By Martine Paris, U.S. Reporter, The FinTech Times
This week all eyes will be on Puerto Rico as crypto pioneer, Brock Pierce, brings Restart Week to the tiny U.S. territory that was ravaged by Hurricane Maria over a year ago. The third in a series, Restart South brings together Puerto Rico’s burgeoning blockchain community to work in partnership with local initiatives to redevelop the southern region of Ponce. It’s a follow up to efforts that began in March with Restart San Juan and continued in May with Restart West in Mayaguez.
When Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico on September 16 through October 2, 2017, it was one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the Caribbean paradise and created a humanitarian crisis of epic scale. According to the BBC, it destroyed 80% of crops, killed nearly 3,000 people, and forever changed the lives of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens that call it home.
Recovery has been tragically slow, hampered by bureaucracy and century old laws. According to Vox, essential supplies from the U.S. Mainland never made it to those in need thanks to an obscure 1920 Jones Act which grounded transport on ships that weren’t American built, owned and crewed. USA Today reported that FEMA denied housing assistance to 600,000 applicants for failing to provide property deeds that don’t exist. More than half of the emergency funds have yet to be distributed despite many parts of Puerto Rico still without roads, clean water, and electricity. It’s taken heroic acts on the part of individuals like celebrity entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel to charter planes to get goods delivered, and crypto pioneers like Brock Pierce to mobilise the braintrust and wealth of the blockchain community that now calls Puerto Rico home.
Rebuilding on the blockchain
At the time the hurricane hit, there was just a small crypto community living in Puerto Rico as bona fide residents under Act 20 (Export Services Act) and Act 22 (Individual Investors Act) which were enacted in 2012 to create a tax haven for businesses and wealthy individuals. When Michael Terpin became the first blockchain entrepreneur to be granted Act 22 status in January 2016, hundreds followed, bought homes and consequently suffered damage alongside their Puerto Rican neighbours.
On New Year’s Day 2018, while Puerto Rico was still reeling from the storm, Bitcoin was in the midst of its rabid ascent to $20,000 and the new U.S. tax code went into effect making cryptocurrency transactions a taxable event. This added a tremendous amount of friction to even the simplest act of buying ice cream with crypto in the U.S.. For those seeking to optimise their new found Bitcoin wealth and live completely on-chain while not giving up their U.S. citizenship, Puerto Rico with its unique tax status became a dream tropical destination.
This was the case for Restart program director Lauren Slade who moved to Puerto Rico from Austin without any fiat currency. Determined to live completely on-chain, she persuaded a multitude of merchants, her housemates and Uber driver to accept crypto for payment. She now enjoys a rich expat life with other blockchain investors, traders and developers who gather Wednesday nights in Old San Juan for drinks, bites and crypto meet-ups.
It’s been rumoured that the crypto community on the island has grown by 200% since the hurricane, bringing with it a high net worth braintrust interested in help create a better, more sustainable future for the native Puerto Ricans.
In preview to Restart Week which runs October 25–30, Pierce and Terpin will be speaking at CoinAgenda Global on October 23 at Mandalay Bay Las Vegas with renowned PR tax attorney Giovanni Mendez to discuss what’s being done by the crypto community to help Puerto Rico. They’ll be following my Generation Blockchain panel with Augur/Ausum Ventures co-founder Jeremy Gardner, Bicameral Ventures’ Alex McDougall and Vault Logic’s Cassi Konopasek and I’ll be posting a recap of remarks from the show. Follow along on Twitter at @coinagenda and @contentnow