Making a Crypto Utopia in Puerto Rico

Making a Crypto Utopia in Puerto Rico


The force of Mr. Pierce’s personality and his spiritual presence are important to the group, whose members are otherwise largely agnostic. Mr. Pierce regularly performs rituals. Earlier that day while scoping out property, they had stopped at a historic Ceiba tree, known as the Tree of Life.

“Brock nestled into the bosom of it and was there for 10 minutes,” Mr. Nygard said.

Mr. Pierce walked around the tree and said prayers for Puertopia, holding a rusted wrench he had picked up in the territory. He kissed an old man’s feet. He blessed a crystal in the water, as they all watched. He played the Chaplin speech to everyone and to the tree, Mr. Nygard said.

That wrench is now in the penthouse, heavy and greasy.

Later on, at a dinner in a nearby restaurant, the group ordered platters of octopus arms, fried cheese, ceviche and rum cocktails. They began debating whether to buy Puerto Rico’s Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, which measures 9,000 acres and has two deepwater ports and an adjacent airport. The only hitch: It’s a Superfund cleanup site.

Mr. Pierce had fallen asleep by then, his hat tilted down and arms crossed. He gets two hours of sleep many nights, often on a firm grounding mat to stay in contact with the earth’s electric energy. Josh Boles, a tall, athletic man who is another crypto expat, picked him up, and the group headed back to the Monastery.

They walked past a big pink building in an old town square, the start of their vision for Puertopia’s downtown. Once a children’s museum, they plan on making it a crypto clubhouse and outreach center that will have the mission “to bring together Puerto Ricans with Puertopians.”

The Vanderbilt

Workdays are casual in Puertopia. One morning, Bryan Larkin, 39, and Reeve Collins, 42, were working at another old hotel, the Condado Vanderbilt, where they had their laptops on a pool bar with frozen piña coladas on tap.

“We’re going to make this crypto land,” Mr. Larkin said.

Mr. Larkin has mined about $2 billion in Bitcoin and is the chief technology officer of Blockchain Industries, a publicly traded company based in Puerto Rico.

Mr. Collins, an internet veteran, had raised more than $20 million from an initial coin offering for BlockV, his app store for the blockchain, whose outstanding tokens are worth about $125 million. He had also co-founded Tether, which backs cryptocurrency tied to the value of a dollar and whose outstanding tokens are worth about $2.1 billion, though the company has generated enormous controversy in the virtual currency world.

“So, no. No, I don’t want to pay taxes,” Mr. Collins said. “This is the first time in human history anyone other than kings or governments or gods can create their own money.”

Photo

Mr. Pierce and Mr. Boles sitting with Robert Anderson, right, at the Monastery, which was left largely unscathed by Hurricane Maria last year.

Credit
José Jiménez-Tirado for The New York Times

He had moved from Santa Monica, Calif., with just a few bags and was now starting a local cryptocurrency incubator called Vatom Factory.

“When Brock said, ‘We’re moving to Puerto Rico for the taxes and to create this new town,’ I said, ‘I’m in,’” Mr. Collins said. “Sight unseen.”

They soon went back to work, checking out Coinmarketcap.com, a site that shows the price of cryptocurrencies.

“Our market cap’s gone up $100 million in a week,” Mr. Collins said.

“Congrats, man,” Mr. Larkin said.

Welcome, Puertopians?

All across San Juan, many locals are trying to figure out what to do with the crypto arrivals.

Some are open to the new wave as a welcome infusion of investment and ideas.

“We’re open for crypto business,” said Erika Medina-Vecchini, the chief business development officer for the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, in an interview at her office. She said her office was starting an ad campaign aimed at the new crypto expat boom, with the tagline “Paradise Performs.”

Others worry about the island’s being used for an experiment and talk about “crypto colonialism.” At a house party in San Juan, Richard Lopez, 32, who runs a pizza restaurant, Estella, in the town of Arecibo, said: “I think it’s great. Lure them in with taxes, and they’ll spend money.”

Andria Satz, 33, who grew up in Old San Juan and works for the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, disagreed.

“We’re the tax playground for the rich,” she said. “We’re the test case for anyone who wants to experiment. Outsiders get tax exemptions, and locals can’t get permits.”

Mr. Lopez said the territory needed something to jump-start the economy. “We have to find a new way,” he said.

“Sure then, Bitcoin, why not,” Ms. Satz said, throwing up her hands.

Mr. Lopez said he and a childhood friend, Rafael Perez, 31, were trying to set up a Bitcoin mine in their hometown. But electricity has been inconsistent, and mining even a single Bitcoin takes a lot of power, he said.



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