Jorge Jraissati

Venezuelan activist & director of Alumni For Liberty

Jorge Jraissati, the Director of Alumni for Liberty, an international network of young freedom activists with over 10,000 members from 139 countries. Its members include elected officials, think tank directors, journalists, academics, and other leaders committed to forming a global pro-liberty coalition. His initiatives include international advocacy, grassroots activism, policy proposals, training programs, research projects, and humanitarian efforts. Jorge is also an economist and a researcher at IESE Business School for the Center for Public Leadership and Government. His articles can be found in publications like Economic Affairs, the Brookings Institution, and Foreign Policy. He has been a guest speaker at institutions like the European Parliament, forums like the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, and universities like Cambridge and Harvard. 

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Testimonial of Jorge Jraissati:

The use of Bitcoin as a tool to overcome financial and political oppression:

As director of Alumni For Liberty (an international network of young leaders with over 10,000 members from 139 countries), I would like to discuss and work on addressing the problem of financial exclusion and abuse of Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations.

In essence, we have identified that authoritarian regimes and illiberal governments have been abusing FATF recommendations, weaponizing the international banking system as a tool for domestic and transnational repression. 

As these states abuse their power, our activists have turned to Bitcoin as their “bank of last resort.” Between Alumni For Liberty and our umbrella organization (Students For Liberty), we have used Bitcoin to finance activities in over fifty countries, and we currently have 29 staff members who receive their payments through Bitcoin. 

For instance, in authoritarian countries like Venezuela and Myanmar and illiberal democracies like Bolivia and Hungary, many of our activists reported that their bank accounts were used by regimes to create false political claims, disinformation, and legal accusations against them. We have also documented sixty cases where grassroots leaders reported the termination of their bank accounts for political reasons. Similarly, activists of our organization from fifteen countries (such as Venezuela, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Belarus, Russia, Burundi, Rwanda, Chad, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Sudan, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Tanzania) have reported using bitcoin as their bank of last resort as protection from political repression because of the abuse of the FATF recommendations that shape AML/CFT laws.

An even more worrisome situation lies in the fact that financial exclusion for political reasons is not limited to authoritarian contexts. The public seems to think that activists in exile are safe from financial exclusion. However, many human right defenders currently living in democratic countries are deprived of the right to have financial services. This happens as activists are often the target of disinformation campaigns and fabricated criminal allegations, which trigger de-risking mechanisms in bank compliance.

This means that bank compliance requirements that were originally established to adhere with AML/CFT laws end up harming human rights defenders even at the very heart of the European Union and several democratic countries, violating the right to financial services. In fact, this problem goes beyond the termination of their accounts. Currently, there are several transnational legal assistance frameworks that allow malicious governments to access sensitive information of their opponents abroad, including their banking data. This practice can endanger even the physical safety of these citizens. 

For these reasons, we have to address this issue. It is frustrating to see authoritarian regimes developing tools for transnational repression based on the FATF standards and Recommendations, such as FATF recommendation 8 on non-profit organisations. Since Germany is one of the key members of the Financial Action Task Force, what we propose is to create spaces for dialogue between regulators and civil society. This cooperation will enable us to build mechanisms to prevent the unintended consequences of the FATF standards, as well as instruments to protect the financial rights of all law-abiding citizens.

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