Buenos Aires to Unleash Latin America’s First Bitcoin Hub

EspañolI met Franco Amati at the intersection of Marcelo T. de Alvear and Reconquista street, in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires. Amati is a libertarian geek and an early bitcoin adopter in Argentina. He is also the co-founder of the Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space, a meeting point for cryptocurrency supporters and an open collaborative space for the bitcoin community.

Amati gave me a tour of the facilities: a three-story building with a terrace that even comes equipped with a grill. He showed me the offices, some still under construction, and a room that will be used for meetings, training sessions, and conferences.

We finally arrived at BitPay’s Latin America offices and sat on the couch to begin the interview. Rodolfo Andragnes and Alberto Vega, also members of the company, looked excited to join us in our chat.

Franco Amati, Rodolfo Andragnes, Alberto Vega y Gonzalo Blousson in Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space
Franco Amati, Rodolfo Andragnes, Alberto Vega, and Gonzalo Blousson in Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space. (PanAm Post)

When did you start with the project?

Amati: We started in 2013 with informal meetups at a bar. That’s where the idea to do something else to spread the use of bitcoin emerged.

Andragnes: Similar things were said back when the internet first got going.

How would you define bitcoin?

Andragnes: Bitcoin is a technology used to transfer value without regard to distance. The technology allows for value transfers in less than three seconds, at virtually no cost.

Bitcoin is the transaction network and also the good being transferred. It has a market value in every country in the world.

Bitcoin adds two qualities that traditional currencies lack: it’s programmable (I can send bitcoins to someone, and from there to another person in a predetermined amount of time), and it’s also traceable, a concept that didn’t exist until today. It redefines the parameters of what it is to be good currency.

And the risks?

Franco Amati at Espacio Bitcoin Buenos Aires
Franco Amati. (PanAm Post)

Vega: Companies like ours, we offer services to precisely avoid exposure to bitcoin’s volatility. We help people to receive payments in bitcoin, but the money is deposited in the local currency of the company.

The growth in services now accepting bitcoin is really unbelievable. There are even solutions now to counter hackers targeting virtual wallets. You can achieve complete security over the system.

Amati: Volatility is bitcoin’s worst enemy, so I’d like to offer some clarification. On the one hand, people who use bitcoin as an exchange tool are not affected by volatility. To someone like this it doesn’t matter if bitcoin is worth US$1 or US$1,000, because this person only holds it temporarily, maybe a couple hours. For example, one could buy bitcoins in Spain, then transfer them to Argentina, where they are quickly sold.

On the other hand, volatility affects investors. The investor is aware of the risk attached to the opportunity.

As the number of temporary users grow, the value will increase, because more people will be using it. We need more than just investors to increase the value.

Another issue dealing with volatility is the uncertainty around bitcoin.With this currency, we are novices. The first time that an exchange platform went bankrupt (MtGox) it significantly impacted the price. People were shocked, but that’s because it was the first time. If it happens again, it won’t be as bad, because it’s clear it was an isolated case.

Andragnes: The risks related to bitcoin, these boogeymen, will disappear as time goes by.

Where do you see bitcoin in the next ten years?

Edward Snowden's poster in Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space
Edward Snowden’s poster in Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space. (PanAm Post)

Andragnes: I don’t think it will replace all the currencies in the world. It’s going to be just another alternative to store and transfer value.

Vega: Today, it is already a big step forward for payment systems globally. If you notice, the payment systems we use today are all actually very old. The credit card, for example, was invented in the 1950s. Since then, the only innovation has been to change the magnetic strip and a new security code.

Andragnes: Notice the receipt you’re given to sign after the transaction is archaic.

There will come a time, for example, when any grandmother will place a card over the counter and make a payment without understanding the technology behind it. It’s the same whether the payment is made in bitcoins or not. What is important is that thanks to bitcoin we can leave paper behind and make secure transactions.

It’s like the quote by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses?”

Andragnes: Yes, it’s something very similar.

Who is part of Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space?

Amati: Bitcoin Space is two things. It’s a space available to organize, hold conferences and bitcoin community meetings, and for people who wants to learn about bitcoin. If you see our billboard on the street, you can come to get information about this.

On the other hand, it works as a co-working space for entrepreneurs. This is how we fund the conferences and training sessions.

Conference room
Conference room. (PanAm Post)

Is there anything similar in other parts of the world?

Andragnes: Yes, there are some similar places in at least eight or nine countries, but we are the first in Latin America.

How can you explain the growth of bitcoin in Argentina?

Andragnes: Argentina has suffered through various economic crises, and is a society that is accustomed to depositing its savings in US dollars.

Amati: Sure, our country has a history of economic difficulties. People are used to saving in assets other than their own currency and to distrust the banking system. It’s different if you live in a country with a two percent annual inflation rate than to live in one with over 30 percent.

Those who deposited bitcoins, will receive bitcoins?*

Andragnes: (Laughing) Yes. It would be impossible not to do it.

Which celebrities do you know that use and support bitcoin?

Amati: Ashton Kutcher is an investor in several bitcoin-related startups. Another one is Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, the only company offering trips to space.

So, can I pay my ticket to space with bitcoins?

Andragnes: Yes. If you ask, almost everything can be done with bitcoin.

Vega: Given the advantages of bitcoin, a lot of business are joining. We’ve had big investments come in already. Every year there is a record-breaking number of payments with bitcoin.

Has bitcoin come to stay?

The Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space operates from the first floor of this building in the city's downtown center
The Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space operates from the first floor of this building in the city’s downtown center. (PanAm Post)

Amati: Yes, totally. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin has an edge with respect to the traditional systems, so it will continue to exist until something better replaces it.

Andragnes: If we understand this from a global point of view, bitcoin’s acceptance is practically unanimous.

Amati: There are only three countries where bitcoin is forbidden. It’s true that Mastercard and Visa are forbidden in many more countries than bitcoin — the countries with trade embargoes.

When will Buenos Aires Bitcoin Space open?

Amati: By September, for sure.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

*Editor’s note: former President of Argentina Eudardo Duhalde famously said, “Those who deposited dollars, will receive dollars.” Weeks later, he froze all savings accounts in dollars and converted the balance to local pesos at an unfavorable rate.

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