El Salvador’s Bukele Remains Popular Despite Bad Bitcoin Bets and Collapsing Economy

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele bets on Bitcoin last September when he made it legal tender in the Central American nation and invested a lot of money in cryptocurrency himself.

A year and $107 million later, and his investment isn’t paying off: the president has lost more than $61 million on paper compared to those Bitcoin purchases, Nayib Tracker site data showsand many citizens still don’t use it.

The economy of the small country is not doing very well either. The IMF has warned that El Salvador’s economy will only grow by 1.7% in 2023, which will look like a recession.

But that does not mean that President Bukele is not liked. According according to a CID Gallup poll released Thursday, the leader has the highest approval ratings in Latin America.

CID Gallup, a Costa Rican consulting firm, surveyed 1,200 citizens in 13 Latin American countries and found President Bukele to be the most popular, with an approval rating of 86%. Bukele fared much better than the leaders of major Latin American economies such as Mexico and Argentina (but the poll didn’t include all countries in the region.)

This may surprise political observers outside the country, given reports of civil unrest in El Salvador. Last year, Salvadorans take to the streets several times to protest the Bitcoin law and the president consolidating too much power.

And the chief, who once admitted he buys crypto on his phone while naked, has been criticized by all US lawmakers – who called bitcoin law a “negligent bet” – for the world Bank and IMF.

Salvadoran bitcoin law requires businesses to accept the largest cryptocurrency if they have the technological means to do so.

The country’s government encouraged citizens to use the asset by giving them all $30 worth of Bitcoin through a state-issued digital wallet.

When Decrypt visited the country at the end of 2021, we found many Salvadorans were not interested in bitcoin and businesses were hesitant to accept it.

But El Salvador, an impoverished nation that often finds a place on lists of the world’s deadliest countries, is supposed to be less dangerous under Bukele.

The eccentric leader has launched a harsh crackdown this year rounding up suspected gang members and throwing more than 53,000 of them in jail.

The bold move was hailed by Salvadorans – they say the country is safer – but criticized by human rights groups, who prevent it is unsustainable and could lead to a crisis in the country’s prisons.

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