Small cryptocurrency mining team (rig) in a room of the house of Dominican Nelson Mercedes.
Nelson Mercedes, 36, worked before the pandemic in a supermarket in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. “I would watch the security cameras to see who was stealing or doing something weird.” The confinement came and the supermarket fired him. With the liquidation he did something he had wanted to do for a long time: he bought four graphics cards, a motherboard and a CPU (central processing unit, the main element of a computer) in the United States through the eBay auction site. Everything was used but it was enough to set up a team (rig) to mine cryptocurrencies from his home. And get hold of crumbs from the booming business of non-expendable objects (non-replaceables, called NFT), the latest fever in the internet economy in which unique virtual objects such as a tweet or a digital file can be sold for millions of dollars.
Mercedes wanted to do it since a friend who moved to the United States told her how the business worked. Basically, crypto miners use all the electricity they have so that their computer equipment manufactures non-stop the text blocks where NFT transactions are recorded. NTFts are digital collectibles marked with a code that makes them unique. That code allows someone to buy an especially interesting digital good (a mythical tweet, a widely shared gif, a special meme, an NBA video or a newspaper article) and be able to trade with it, even if it is still on the internet, and it is written on the Ethereum blockchain.
These transactions are preserved on a multitude of computers around the world, which prevents fraud by guaranteeing the uniqueness of the objects that are bought and sold. And, as a reward for participating in the process and hosting these blocks is their computers, cryptominers receive a reward in ethers (this Friday an ether was exchanged for 1,400 euros), the ethereum cryptocurrency. The more power and capacity your teams have, the more they earn.
With an investment of 800 euros and no computer training, Mercedes set up the structure of its home business. “I’ve learned everything by watching YouTube videos in English,” he says in several written conversations and audios on WhatsApp. Latin American crypto mining has its channels on this platform where experts try to solve the doubts of people who see how a small investment can give some money to survive. Another friend lent him a hand with his first computer: “He helped me buy a computer, put it together and installed Windows for me. From there I learned everything that is done on the computer: disassemble it, format it, clean it, enter the programs. Without studying or doing any course,” he says.
When he started mining in September, he didn’t know if it would work: “At first I didn’t know the real consumption of electricity. When the first bill came, I saw that he was making a profit,” he says. Every month he earns 400 dollars with ethereum and the electricity consumption in the house is 160, although Mercedes does not pay it in full. He has about $10 a day left. He completes his salary by solving recaptchas(the tests with which the web pages challenge us to certify that we are human) on an international platform, a much heavier task. “I earn more even if I have to pay the most expensive electricity, because I am always at home and I can solve more recaptchas. If one day I can’t work, I don’t work. I don’t have to go to the street and I don’t risk getting infected. And if I get tired, I start watching Netflix. I earn more now and without pressure,” he says.
“I can’t hold becausethat money is what I live with. If you put something together it is in pesos, not in cryptocurrency. At the moment I have not been able to do it because I have to survive, I have to pay my health insurance and buy things. I’m not an employee but, as they say, an entrepreneur.” Why health insurance? “Because it’s better to have it, the hospitals here are useless,” he adds. The problem of heat
Mercedes has never heard of NTFs, even though it is involved in the business. Their story is very different. To mine you need cheap electricity, a country without legal restrictions and, ideally, low temperatures, because the equipment gets very hot. Therefore, the Dominican Republic is clearly not an ideal country, like China, Russia, the United States or Iceland, for different reasons. The only Latin American country with some presence in the world cryptocurrencies is Venezuela, because electricity is free, although not everyone can dedicate themselves to mining due to the control exercised by the Government.
His story serves to put the NFT fever into perspective. A work of art auctioned for 69 million dollars or the first tweet of Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, sold for 2.9 million. While these facts occupy the front pages of the media and enrich some elites, in other parts of the world there are lots of people who with their skill and training try to scratch the leftovers. Mercedes solves recaptchasand mines as many hours as she can, even if that means she can’t use her other PC to play. It would be too much consumption.
Mercedes converts the ethers she gets into Dominican pesos. Although the road to convert cryptocurrency into local currency is also long. “I use the Coinbase platform as a cryptocurrency wallet. When I get paid, I convert it to [the cryptocurrency] litecoin. I return it in dollars and with the AirTM platform I withdraw it at an ATM in Dominican pesos,” explains Mercedes.
In the Dominican Republic there are some possibilities that Mercedes does not take advantage of. “I know there are people who mine and don’t pay for electricity because they don’t have a meter in their sectors or neighborhoods,” he says. That’s clearly an advantage, although you risk a fine. The other problem is the price of the equipment. The cards Mercedes bought in the summer of 2020 for $175 now cost three times as much, about $500. “Nobody knows what it’s like to mine here, they don’t understand it,” he says. “Of the few friends I have, you know but you didn’t pay attention to it. The other wanted to put together a rigand has money to invest but it is very expensive now,” he adds. Friends are late.
And the heat of the Caribbean? The Mercedes team carries four internal refrigerators and the room is ventilated, he says. “And if it gets too hot, I put the fan [fan],” he says.
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