Shotgun-toting guards patrol an nameless warehouse on the outskirts of Ciudad del Este. Perched on the triple border the place Paraguay meets Brazil and Argentina, the melting-pot metropolis is commonly associated with smuggling, cartels and medicines.

But inside, a brand new sizzling commodity is piling up by the second. Dozens of dismantled CPUs and internet-connected circuits whirr away in the gloom, LEDs flashing, including to the subtropical warmth.

They are only a few of an estimated 20,000 items citywide, largely mining the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ethereum in an trade that has sprung up virtually in a single day.

Behind the increase is the monolithic Itaipú dam the nation shares with Brazil, stretching throughout the Paraná river simply north of the town. It is the world’s most powerful hydroelectric facility, and its considerable energy provide makes Paraguay a really perfect setting for bitcoin “mining”.

Itaipú is enriching some. But the more and more sophisticated computations that underpin bitcoins want ever-more highly effective computer systems and cooling methods – which eat increasingly energy.

And many argue Paraguay might higher use its considerable hydroelectric energy to assist the quarter of the population that presently reside in poverty. According to World Bank figures, Paraguay has the highest level of inequality in land possession in the world.

“Some people have become multimillionaires,” mentioned Gregorio Bareiro, whose first contact with the bitcoin trade got here final September, when his air-conditioning enterprise started offering bitcoin traders with a DIY cooling system involving damp cardboard and industrial followers.

Now, he rents out 750 computer systems of his personal – primarily to Brazilians, Europeans and North Americans – hires a dozen employees, and has plans to put in cell mines in transportable trailers.

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“Paraguay today is the only place where there’s abundant energy,” Bareiro enthused. “We can become the centre of global bitcoin mining.”

Paraguay owns half of Itaipú’s output. But its few factories and creaking nationwide grid can barely take in all this energy, and it’s pressured to promote the massive surplus to Brazil – at well below market worth, consultants declare.

This surfeit of energy means its home energy costs are round 5c per kilowatt hour – barely a fifth of that of the enormous subsequent door – prompting an inflow of foreign-owned factories and traders in current years.

Paraguay ought to roll out the crimson carpet additional to cryptocurrency miners, mentioned Bareiro. The entrepreneur thinks that through the use of Itaipú’s energy to chop energy costs additional, the house owners of the 150,000 items currently in China might be tempted to decamp to Paraguay.

“In 10 years, it would generate enough money to pay Paraguay’s external debt,” he instructed. “With our sources, we should have electrical helicopters, drones for transporting items …

“We’ve found a way out for our country,” he added. “The best chance we have is not selling our energy to Brazil but investing in cryptocurrency.”

Not everyone seems to be satisfied that the energy-guzzling commodity is the way in which ahead.

A rising coalition of Paraguayan politicians, lecturers and businesspeople needs the nation to grab looming negotiations with Brazil over the dam’s monetary dividends – due by 2023 – to unfold the advantages of Itaipú’s bounty extra extensively.

According to Gerardo Blanco, director of a research group on energy on the Universidad Nacional de Asunción, “2023 represents a unique opportunity for Paraguay.”

A research by the group means that directing the energy presently bought overseas into home manufacturing might generate 2m jobs and quadruple Paraguay’s GDP, remodeling the future of one in every of South America’s poorest nations.

“This would be a quantum leap that will have huge implications for society, the economy, and even our culture,” Blanco added.

Cristine Folch of Duke University equally instructed that Paraguay might present data centres powered by clear energy for software program giants like Google, Apple and Facebook, and turn out to be a regional hub for the manufacture of lithium batteries.

If the nation takes benefit of Itaipú now, whereas its inhabitants continues to be small, “it might put Paraguay on the sting of the technological frontier,” she informed the Guardian.

Miguel Carter, a Paraguayan development expert, instructed that by negotiating a fairer worth for its energy, Paraguay might higher fund hospitals and colleges and resurrect Paraguay’s rusting railways.

According to Carter’s calculations, Paraguay was outgunned by Brazil in negotiating the 1973 Itaipú treaty – signed between two dictatorships – and cheated out of an astonishing $57.7bn in lost income.

In 1979, Brazil’s army regime murdered its ambassador to Paraguay to stop him from revealing the billions of of kickbacks concerned in Itaipú’s building, it was officially confirmed in October.

“When I saw the numbers I burst into tears,” Carter informed the Guardian. “I know of so many stories of Paraguayans going to hospital and losing their loved ones … there would have been lives saved, kids with a decent education. You could have had a different country.”

A spokesperson for Brazil’s overseas ministry rejected the concept Paraguay had been swindled, pointing to previous Brazilian concessions and stating that the nation had secured and assured the shared debt used to finance Itaipú’s building.

Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, who takes workplace in January, is more likely to show a fierce adversary in the negotiations.

But some are daring to hope that Paraguay’s energy riches may quickly be leveraged to assist them.

Several hours north on the freeway, and an hour down a dust monitor, 43 indigenous Ava Guaraní households of the Tekoha Sauce group reside in tarpaulin shacks, sandwiched between fields of soybean and a polluted tendril of the Paraná, near the border with Brazil.

They lack clear water, healthcare – and electrical energy. Chemical run-off from the close by fields has given many pores and skin complaints.

They returned right here in 2015, after being pressured off their land by the dam’s rising floodwaters in the late 1970s.

Soon after, a police raid tore up their crops and burned their homes, college and church. “If there’s another eviction we’ll stay and die,” mentioned Amada Martínez, a group chief. “Because we have nowhere else to go.”

They at the moment are in talks to safe title to a fraction of their ancestral territory. “People think it’s a marvel,” Martínez added. “But the damage Itaipú caused to our people … behind the story, there’s suffering.”

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