growth in future payments and remittances by means of cryptocurrencies.
The flip side of such digital promises and practices is that crypto mining and crypto trading in these countries often reflect survival rather than choice (Johnson 2019). Similarly, the new digital solutions often reproduce existing risks related to the international economic sanctions, corruption and financial fraud (Tankha 2022). Finally, these new investment technologies exponentially increase energy consumption and hence jeopardize local and regional initiatives for sustainable development to mitigate climate change (Howson 2021).
In this one-day seminar, organized by Social and Cultural Anthropology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation at Universiteit van Amsterdam, we will plunge into Latin American and Caribbean realities of contemporary economic crisis and local worlds of cryptocurrency together with a group of interdisciplinary scholars (e.g. law, geography and environmental science, political science, and anthropology) that all work on expanding crypto economies. The focus areas will be on El Salvador and Venezuela– both Latin American and Caribbean economies that face steep economic challenges and protracted economic crises with local communities that are increasingly participating in crypto mining and crypto trading.
Presenters and discussant
Dr. Pete Howson, Senior Lecturer in Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle UK.
Dr. Antulio Rosales, Assistant Professor in Political Science, University of Brunswick, Canada.
Dr. Coco Kanters, Assistant Professor in Liberal Arts, Utrecht University
13.30-13.45 Welcome Eva van Roekel and CEDLA (Hogenboom, Weegels or Koonings)
13.45-14.15 Peter Howson: What is the blockchain?
14.15-15.00 Viewing Howson excerpts film on cryptos with a guiding question for discussion.
15.00-15.15 Coffee break
15.15-15.45 Peter Howson: nexus cryptos & crisis
15.45-16.15 Antulio Rosales: El Salvador
16.15-16.30 Coffee break
16.30-17.00 Antulio Rosales: Venezuela
17.00-17.45 Recap of discussant Coco Kanters with Q&A
17.45-18.00 Closing words Eva and CEDLA
18.00-19.00 Drinks and informal discussion
Please register here: +INFO