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New Campaign Would Allow Cryptocurrency Donations To Be Distributed To Venezuelans


How can you distribute humanitarian aid safely and efficiently, especially to places like Venezuela, where physical cargo, such as food aid and medical supplies, are stopped at the border and the national currency, the bolivar, suffers from devaluation and hyperinflation? Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, is leading a new campaign called Airdrop Venezuela. The campaign would allow cryptocurrency donations to be distributed to Venezuelans that they can use to purchase goods. Professor Hanke joins us now.


STEVE HANKE: Good to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So before we begin, we have to say that you served as an economic adviser to former Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera between 1995 and '96. And you're also part of the board of AirTM, an online currency exchange company whose existing platform you're using for this campaign. So tell us, how would it work? How many people receive these donations? And how will they be able to use it?

HANKE: Well, our objective is to have 100,000 people verified that would qualify to receive donations. Right now we're at 60,000. We've collected $272,000 to date, and the objective is to get to $1 million. So we'll have $1 million, and we'll have 100,000 Venezuelans receiving equal portions of that. And we'll probably be delivering in August.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. How does it work?

HANKE: You donate a cryptocurrency to the campaign, and that cryptocurrency goes to the AirTM platform and is distributed to wallets of the qualified Venezuelans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The wallets - you mean their phones.

HANKE: Their phones, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously, there are challenges to cryptocurrency. How would this practically work, though? Could people actually use this to buy the things that they need?

HANKE: Well, this is what most people probably will do - go to the AirTM platform and exchange the cryptocurrencies that they've received in their wallet for real money that they can use to buy things. And the real money would, in most cases, be U.S. dollars. When the currency in your country is literally melting in your hand and - knowing that, the key is getting people hard currency that they can actually use to purchase something. And so that was the general attraction. And the technology of using this Internet platform is just what the doctor ordered.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: AirTM's CEO Ruben Galindo told the Miami Herald he hopes he can work with opposition leader Juan Guaido in the future. So I guess the wider question is, are the intentions of the project purely humanitarian or also partly political?

HANKE: No, they're purely humanitarian at this point. And these are private - the private exchanges that are going on. And there's really no particular political motivation. It's just to help people to give them some purchasing power. The money comes from private donations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I guess my last question is if this works and this is effective, where do you see this headed?

HANKE: This will be a demonstration of how relief agencies all around the world can easily deliver aid and relief to people in need. You won't have to drive a pickup truck around filled with cash that you're giving away or filled with medicine or clothing or food. That's an inefficient and unsafe way to do things. You'll have a very safe way to do it. I think it will be the - a - really, a new thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steve Hanke is a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University.

Thank you so much.

HANKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.