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In El Salvador, Centuries-old Cash and Barter Markets Wary of Bitcoin

Víctor Peña

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A “tiangue” in El Salvador is a business hub for ranchers and farmers. The tiangue, loosely translated as a farmer’s market, travels through different municipalities. This historic practice in El Salvador has, since the end of the 19th century, sustained local economies through the cash sale of livestock. The purchases are regulated by the Municipal Code, which establishes a tax between $2 and $3 per livestock or horse sold, depending on the municipality. Nowadays, small producers take advantage of this space to offer chickens, pigs, turkeys, and even dogs. Others sell work tools and some set up food stands that cater to throngs of buyers and sellers that negotiate all day through only cash or bartering. 

The transactions at the tiangue don’t rely on credit cards, debit cards, or checks. In the middle of the tiangue, talk about Bitcoin, which will enter into circulation when the Bitcoin law takes effect on September 7, is entirely absent. Some of the people who trade at the tiangue have been coming to the traveling market their whole lives, and many don’t know how to read or write. Among these rural farmers and ranchers, Bitcoin is unpopular. Agustín Rivas, an experienced 55-year-old rancher from San Rafael Cedros, says that this has been the worst mistake of the current government, and that the currency won’t work with people from the countryside. His opinion coincides with the most recent survey from the Francisco Gavidia University in San Salvador, published on June 7. The data shows that six out of 10 people reject the new law. Forty-four percent think that the economy could deteriorate and 56 percent think that the law only benefits the business class. In a national economy en route to digitalization, the tiangue in San Rafael Cedros remains on the opposite economic extreme.

ElFaro.net / Publicado el 10 de August de 2021

Every Saturday, starting at 6 a.m., ranchers, farmers and small vendors arrive at the municipal market in San Rafael Cedros, in the department of Cuscatlán, to sell their pigs, livestock, chickens, dogs, goats, and even show horses. Some come in trucks full of animals; others, in public transportation, and some by foot.
 
Every Saturday, starting at 6 a.m., ranchers, farmers and small vendors arrive at the municipal market in San Rafael Cedros, in the department of Cuscatlán, to sell their pigs, livestock, chickens, dogs, goats, and even show horses. Some come in trucks full of animals; others, in public transportation, and some by foot.

 

 

Jose Cornejo, 30, shows his money that he’ll do business with this workday. He is a resident of San Rafael Cedros and each Saturday he arrives at 4:30 a.m. to look for the best offer to buy and sell pigs. “Here, it’s cash for cash. This Bitcoin thing will alter this business because it’s complicated to adapt to that currency,” Cornejo says, claiming he makes about $100 during a day of business at the tiangue.
 
Jose Cornejo, 30, shows his money that he’ll do business with this workday. He is a resident of San Rafael Cedros and each Saturday he arrives at 4:30 a.m. to look for the best offer to buy and sell pigs. “Here, it’s cash for cash. This Bitcoin thing will alter this business because it’s complicated to adapt to that currency,” Cornejo says, claiming he makes about $100 during a day of business at the tiangue.

 

 

At the tiangue, there are designated places for certain types of animals. In the section for horses, small groups gather and walk from one side to another to negotiate for their animals; others mount and trot along a cement path to show their strength; some just kneel against a wall until they get a client. In the middle of the sound of gallops, whinnies, and lashes, a man danced with his Peruvian horse valued at $3,500.
 
At the tiangue, there are designated places for certain types of animals. In the section for horses, small groups gather and walk from one side to another to negotiate for their animals; others mount and trot along a cement path to show their strength; some just kneel against a wall until they get a client. In the middle of the sound of gallops, whinnies, and lashes, a man danced with his Peruvian horse valued at $3,500.

 

 

Máveric Sánchez, 15, a resident of Tonacatepeque, arrived at 7 a.m. to sell his puppies, four small dogs of two and a half months, which he says are a mix of Pitbull and French bulldog. It wasn’t until 9 a.m. that he sold one for $10. Máveric knows the business. Since he was little, he’s been coming with his father to buy and sell livestock in the tiangue at San Rafael Cedros. “Today I’m only here to sell, but if someone gives me a chicken, I’ll give them a puppy, but the chicken has to be free-range,”  Máveric says with his basket in hand.
 
Máveric Sánchez, 15, a resident of Tonacatepeque, arrived at 7 a.m. to sell his puppies, four small dogs of two and a half months, which he says are a mix of Pitbull and French bulldog. It wasn’t until 9 a.m. that he sold one for $10. Máveric knows the business. Since he was little, he’s been coming with his father to buy and sell livestock in the tiangue at San Rafael Cedros. “Today I’m only here to sell, but if someone gives me a chicken, I’ll give them a puppy, but the chicken has to be free-range,”  Máveric says with his basket in hand.

 

 

A trader moves a litter of pigs that he bought in the tiangue. He paid $20 for each one and he will try to profit $5 for each after reselling them at other tiangues throughout the week in the municipalities of El Tránsito and Nueva Guadalupe in the San Miguel department; Aguilares, in the San Salvador department; Ilobasco, Cabañas department; and Santiago Nonualco, La Paz department.
 
A trader moves a litter of pigs that he bought in the tiangue. He paid $20 for each one and he will try to profit $5 for each after reselling them at other tiangues throughout the week in the municipalities of El Tránsito and Nueva Guadalupe in the San Miguel department; Aguilares, in the San Salvador department; Ilobasco, Cabañas department; and Santiago Nonualco, La Paz department.

 

 

Like in San Rafael Cedros, there are other tiangues in different municipalities all during the week. Their attendees discuss work tools, machinery, animal breeds, food, fertilizers, and crops. It’s a gala where all the ranchers show off their best boots, hats, and extravagant cowboy shirts, and where the small restaurants surrounding the tiangues make their own profits.
 
Like in San Rafael Cedros, there are other tiangues in different municipalities all during the week. Their attendees discuss work tools, machinery, animal breeds, food, fertilizers, and crops. It’s a gala where all the ranchers show off their best boots, hats, and extravagant cowboy shirts, and where the small restaurants surrounding the tiangues make their own profits.

 

 

Teófilo García, 60, has worked for more than 18 years at the tiangue. Each Saturday he travels in public transportation with his miniature chickens, which sometimes perch on his shoulder. He charges $10 to $15 a bird. He comes from the municipality of San Martin. Teófilo assures that he has bartered when he can’t sell his birds. “I have also exchanged chickens for goats, ducks, and turkeys, and one time I exchanged a turkey for a parakeet,” he says.
 
Teófilo García, 60, has worked for more than 18 years at the tiangue. Each Saturday he travels in public transportation with his miniature chickens, which sometimes perch on his shoulder. He charges $10 to $15 a bird. He comes from the municipality of San Martin. Teófilo assures that he has bartered when he can’t sell his birds. “I have also exchanged chickens for goats, ducks, and turkeys, and one time I exchanged a turkey for a parakeet,” he says.

 

 

The tiangue and its animals fill up more than five blocks around the market. Their owners have to mark them with spray paint or tie them with rope so they aren’t confused when they mix with those from another trader. Carelessness has already caused some clashes.
 
The tiangue and its animals fill up more than five blocks around the market. Their owners have to mark them with spray paint or tie them with rope so they aren’t confused when they mix with those from another trader. Carelessness has already caused some clashes.

 

 

The weekly gathering of farmers, campesinos, vendors, and ranchers also benefits those searching for income. In the middle of this crowd, a merchant has set up his stall for rope, machetes, knit bags, boots, and hats, all small tools, but of great use in the daily activities for agriculture and livestock farming.
 
The weekly gathering of farmers, campesinos, vendors, and ranchers also benefits those searching for income. In the middle of this crowd, a merchant has set up his stall for rope, machetes, knit bags, boots, and hats, all small tools, but of great use in the daily activities for agriculture and livestock farming.

 

 

Josué Castro, 15, is a livestock dealer. Every Saturday, he arrives with his father to buy and sell. Josué is a resident of the rural zone of San Rafael Cedros and he takes advantage of the weekend to earn about $40, which covers his weekly expenses for school.
 
Josué Castro, 15, is a livestock dealer. Every Saturday, he arrives with his father to buy and sell. Josué is a resident of the rural zone of San Rafael Cedros and he takes advantage of the weekend to earn about $40, which covers his weekly expenses for school.

 

 

“Then you don’t want it? I already told you how much I’ll give you,” said Wílber (second from the left, with money in hand) to a seller who walked a goat through the whole tiangue. “The other one will give you thirty-five,” he repeated. The seller responded: “No, and you know why I don’t give them to you, because the other day I got shorted. Add five more, if you want.” For Wílber, 30, there was no deal that morning. For the last 20 years he’s travelled every Saturday from the municipality of San Jorge in San Miguel to try to make a living. “The truth is that I don’t know about this Bitcoin thing and I don’t even know what to tell you. We don’t know how we’re going to use it.”
 
“Then you don’t want it? I already told you how much I’ll give you,” said Wílber (second from the left, with money in hand) to a seller who walked a goat through the whole tiangue. “The other one will give you thirty-five,” he repeated. The seller responded: “No, and you know why I don’t give them to you, because the other day I got shorted. Add five more, if you want.” For Wílber, 30, there was no deal that morning. For the last 20 years he’s travelled every Saturday from the municipality of San Jorge in San Miguel to try to make a living. “The truth is that I don’t know about this Bitcoin thing and I don’t even know what to tell you. We don’t know how we’re going to use it.”

 

 

*Translated by Anna-Catherine Brigida