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The Financial Freedom Report is a newsletter focusing on the role currency and banking play in the civil liberties and human rights struggles of those living under authoritarian regimes. We also spotlight new tools and applications that can help individuals protect their financial freedom.


Hello readers,

In the past week, we’ve seen Kosovo’s ban on the Serbian currency, a cross-border CBDC transaction between regimes in the United Arab Emirates and China, Bitcoin claim all-time highs against a variety of different fiat currencies, and a long-awaited breakthrough in the Lightning Network that promises to significantly boost user privacy.

We end with a special report on how 200 local businesses in Costa Rica were able to accept bitcoin as payment and how any merchant, particularly those in restrictive economic environments, can start accepting bitcoin as payment in just a few minutes.

Let’s jump right in!

Global News

Azerbaijan | Snap Election Hinders Financial Freedom

Following a snap election, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev rigged a fifth consecutive term, dominating the vote in a country where the opposition has been suffocated. Azerbaijan already faces financial repression under Aliyev, including restricted property rights, double-digit inflation, and more than two times the inequality of any other country in Europe and Central Asia. When two journalists recently looked into the wealth of high-ranking government officials and the family of Aliyev, they were swiftly imprisoned, highlighting the country’s high levels of corruption. To date, more than a million Azerbaijanis have left their families behind and emigrated to neighboring countries in search of better work opportunities and a brighter financial future.

Kosovo | Ban on Serbian Currency

Tensions rose between Kosovo and Serbia following a Kosovan government block on the Serbian dinar, which is widely used by many ethnic Serbs living in the northern regions of Kosovo. Since claiming independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo’s independence has remained unrecognized by Serbia, which still considers it a province of its own. While most Kosovars use the euro, the dinar plays a crucial role in the livelihoods of Serbian communities within the country, supporting their salaries and pensions, as well as essential services like schools and hospitals. Kosovo’s government asserted it would ensure that “the new rules do not have a negative impact or penalize citizens.” Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, however, labeled the dinar ban “a crime against humanity.

United Arab Emirates | Authoritarians Trade CBDCs

The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) completed its first cross-border payment of the digital Dirham, the country’s central bank digital currency (CBDC). In this landmark transaction, Sheikh Mansour Bin Sayed Al Nayhan, chairman of the board of the Central Bank of the UAE, transferred 50 million dirhams ($13.6 million) directly to China using the mBridge platform. First introduced in 2021, the mBridge platform is a multi-CBDC project created in collaboration between the central banks of the UAE, China, Hong Kong, and Thailand (all authoritarian regimes) with assistance from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). This is just the latest milestone for regimes like the UAE and China as they cruise towards more financial surveillance and control.

Pakistan | Mobile Suspension During Elections

The recent suspension of mobile phone services during Pakistan’s elections sparks concerns about democracy and citizens’ rights. Netblocks — a global online freedom watchdog and HRF Bitcoin Development Fund grantee —  said Internet blackouts follow “months of digital censorship targeting the political opposition” and that “the ongoing election day Internet blackout in Pakistan is among the largest we have observed in any country in terms of severity and extent.” These actions come alongside a backdrop of economic problems and monetary inflation, which significantly impact election results.

Cuba | Dismissal of the Minister of Economy

In the face of peso hyperinflation, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel dismissed the current minister of economy, Alejandro Gil, and replaced him with the minister president of the Central Bank of Cuba, Joaquín Alonso Vázquez. The outgoing minister has often been the bearer of bad economic news, for example, announcing there’s not enough milk for children. Decades of failed economic policies, lack of basic property rights, food shortages, blackouts, thousands of Cubans fleeing to Florida on risky rafts, high inflation, and international restrictions have destroyed people’s confidence in the state-run banking system. As a reaction, Cubans are increasingly turning to peer-to-peer bitcoin trading through telegram groups and other platforms as a way out.

Jordan | Activists Hacked with Pegasus

From 2019 to 2023, Pegasus spyware was used in Jordan to spy on lawyers, activists, human rights activists, and political activists, according to a report by Access Now (a nonprofit dedicated to digital civil rights). While the nonprofit did not directly accuse the Jordanian regime of the hacking, victims suspect they are the culprits. Last year, the Jordanian government passed a draconian law eroding online freedom of speech, threatening internet users’ right to anonymity, and granting new powers to surveil and regulate social media. With such powerful spyware in their hands, the government is also able to access activists’ sensitive financial information — from financial transactions to donations and personal assets — enabling the regime to financially target them and terminate their activism work.

The Latest in Bitcoin Development and Education

BIP | Human Readable Names in Bitcoin Payments

Generally, when sending or receiving a bitcoin payment, a user has to enter a long, complex string of numbers and letters. This is difficult to type, memorize, and validate, making the user anxious about potential payment losses. Human-readable addresses allow users to enter a short string of characters (like an email address), relieving them of pressure and the risk of losses. A new BIP from developer Matt Corallo “defines a protocol to do so using only the DNS, providing for the ability to query such resolutions privately, while utilizing DNSSEC to provide compact and simple ways to verify proofs of mappings.” This would be an important implementation, especially helpful for activists operating under duress, fear, and in quick need of funds.

Lightning | Dual-Funded Channels

After four years of development and community review, a proposal for dual-funded Lightning channels has been merged into the official specifications of the Lightning Network (LN). Currently, opening an LN channel requires independent actions and resources from users on each side of the channel. Dual-funding changes this. It allows simultaneous collaboration and opening of an LN channel in both directions between users, streamlining the process and reducing complexities. This update proposed by developer and educator Lisa Neigut paves the way for easier and faster LN channel creation, which over time could potentially lead to increased LN liquidity, improved usability, greater efficiency, and improved resistance to chain surveillance.

Cashu | New iOS Client and Tutorial

Cashu is an open-source Chaumian eCash protocol built for Bitcoin and integrated with the Lightning Network. It allows users to spend Bitcoin-backed eCash without revealing their identity or transaction history, offering private, cheap, and fast transactions with the tradeoff of being custodial. Macadamia is a native iOS client for Cashu, which was released last week. It lets users mint, send, receive, and pay Lightning Network invoices. The goal, according to the team, is to have a “really polished UI that hides all unnecessary complexity from casual users but still provides advanced features to power users.” Also, in the last few days, developer Supertestnet gave “the best Cashu ecash protocol explainer and programming tutorial in existence,” according to Cashu protocol creator Calle. You can watch the tutorial here.

Mutiny Wallet | New Version Now Live

Mutiny Wallet version 0.5.8 is live. Mutiny is an open-source, non-custodial bitcoin and lightning wallet available as a progressive web app and Android app. Previously, they announced the first release of Fedimint support. Last week, they announced a new version of the wallet, which “includes additional fedimint features and fixes, including a ‘Swap to LN’ feature that moves your federation esats to a self-custodial LN channel.” Progressive web apps help activists whose jurisdictions have banned or removed Bitcoin wallets from the App Stores continue to access bitcoin, and new upgrades like this one help to secure their privacy and advance adoption.

Primal | New Onboarding Tutorial

Bitcoin educator BTC Sessions released a new onboarding tutorial for Primal, a mobile application that lets users onboard onto Nostr, a decentralized and censorship-resistant social media protocol. With Primal, users can post, share, and connect with others without the risk of a centralized authority deplatforming them. The app also comes with a built-in bitcoin wallet that allows users to earn money for their posts via bitcoin. In this way, users secure their freedom of speech while receiving potential rewards in bitcoin, which are of major value to activists under dictatorships.

OpenSats and Spiral | Open Source Funding

OpenSats announced long-term support for HRF grantee 0xB10C, who is building “Bitcoin network monitoring tools, notably the Bitcoin Core tracing framework, providing detailed insights into network activities.” Meanwhile, Spiral announced a grant renewal to Christoph Ono, who is working on improving Bitcoin design at bitcoin.design and the Bitcoin Design Foundation, as well as Sebastian Kung, who is “developing a ‘desirable’ kernel API and attempting to extract bitcoin’s consensus engine into its own library, making it easier for other devs to interact with.” They also announced a new grant to StratumV2 developer pleb hash, who is passionate about mining. We’re thrilled to see open source funding across a variety of verticals, from design to network and mining, to ensure decentralization, robustness, and ease of use.

Bitcoin | All-time Highs

Bitcoin has reached all-time high prices against dozens of collapsing fiat currencies, many in dictatorships. In economies ranging from Egypt to Nigeria to Pakistan, hundreds of millions of people are watching their local currency make all-time lows against Bitcoin. Elsewhere, in Russia, Ethiopia, and Iran, fiat currencies are very close to all-time lows. All told, billions of people in dictatorships are watching an open-source, decentralized, censorship-resistant, confiscation-resistant currency thrive while their own closed-source, centralized, frequently censored, and confiscated currencies fail.

Recommended Content

How 200 Stores in Costa Rica Embraced Bitcoin, feat. Bitcoin Jungle

Bitcoin Jungle is a community project in Costa Rica with the goal of creating a circular economy. They are doing this by providing education, technology, and resources needed for individuals and local businesses to accept Bitcoin as payment. In this report, they detail how they were able to integrate BTCPay Server, a self-hosted, open-source cryptocurrency payment processor (and HRF grantee), into their Bitcoin Jungle Wallet. The successful integration enabled 200 stores to accept bitcoin as payment, improved user experience, reduced support requests, and facilitated over 5,000 invoices to date. For merchants operating in restrictive environments, this report serves as a valuable resource, illustrating the importance of adopting Bitcoin and showcasing how straightforward the process of integrating bitcoin into their operations can be. “Any business owner can start accepting Bitcoin payments in under two minutes,” they said. It’s important to note that Bitcoin Jungle is located in an area that sees an influx of large numbers of migrants from Venezuela, who almost certainly cannot bank in a country like Costa Rica but can use Bitcoin.

Oslo Freedom Forum | Reserve Your Spot

Human rights advocates from around the globe will take the Oslo Konserthus stage on June 3-5, 2024, to share their efforts to defy repression and speak out against injustice. This year’s theme, Reclaim Democracy, emphasizes the pivotal role every individual plays within the global movement for democracy. The Financial Freedom team is looking forward to creating a program track exploring the role open-source money plays in preserving our human rights and civil liberties. Use the code 2024OFF to get an early bird discount on your ticket.


Until next time,

Ayelen Osorio 

Financial Freedom Specialist

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