Venezuelan federal police agents arrested 4 bitcoin miners on January 24th, 2017. The 4 stand accused of internet fraud and stealing electricity. At first sight, this looks like a deliberate operation to crack down on bitcoin mining, which is quite profitable in the crisis ridden South American country. There is a good chance that the authorities carried out the arrests on trumped up charges, because so far they haven’t provided any solid evidence to support their accusations to the public. This is not surprising, given that the Venezuelan government imposed stringent capital controls over a decade ago.
Charges Against Bitcoin Miners
Bitcoin became a great alternative for cash-strapped Venezuelans who have seen their currency plummet as triple digit inflation crippled their economy. Nevertheless, due to favorable conditions such as subsidized electricity – although brown outs are wide-spread – bitcoin mining activities gathered steam as people scrambled to meet their basic needs. Within this context, it was only a matter of time until authorities started cracking down in order to enforce draconian capital control measures. Therefore a shadow of doubt looms large over any charges leveled against bitcoin miners in Venezuela.
Cracking Down On Bitcoin Mining Instead Of Dealing With Murder
The fact that Venezuelan authorities would even invest their resources on this case should raise suspicion. Venezuela is home to some of the most violent cities on earth. Its capital, Caracas, had a murder rate of about 120 people per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 – Insight Crime Report. As murder rates rise together with inflation and economic distress, it is quite astonishing that Venezuelan authorities would invest any resources on alleged electricity theft and alleged internet fraud. As many as 9 out of 10 murders in Venezuela remain unsolved – The Guardian. Venezuelan authorities should concentrate all their efforts on lowering murder rates and solving other kinds of violent crimes, instead of going after bitcoin miners.
A Warning To Other Bitcoin Miners
The arrests of these 4 bitcoin miners – Néstor Rafael Amundaray Precilla (57), Ana Cecilia Farías Villanueva (25), Kevin David Ojeda Díaz (26), Alberto José Zapata Orta (23) – not only serve to highlight the trumped up priorities of Venezuelan authorities. They could also be construed as a warning to other miners. People who engage in bitcoin mining in Venezuela must now be more alert and resort to mechanisms in order to avoid the wrath of the authorities.
In the meantime, it is important to follow this case closely to see if the authorities can produce and disclose the necessary evidence to prove their accusations against these 4 individuals. Chances are that information about their trial and the whole judicial process will not be readily available to the public, deepening suspicions of wrongdoing on the part of Venezuelan authorities.
Click here to read the official communique about the arrests (in Spanish).