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Cyptocurrency platform delivers food and medicine to struggling Venezuelans

Harriet Alexander
A Venezuelan opposition supporter holds up a a sign saying that children and old people are dying of hunger - AFP

Venezuelans struggling to survive amid the collapsing health system and crumbling economy are being offered a potential lifeline through an innovative cryptocurrency platform.

Danish telecoms executive Casper Niebe wanted to do something to help after reading about a Venezuelan baby who died when his malnourished mother was unable to breastfeed him.

“That child died for want of $20 worth of formula,” Mr Niebe told The Telegraph. “I found that totally devastating.”

With the help of students and professors at the IT University of Copenhagen, Mr Niebe has built a website called Pollo Pollo – the Spanish word for chicken – to allow Venezuelans to request and sell goods, and donors to assist.

Through the website, those in need can search the offers – food, medicines, livestock, school supplies - and register as wanting the product.

A donor – friend, family member or stranger – can then log on and purchase the product for the person, using cryptocurrency. The recipient in Venezuela will then go to the shop to collect the product which has been bought for them.

The vendor can cash the cryptocurrency in through a bank, or convert it to any currency in the world and place it in a bank account.

Traditional channels of aid are, in Venezuela, highly politicised and unreliable. An attempt to bring international aid into the country in February descended into chaos when the Venezuelan police shut the borders with Colombia and Brazil, firing tear gas and live ammunition at those trying to move forwards.

China and Russia have been able to provide some assistance, although President Nicolas Maduro’s government controls where it is distributed. The United Nations is limited by Mr Maduro rejecting offers of assistance, and the Red Cross can only work where Mr Maduro allows.

Politically, the country appears to be at stalemate. Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on January 23, but his repeated attempts to oust Mr Maduro – with the backing of the US and over 50 countries worldwide – have not borne fruit. For now, peace talks are happening in Barbados. And Venezuelans are dying in their thousands from malnutrition and easily treatable diseases.

Xavier Bracho, a 22-year-old student in Caracas, has used Pollo Pollo to obtain vegetables and chicken to feed his family. He has no idea who provided the money to buy the goods.

“It was really quick,” he said. “We thought it would take a few days for someone to answer our request, but it was actually less than six hours.

“I love that it targets need. People ask for and receive what they genuinely want. I think it’s going to grow and grow in popularity, as it’s a lifeline for us.”

Mr Bracho found out about the scheme from his friend Santiago Saso, who worked with Mr Niebe to develop the platform.

The platform launched this month, and so far the team – all volunteers – estimate that around 50 transactions have been completed, totalling $500-600.

They point out that, although it was designed to help Venezuela, it can be used in any country worldwide, once word spreads.

“It’s amazing to see this come together before my eyes,” said Mr Niebe, who stresses that the platform is entirely not for profit. There is no advertising and everyone is working for free.

“We’re absolutely not intending to replace aid agencies, or challenge the Venezuelan currency,” he added.

“And we’re not saying we have a solution to the problems in Venezuela. We just hope to ease some of the consequences. If I help one person then that’s enough.”

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