Venezuelan gov’t blocks digital currency health bonus payments

Over 60,000 healthcare workers in Venezuela may miss out on millions of dollars in bonus payments after the government blocked access to a local digital currency exchange. The exchange was to be used to distribute the bonus payments to the workers in U.S. dollars and digital currencies.

The healthcare workers were to benefit from a payment scheme organized by opposition leader and National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, who won a legal battle against President Maduro, leading to the recovery of over $24 million from foreign accounts. Of this, about $18 million would be distributed to health workers at a time when they are on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19.

However, this plan has been halted by the government’s blocking of Airtm, a popular digital currency exchange in Venezuela. In a country where the local bolivar currency has been extremely devalued after two decades of hyperinflation, the opposition sought to pay the health workers through Airtm exchange. The exchange, which has over 500,000 users in Venezuela, allows them to access digital currencies and U.S. dollars.

Airtm co-founder Josh Kliot blamed Maduro’s socialist government for the outage. Speaking to Associated Press, he stated, “You know you’re dealing with a totalitarian power when a government blocks access to a basic need like internet. All we want to do is help those who most need it by making money free and accessible.”

This is not the first time that the Venezuelan government has blocked access to Airtm as Maduro struggles to drive usage of his Petro digital currency and the local bolivar currency. Venezuelans have been using VPNs to avoid the censorship, a move the exchange has been advocating for.

Kliot told AP that in the coming days, the exchange will work with the opposition to educate more people on VPN usage.

Maduro’s blockage of the much-needed financial reprieve for health workers comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Venezuela. At press time, it has claimed the lives of 351 people, with over 41,000 infections. Venezuela’s health system has crumbled under the weight of the pandemic, with the health workers being among the most adversely affected.

Airtm has become quite popular in Venezuela, recording $25 million in trading volume monthly. Kliot believes that the partnership with the opposition will push this figure up by $5 million.

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