The Caracas Chronicles , an independent Venezuelan newspaper, found in cryptocurrencies and the growing rise of NFTs a way to continue doing journalism in the Latin American country where the main sources of information are firmly under the control of the dictatorial government of Nicolás Maduro.
Online since 2002, the portal began as a personal blog by journalist Francisco “Quico” Toro, it grew as the inflation-ridden Venezuela's political-economic situation worsened. Because it is written in English, Caracas Chronicles has gained international attention for showing Venezuela to the rest of the world.
The general director of the newspaper, Raúl Stolk, 48, currently lives in Miami (USA) and spoke with the Bitcoin Portal about the new phase of the website, which tries to integrate blockchain solutions, such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs, to finance the vehicle.
Earlier this month, the portal launched its first NFT collection of satirical illustrations of bolivar notes illustrating popular figures in the country, such as artists Simón Díaz and Teresa Carreño, and politician Arturo Uslar Pietri. There are 99 tokens and each one is on sale for 0.1 ETH, about R$ 1,900 per token at the time, according to the Ethereum Price Index (IPE) .
Although they have only been offered for sale now in the form of NFTs, the banknotes were created during a newspaper campaign that went viral in 2016. Raúl Stolk told more about this story:
“Just before the second currency redenomination that preceded the hyperinflation, we ran an experiment with our readers and asked what figures they thought should appear in the new bill. As soon as the drawings were released, the notes went viral and, without meaning to, everyone in the country believed they were true. It was a mess, but it was a lot of fun.”
Although they came as a joke, the fake notes also expose the mess that the country's monetary policy has become. No wonder the NFT collection was launched on Oct. 1, the same day Venezuela underwent its third currency redenomination since 2008 .
“It is a form of protest at the same time that it brings attention to what is happening with Venezuela's monetary policy. In the end, NFTs will be a way to fund our independent media,” Stolk reports. “We want to test how we can integrate the crypto world into our business model. If we are successful in this campaign, we already have the next phases planned”, says the journalist.
Adoption of cryptocurrencies in Venezuela
Before exploring the world of NFTs, Caracas Chronicles already used cryptocurrencies to support itself. Part of the newspaper's funding comes from donations from readers who, since 2018, can contribute by donating cryptocurrencies . Currently, the portal accepts six different assets: Bitcoin (BTC) , Ethereum (ETH) , Dogecoin (DOGE) , Litecoin (LTC) , Bitcoin Cash (BCH) , USDC and DAI.
“In the beginning, cryptocurrencies didn't represent much. We'd get a bitcoin donation and we were like 'ah okay, we have $200 here,' but after a while those coins would be worth $5,000, which is funny,” explains Stolk.
While donations are an important part of the site's funding, the main source of funding for Caracas Chronicles is the “Political Risk Report,” a weekly subscriber-only publication that takes an in-depth look at the country's political and economic landscape.
Cryptocurrency donations are generally more common when the portal does some specific coverage about the market, such as articles about blockchain games that are exploding in Venezuela.
In fact, Caracas Chronicles has covered the crypto world since 2016, when cryptocurrencies began to become popular in the country. Today, Venezuela is the seventh country in the world with the highest adoption of cryptoactives, according to Chainalysis .
“Everyone here knows what cryptocurrencies are, but we don't have places like Bitcoin Beach in El Salvador that you can go and buy a coke with bitcoin. Here, cryptocurrencies are mostly used by people who need to receive money from abroad and who do not have dollar bills”, says the journalist.
He says that cryptocurrencies are also a way for many Venezuelans to survive in the country and earn fairer wages, without being affected by the country's hyperinflation. Even Caracas Chronicles itself has paid its journalists in the past with bitcoin.
“Some journalists did not want to receive bolivars because of inflation that makes money simply disappear. At the same time, these people didn't have dollar bank accounts, so bitcoin became a good option,” he says.
According to Stolk, however, the adoption of cryptocurrencies manifests itself more intensely in the country as a way for Venezuelans to have an alternative source of income. At first by mining cryptocurrencies, and now playing play-to-earn games like Axie Infinity .
“Venezuelans have a tradition of video game farmers , so the transition to play-to-earn games was natural. But here it all really started with mining, when people noticed that it was possible to make money at home just by running machines”, he said.
The activity became so popular in the country that even the government created mining farms linked to the hydroelectric dams. In Stolk's view, however, the home miners were hurt: "From then on, the government started to inspect mining farms and basically steal people's equipment to set up their own state farms."
The challenges of being a journalist in Venezuela
While Venezuela's economic and humanitarian crisis makes life difficult for the entire population, journalists working in the Latin American country need to worry about an extra set of problems.
Stolk says the government exerts a great deal of influence over local press coverage, as over the years it has taken control of all traditional media such as television, newspapers and hundreds of radio stations:
“In the case of television channels, some were created by the government, others were under threat and were forced to be sold to government-friendly people, which also happened with printed newspapers. Those who refused to sell were suffocated in every way, to the point that newspapers were unable to buy paper to make their publications”.
According to Stolk, although there are journalists trying to produce impartial and quality content in the country, the main problem these professionals face is the constant climate of violence to which they are subjected.
“Here it is dangerous, the government has a habit of arresting journalists and threatening them. In coverage of protests, they take advantage and attack journalists. It's hard to be on the field here.”
The Opposition Journal post in Venezuela uses bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and NFTs to survive first appeared in Bitcoin Portal .