The American, originally from San Diego (California), came to El Zonte beach in 2006 as a surfer and then started his business and implemented Bitcoin.
On June 25, Amy Castor, a journalist specializing in cryptocurrencies, published on her blog an article called “Michael Peterson, El Salvador and Bitcoin Beach, which is summarized in the following paragraphs:
“On June 8, El Salvador passed a law to make bitcoin legal tender, in parallel with the dollar. Overnight, President Nayib Bukele became a complete bitcoiner, still embracing the laser eyes of bitcoin on his Twitter profile – he and members of his cabinet too.
Who sold this plan to Bukele? Many think it was Michael Peterson, a 47-year-old white evangelical from San Diego. A surfer, Peterson first came to El Zonte in 2006 to test the waves. He fell in love with the place so much that he bought a house there and now has several cabins that he rents for surfers.
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The same year, Peterson established MissionSake, an institution that gives community aid and support to evangelical missionaries, who in turn give advice for daily life, financial planning and the use of Bitcoin.
Peterson lives there 9 months of the year with his wife and two children, and the rest in San Diego, where he runs a bacon-wrapped food business.
Eventually Peterson started what he calls “a Bitcoin circular economy” in El Zonte and Punta Mango, with some paying others in Bitcoins and back, using a mobile phone payment application.
In the world at large, Bitcoin has failed as a payment system from day one. It’s too volatile, too slow, and finger mistakes mean the money is gone forever. The only ones who use it for payments are criminals and hackers who hijack computer systems for a ransom. In order for people to use his software at El Zonte, Peterson had to gift them Bitcoins.
As he was trying to make his system work, he was making modifications to it, adopting a “wallet” to store Bitcoins that he called Bitcoin Beach Wallet, complemented with a private version of a network called Lightning to make transfers, and cooperating with another version of the same network used in another Bitcoin payments application called Strike.
This has added complication and confusion to the task of moving from one beach to the entire country to make payments, with a system that was not competitive to begin with.
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Peterson says that the Bitcoin Beach app is doing very well. Reports from the place tell a different story. Many El Zonte residents downloaded the app just to convert the given Bitcoin into cash. The case of Zelma Rivas is illustrative of the people who tried to use them.
She started by accepting Bitcoins for the fruits she sells, but now she uses Bitcoins very rarely because her phone barely handles the payments app. When Reuters interviewed her, her phone was not working.
The project is also suffering from other problems. Some of the residents of El Zonte see in the image of the Bitcoin, in the lower right edge, the number 666, which the Apocalypse identifies as the number of the mark of the Beast (the Antichrist), a mark that would be used in the last times to buy and sell, and that it would be used as a sign of obedience to Satan.
Also, these neighbors think that the first part of the cryptocurrency name is a satanic mockery of the name of Christ.
On the other hand, the commissions at Bitcoin ATMs have proven to be very high at the scene. A user received $ 13 when he tried to cash $ 20 into Bitcoins. In addition to a $ 5 charge, the ATM added a 10.5% fee.
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Peterson promotes Bitcoin while glossing over its sad realities, such as that Bitcoin does not work well for payments, that the Lightning Network he uses for transfers cannot be made large enough to handle the entire country, and that El Salvador does not have the infrastructure necessary for this to work by September 7th.
What is Peterson’s master plan? He wants to see Bitcoin adopted by the 6.5 million inhabitants, with El Zonte functioning as the nerve center. Peterson told “Go Full Crypto” that his vision includes erecting a monument to Bitcoin in El Zonte, with a large “B”.
“We want it to be a point of reference where people can come and take selfies,” Peterson said. He just has to convince the neighbors that the “B” is for Bitcoin, not “the Beast.”