El Salvador police this week detained one of the country’s most vocal Bitcoin critics, as protests against president Nayib Bukele’s plans to adopt the cryptocurrency as legal tender raged on.
According to Reuters, authorities picked up crypto commentator Mario Gomez on Wednesday and accused him of financial fraud. Oddly, they issued no arrest warrant.
After a few hours in custody, the computer scientist was reportedly returned to his home.
Gomez has frequently leveraged his Twitter account to rail against Bukele’s Bitcoin plan.
The activist recently shared a curious link between El Salvador’s proposed crypto wallet Chivo and last year’s massive Twitter hack — in which dozens of celebrity accounts were commandeered to spruik a Bitcoin giveaway scam.
In a Wednesday tweet, Gomez said (automatically translated, our emphasis):
“I was asked to review the BTC address that appears in the Chivo Wallet presentation that they uploaded to LinkedIn. The address is the same that the Twitter hackers used when they stole Elon Musk’s account.”
“A slide with an address with illicit funds does not help Chivo, eh.”
El Salvadoran police noted on Twitter that their investigation into Gomez involved “false emails sent to users of the banking system.”
Gomez’ lawyer said he had no idea about his accusations.
Bitcoin Bukele still needs to convince El Salvador
Many see Gomez’s arrest as another example of Bukele’s willingness for authoritarian tactics to ensure that his Bitcoin rollout — due next week — goes as planned.
If Bitcoin becomes legal tender in El Salvador, it will make the Central American nation the first country in the world to adopt it in this way.
But the general public is skeptical of Bukele’s Bitcoin push.
In a July, an opinion poll showed three-quarters of El Salvadorans surveyed said they “had reservations” about the plans.
Many say they don’t have enough information about Bitcoin and wouldn’t be comfortable using it in their daily lives. They also cite its volatility and potential for criminal activity.
Others are confused as vendors have been told they must accept Bitcoin payments, while Bukele himself has said it’s not mandatory for businesses or consumers.
“The Bitcoin law is something arbitrary by the government,” said one protester via The Age.
And as El Salvador’s Bitcoin D-Day inches closer, opinion hasn’t mellowed.
Just this week, around 300 protesters gathered outside El Salvador’s Congress and demanded the new law be quashed.
Some reportedly worried they’d be forced to accept pensions and welfare payments in Bitcoin rather than the US dollar.
However, Bukele has consistently claimed the El Salvadoran Bitcoin plan will be optional and go a long way to help some of the country’s poorest citizens.
He says Bitcoin will rid fees Salvadorans abroad pay to wire money home to their families.
And Bukele has stuck to this line, telling his critics to wait and see.
Over 2.5 million Salvadorans live in other countries. Last year alone, those expats sent back the equivalent of almost $6 billion — 23% of El Salvador’s entire GDP.
As noted by The Age, Bukele wrote to Twitter account last week:
“The clumsy opposition always plays single-move chess. They have bet everything on scaring the population about the bitcoin law and maybe they’ll achieve something, but only until September 7.”
“Once it’s in effect, people will see the benefits; they’ll be shown up as liars. And what happens if someone doesn’t want to use bitcoin? Well, nothing. Don’t download the application and continue with life as normal.”
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