Tech-savvy Venezuelans looking to bypass dysfunctional economic controls are turning to the bitcoin virtual currency to obtain dollars, make Internet purchases -- and launch a little subversion. Two New York-based Venezuelan brothers hope this week to start trading on the first bitcoin exchange in the socialist-run country, which already has at least several hundred bitcoin enthusiasts.
Due to currency controls introduced by late president Hugo Chavez a decade ago, acquiring hard currency now means either requesting it from the state, which struggles to satisfy demand, or tapping a shadowy black market. Even small dollar transactions are out of the question for most Venezuelans. The government has declined to comment on bitcoin policy, which has created a gray market for the digital currency. In Venezuela, using bitcoins can carry a scent of subversion. "Bitcoin is a way of rebelling against the system," said one bitcoin trader, Caracas-based software developer John Villar, 32. Venezuela-born brothers Kevin and Victor Charles, now based in New York, are this week hoping to open the "SurBitcoin" exchange, which will match bitcoin buyers and sellers online.