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Indigenous Mexicans Risk Their Lives To Defend The Environment From Organized Crime And 'insatiable, Predatory' Transnational Corporations




They were driving back from a community meeting in Aquila, Michoacan, where the discussion had centered on getting the Ternium mine in the area to cease activities. They dropped someone off, then were never seen again. Later, their car was found empty, riddled with bullets.

Antonio Díaz, an Indigenous Nahua leader opposed to the mine, and Ricardo Lagunes, a human rights lawyer who has taken on numerous key cases in Mexico, went missing on January 15 of this year.

“I miss my brother a lot,” Ana Lucia Lagunes, Ricardo’s sister, told TRNN. “But while this is directly affecting my family now, [such forced disappearances and murders] are affecting thousands of other people, too. It’s going to keep happening if we don’t react, if we don’t question, and if we aren’t alert to… what businesses are getting up to,” she said.

Last year, over half of the 72 activists murdered in Mexico were Indigenous. Many others were lawyers or human rights activists supporting their struggles.

A month before Díaz and Lagunes disappeared, according to reporting in Sin Embargo, Ternium executives had also threatened them. On the day the two went missing, people linked to criminal organizations from Jalisco and Michoacan were seen outside the meeting. When Díaz and Lagunas left, they followed them. 

The links between organized crime and transnationals in Mexico are becoming more and more apparent as operatives and organizations on both sides work to grab more land to use for drug cultivation, farming (The Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG, for example, is profiting from avocado farming), mining, industrial parks, and mega developments. As they do, they deforest protected areas and displace the original inhabitants and collective owners of the land. This is why Indigenous communities, like the one Antonio Díaz belonged to, are at the forefront of the fight to defend themselves and the environment from annihilation. 


Last year, over half of the 72 activists murdered in Mexico were Indigenous. Many others were lawyers or human rights activists supporting their struggles.

Before 1910, wealthy Mexicans and foreigners owned most of Mexico’s land. Then, with the revolution came agrarian reform, and land was slowly redistributed back to Indigenous and poor rural communities. Under the ejido system, enshrined in the Mexican Constitution of 1917, land is communally owned and can’t be divided up or sold. However, in 1991, in preparation for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would open Mexico up to all sorts of economic abuse from US transnationals, the Constitution was changed to allow ejido land to be sold. These changes have helped create a volatile situation where, for the past thirty years, the struggle over land ownership and use in Mexico has become ever more intense, lucrative, and violent.

“I miss my brother a lot… But while this is directly affecting my family now, [such forced disappearances and murders] are affecting thousands of other people, too. It’s going to keep happening if we don’t react, if we don’t question.”

Ana Lucia Lagunes, sister of Ricardo Lagunes, a human rights lawyer who went missing on Jan. 15 of this year

Now, in 2023, 51% of Mexican land is social property—either an ejido or communal land. Some 8,000 of the 31,000 agrarian zones are occupied by Indigenous peoples. A full 80% of forest is social property. 

Companies like Ternium must still get ejido communities’ permission to use their land, even if the company has a national permit. To pressure communities, companies often work with organized crime syndicates to sow discord, or they’ll make tempting monetary offers to the usually impoverished community members, but never pay up.

Of the 1,531 mining projects in operation in Mexico, 44% are in forest areas. The mines  contaminate nearby rivers and soil and get preferential access to water, even in regions facing droughts. In the Central-North of Mexico, the Wixárika people own and look after 140,000 hectares of land. And yet, without their permission, copper, gold, silver, and zinc mines are currently in operation on those lands, and a further five mines are in the exploration stage.

“Original peoples have spent thousands of years on the land,” Jorge Salinas Jardón, a union activist, friend of Ricardo Lagunes, and member of the Indigenous Matlazinca community, which has now practically disappeared, told TRNN. 

“So when the land is threatened, they will defend it with their lives. People don’t defend what they don’t know about, but when you go there and see how beautiful these places are, then it makes sense. They see themselves as defenders of Mother Earth,” he said.


The state of Querètaro privatized its water system in May of last year, essentially putting private companies in charge of managing water distribution and enabling them to prioritize mega developments over local needs.

Otomi people in Santiago Mexquititlán, Querétaro, organized into an Autonomous Indigenous Council, have been marching and waging legal battles to stop—and now reverse—the privatization.

“We organize to defend what we still have, but when we do that they oppress us,” Sara Hernandez Jimenez, a leader of the Mexquititlán Indigenous Council, told TRNN.

When companies started taking their water via giant water trucks in 2021, leaving families without water for months and worried their animals would die, the community organized a permanent watch over the main well and reclaimed one of the water trucks. 

Members of the Mexquititlán community in Querétaro, Mexico, seize and reclaim a water truck that had been draining a local water source on behalf of private interests in May, 2021. They chant, “Understand, water isn’t for selling, it should be loved and defended.” Video by Tamara Pearson.

Amid these acts of resistance, Hernandez describes ongoing repression: She herself has been attacked twice, and people in the community have been shot at, arbitrarily detained, harassed in their homes, or offered bribes, “so its either prize or punishment.”

With real estate companies looking to buy ejido land, the Otomies have had to defend communal land, including the site where their ceremonial center is. “A violent group was sent with rocks, sticks, and knives, and they removed some market stalls and fair games from our cultural celebration in order to punish us, as an organized Indigenous community. When we planted trees, they pulled them out. When we organize to clean up the area, they come and throw rubbish everywhere, including dead animals,” Hernandez said.

“They hate us Indigenous peoples because we feel like we are part of nature,” she told TRNN, also describing how, with the influx of transnational companies into the area, organized crime has also increased. You can see it, she said, in the increased murders, drug use, and violence in the area.

“We organize to defend what we still have, but when we do that they oppress us.”

Sara Hernandez Jimenez, a leader of the Mexquititlán Indigenous Council

“Organized crime is increasing in Mexico, particularly in Indigenous regions,” warned Carlos Gonzalez, a land rights lawyer with the National Indigenous Council, at a recent national water meeting held in Mexquititlán. He said such activity was part of the “systemic destruction of the collective ownership of the land.”

Meanwhile, in Aquila, Lagunes and Díaz are only the most recent victims. In the last 14 years, 38 community leaders have been killed there, and a further six disappeared. Also, in January, three land defenders, who were members of the community guard of Aquila and of nearby Santa María Ostula, were killed by some twenty hired hitmen, likely members of the CJNG.

After Lagunez and Díaz were disappeared, activists held dozens of mobilizations, two sit-ins, three press conferences, and more, but the Mexican government has not done anything in response.

Ternium, a steel company headquartered in Luxembourg with a 2022 revenue of US $16.4 billion, has been causing serious environmental damage. Three open-pit mines extract 12-15,000 tons of steel a day. Díaz was likely going to be elected representative of the Nahua community in the agrarian courts, where he could negotiate with Ternium.

“My brother began to provide [the Aquila community] with legal support in 2019,” Ana Lagunes explained. “He was focused on regularizing the election of representatives of the common land owners. And there was another group who tried to take over those elections, but with my brother’s support, the agrarian courts stopped them. Finally, an assembly was called to choose the representatives,” she told TRNN. The day of that assembly, her brother disappeared. 

Cartels and mines often operate in the same territory and can have a mutually beneficial relationship, with organized crime groups ridding an area of communities or individuals opposed to extraction and charging workers a fee to work in the local mine.

On February 15, Ana Lagunes and various activists held a protest vigil. They lit candles at 6:50PM, exactly one month since the two were last seen. 

Despite shutting down a main road in the area, the protest felt routine. Disappearances and murders are so common, and impunity rates so high (93% of all murders in Mexico are never punished) that family members demanding justice for the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones are a regular feature of daily life.

“This system wants us to get used to the practice of forced disappearances. There are more than 110,000 disappeared people in Mexico… It seems like there is a war against the people,” said Salinas.

Nevertheless, resistance is everywhere. Locals are waging legal battles and have stopped further construction of skyscrapers in Xoco, an ejido and Indigenous town in Mexico City that the government sold to real estate developers. Residents of the town call the Mitikah construction projects, which now basically run the area, “real estate cartels.”

Maya people in Sitilpech, Yucatán, have been defending their land and water from an industrial farm that houses 48,000 pigs. They recently set up a permanent protest and stopped company trucks from entering the farm. 

Ejido land owners in the state of Sonora have waged legal battles against Penmont, the open-pit gold mine in Sonoro, since 2011. The mine is using up local water and contaminating the soil with cyanide and arsenic. Locals have obtained 67 rulings from the agrarian court, and they even protested outside the National Palace in November of last year.

Forest in Michoacan, Mexico, which criminal groups want to log or control for tourism. Photo by Tamara Pearson.
Forest in Michoacan, Mexico, which criminal groups want to log or control for tourism. Photo by Tamara Pearson.

Purépecha communities in Michoacan created their own communal government councils in order to defend themselves from organized crime and protect the forests. Criminal groups in the area are felling trees for timber and farming avocados. Nearby, Zitácuaro communities have created an Indigenous Guard to defend the forests and monarch butterflies. Eleven of them were killed when they attempted to evict organized criminals from the forest. In the state of Guerrero, 77 Indigenous communities have also set up community police forces to defend against the extractive industries and organized crime.

The list goes on and on: Masuel people in Cuetzalan, Puebla, for instance, recently stopped the construction of a high-tension cable that would have served the mining sector by marching and then camping in the area for nine months. And in late February, Nahua ejido communities in Ixtacamaxtitlán, Puebla, won another ruling against Canadian gold and silver company Almaden Minerals. They have also spent the past decade defending the forest against illegal loggers—and, in an assembly that took place in January, decided to erect a low gate to stop trucks from getting in.


In Mexico, the economic interests and greed of corporations and organized crime overlap. Though the US, Canadian, and European transnationals that operate here don’t document their corrupt relationships with officials in order to obtain permits, or their collaboration with organized crime, they sometimes slip up and say the quiet part out loud. 

Rob McEwan, CEO of McEwen Mining, admitted in a news interview in 2015 that cartels were active near his mine in Sinaloa. Despite said cartels stealing US $8.5 million worth of gold, McEwan told reporters that “generally, we had a good relationship with them. If we want to go explore somewhere, you ask them, and they tell you no, but then they’ll say come back in a couple of weeks when we’ve finished with what we are doing.”

Cartels and mines often operate in the same territory and can have a mutually beneficial relationship, with organized crime groups ridding an area of communities or individuals opposed to extraction and charging workers a fee to work in the local mine. Los Zetas, for example, are known for controlling coal mines.

There are few Indigenous communities that haven’t faced violence from organized crime. Just weeks ago, on February 21, Alfredo Cisneros, an Indigenous councilperson and Purépecha forest defender who had denounced illegal logging in Sicuicho, Michoacan, was shot dead.

In Aquila, locals accuse Ternium, the CJNG, and Carteles Unidos, who are illegally logging in the area, of disappearing Díaz and Lagunes.

“We suspect everyone… there are a lot of interests involved. The mine wants to extend its exploitation period… and organized crime has been increasing its control of the region,” Ana Lagunes said. 

Transnational companies “just see numbers that tell them how much money they’ll make,” said Salinas, when discussing how easily they murder activists who get in their way. “They are insatiable, predatory.” 

Efforts to repress those who stand in the way of this environmental pillage are increasingly targeting whole communities. The Indigenous community of Pitayal, Oaxaca, has faced harassment, intimidation, physical violence, criminalization (through trumped-up charges), and political violence (like being refused resources for public services) as they resist the use of their common land for a mega-construction project. 

Sara Hernandez Jimenez (right), a leader of the Mexquititlán Indigenous Council. Photo by Tamara Pearson.
Sara Hernandez Jimenez (right), a leader of the Mexquititlán Indigenous Council. Photo by Tamara Pearson.

And in the North, 20 Yaqui people were reportedly killed or disappeared in 2021. Some leaders have been imprisoned, and threats against others are constant. Guadalupe Flores, a Yaqui spokesperson, told Mongabay that violence is the way companies “generate psychosis so the inhabitants abandon their land.” 

There are few Indigenous communities that haven’t faced violence from organized crime. Just weeks ago, on February 21, Alfredo Cisneros, an Indigenous councilperson and Purépecha forest defender who had denounced illegal logging in Sicuicho, Michoacan, was shot dead


“Original peoples have spent thousands of years on the land. So when the land is threatened, they will defend it with their lives. People don’t defend what they don’t know about, but when you go there and see how beautiful these places are, then it makes sense. They see themselves as defenders of Mother Earth.”

Jorge Salinas Jardón, union activist, friend of Ricardo Lagunes, and member of the Indigenous Matlazinca community

As private interests—legal or illegal—continue to take over and use the land in destructive ways, they perpetuate what Mexican writer Luis Hernandez Navarro called a “new kind of colonization.” 

Violence, as Mexican academics Ana Esther Ceceña and David Barrios write, is an efficient tool of the privileged and powerful for achieving social re-design. The instrumentalization of violence by transnationals and organized crime syndicates against Indigenous communities, activists, and communal lands across Mexico is a grim, persistent case in point.

“What can be done… has to do with how we look after our own life, what we value, how we ensure we can’t be divided, how we keep growing and also value the solidarity that has been a beaming light in all of this. It gives us hope. A deep well of hopelessness isn’t helpful to us. We look after our lives by standing up for them,” Ana Lagunes concluded.

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Australian National Review – Ellen Brown: The Looming Quadrillion Dollar Derivatives Tsunami





Ellen Brown: The Looming Quadrillion Dollar Derivatives Tsunami

By Investment Watch Blog

via scheerpost:

Technically, the cutoff for SIFIs is $250 billion  in assets. However, the reason they are called “systemically important” is not their asset size but the fact that their failure could bring down the whole financial system. That designation comes chiefly from their exposure to derivatives, the global casino that is so highly interconnected that it is a “house of cards.” Pull out one card and the whole house collapses. SVB held $27.7 billion in derivatives, no small sum, but it is only .05% of the $55,387 billion ($55.387 trillion) held by JPMorgan, the largest U.S. derivatives bank.


Credit Suisse’s $39 Trillion Derivative Debt Poses Significant Threat to US Financial System.

  • The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, is under a lot of pressure due to the deteriorating condition of Credit Suisse, a Swiss banking giant. Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010, Yellen was given increased powers to oversee financial stability in the U.S. banking system. The legislation made Yellen the Chair of the newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC), whose meetings include the heads of all of the federal agencies that supervise banks and trading on Wall Street. It is Yellen’s authorization that would be required before the Federal Reserve could create any more emergency bailout programs for mega banks.
  • Recently, the US Treasury was reviewing US banks exposed to Credit Suisse, looking into how many billions of dollars of underwater derivatives US banks were on the hook for as a counterparty to Credit Suisse, and U.S. banks exposure to Credit Suisse’s other major counterparties that U.S. banks do business with.
  • Credit Suisse was making headlines for two years, and serious problems at Credit Suisse have raised alarm bells in the US financial system. Credit Suisse is a global, systemically significant, too-big-to-fail bank that operates in the US and is deeply interconnected throughout the global financial system. Its failure could have widespread and largely unknown repercussions, which is why the US financial system and economy need to be adequately protected.
  • The recent revelations about Credit Suisse’s deteriorating state have raised concerns about contagion risks in the banking industry, particularly in light of the staggering amount of secret derivative debt being held by foreign banks. According to a report by the Bank for International Settlement, this unreported exposure is 10 times greater than their capital, with an estimated $39 trillion of dollar debt held off balance sheets.
  • This poses potential threats to dollar swap lines and with a significant portion of derivative trades still not being centrally cleared, a layer of opacity is added to an already unaccountable system. The quarterly derivatives report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that four US mega banks held 88.6% of all notional amounts of derivatives in the US banking system, with a total notional amount of $195 trillion.

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Australian National Review – UCSF Orders Their Doctors To Ignore COVID Vaccine Injuries





UCSF Orders Their Doctors to Ignore COVID Vaccine Injuries

By Steve Kirsch

They don’t file VAERS reports either. That’s a violation of federal law. I had a bunch of questions for their media relations department, but they ghosted me. Here’s what I wanted to know.

Dr. Josh Adler is executive vice president and chief clinical officer at UCSF Health as well as vice dean for clinical affairs at the UCSF School of Medicine. I wondered if he would like to see these questions answered as well. So I asked him.

Executive summary

I sent a list of questions to UCSF media relations on March 20 at 10am PST. I also emailed and called the head of media relations at UCSF to let her know about my questions.

Their response: silence.

You know what that means, don’t you?

The questions I sent them

  1. The UCSF Chief Medical Officer has issued a verbal directive that medical staff (doctors, nurses, techs, etc.) are specifically instructed NOT to associate the COVID vaccine to any injuries. So even if they believe the vaccine caused the injury they are NOT allowed to talk to the patient about it. Can you explain how this is in a patient’s best interest? World health authorities such as Karl Lauterbach, Federal Minister of Germany for Health, have publicly admitted that the rate of severe vaccine injury is 1 in 10,000 and the V-safe data in the US shows the rate of severe injury (requiring medical care) is actually 100X higher: 8 SEVERE INJURIES per 100 fully vaccinated people. So why is the UCSF medical staff forbidden to make an association??
  2. I’ve been told that the staff are told not to ask if the person was recently vaccinated with the COVID vaccine because that would suggest to the patient that the COVID vaccine might have caused their medical condition. Is this true? So the patient must offer it to the doctor because the doctor isn’t allowed to ask? How does that improve clinical outcomes?
  3. I’ve been told that 70% of the Radiology Department (in Marin specifically) requested and were granted religious exemptions after seeing what happened to people who received the COVID vaccine. If it wasn’t 70%, what is the number?
  4. I’ve been told that the placentas of a majority of vaccinated women who give birth are not normal (calcified, blood clots, etc.). This started happening after the shots rolled out. Can you tell me what percentage was observed and why nobody at the hospital is speaking out to the press about this situation?
  5. Most troubling to me is that I was not able to find anyone who currently works at UCSF (including doctors, nurses, and lab techs) who would talk to me on the record for fear of being fired. Why would these doctors and nurses have such a fear? Will you guarantee in writing that any staff member who speaks out about any of the points above will be protected and not be fired just for speaking out? Have you fired anyone for speaking the truth? Who?
  6. With all the chatter about fear and intimidation tactics, have you issued WRITTEN assurances to the staff that 1) it is OK to ask about COVID vaccine status, 2) that it is OK to write vaccine exemptions when warranted such as allergic reactions, 3) that if they believe the vaccine caused an injury that they are free to talk about it with the patient and 4) that staff members who talk publicly about what they are seeing in the clinic with respect to vaccine-associated injuries/deaths and don’t violate any confidentiality/HIPAA rules will be protected from being fired? I want to know whether TRUE speech is protected and whether UCSF has notified staff of this in WRITING. If not, why not? Do fear and intimidation tactics yield better health outcomes?
  7. My friend Tim Damroth told me he suffered a cardiac arrest 2 minutes after getting his first COVID shot. He was in such pain since the shot that his UCSF doctors prescribed a nerve block shot. But in order to get the nerve block shot, UCSF required him to be fully vaccinated (i.e., 2 shots)! He asked for a vaccine exemption, but the UCSF doctors told him that UCSF doesn’t allow them to write any vaccine exemptions, even for people who almost died after getting the shot. So Tim got another shot in order to get the medical care he needed but this made his pain much worse. Can you confirm whether COVID vaccination is still required to get certain medical care at UCSF? If it isn’t still required, when did the requirement end? Can you explain the rationale for requiring vaccination to give a shot? Do you deny treatment to people with life threatening conditions if they are not fully vaccinated? How vaccinated must they be to be treated? 2 shots? 3 shots? I just talked to Tim and he will be delighted to sign a HIPAA consent to allow UCSF to talk about his case and all his medical records publicly so everyone can learn what happened to him. Are you proud of the way he was treated? Do you have any regrets?
  8. If you believe that COVID vaccine and masks are effective, why would you subject a patient to have to be vaccinated before receiving medical care? This is nonsensical in light of the Cleveland Clinic study which clearly showed that vaccines increase risk of getting COVID which would seem to put the staff at higher risk. You are clearly ignoring that study. On what basis? Nobody has been able to debunk the study. The precautionary principle of medicine requires that you hold off your vaccine requirement until you can resolve the ambiguity.
  9. How many UCSF staff have died within 6 months of receiving a COVID vaccine shot? Were autopsies done? Did they do the histopathology studies to rule out the COVID vaccine as a cause of death? Can we see the slides?
  10. How many UCSF staff have been seriously injured from the COVID vaccine?
  11. Why didn’t any doctor at UCSF file a VAERS report on the vaccine injuries of , Jan Maisel, and Angela Wulbrecht. This is required by law. was a former Chief Medical Officer at UCSF. Maisel is Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF. Wulbrecht was a top UCSF nurse. All of their injuries were required by law to be reported, yet no VAERS reports were filed. Why not? What are you doing to correct the problem?
  12. UCSF ultrasound technicians with decades of experience have seen an unprecedented number of menstrual irregularities in women who have been vaccinated. Why aren’t any of them warning the public about this? Is the public better off if nobody knows about this?
  13. I talked to one of the funeral homes used by UCSF. They are seeing a 20X higher rate of perinatal deaths after the COVID vaccines rolled out. This is a disaster. Why isn’t anyone saying anything about this? Why did the funeral director decline to be named for fear of being fired? Why isn’t UCSF just publishing the numbers to warn the community? How does keeping this information secret result in superior clinical outcomes?
  14. Nearly all of the UCSF neurologists know that the COVID vaccines have caused serious injuries to huge numbers of UCSF patients. Can you explain why none of them are speaking out publicly about what they are observing in the clinic?
  15. Why not make public health information from the hospital public? The information can be easily anonymized to protect privacy. Wouldn’t making medical records such as age/admission date/COVID vaccine dates/reason for admission be a huge public service? If the vaccine really works, everyone would know it. If the vaccine doesn’t work, everyone would know it. Why don’t we have data transparency?
  16. Is anyone at UCSF calling for data transparency from the CDC? If the death-vax records were public, we could instantly know whether the shots are beneficial or harmful. Is there a reason these records are not public and nobody at UCSF is calling for these records to be made public? Do we get better health outcomes when the CDC keeps the data from public view? The data can be easily anonymized to satisfy any HIPAA requirements. I personally released a subset of the death-vax records from Medicare. So I know it can be done. Oh, and it showed the vaccine were causing an enormous amount of excess deaths.
  17. How long do you think you can get away with hiding all these vaccine injuries from public view?
  18. Is this really in the public interest to keep all this stuff secret and engage in fear and intimidation tactics? Is there a paper in a peer-reviewed medical journal showing superior patient outcomes when the public is kept in the dark about vaccine injuries?

Additional actions

On March 20 at 9:50pm I sent this email to Dr. Adler and cc’ed his assistant:


These should be easy questions for UCSF to answer, but they are ducking my questions for some reason. I just can’t figure it out. I don’t want to spread misinformation, and I’ve offered to correct any questions if they will supply evidence that I’m wrong, but all I hear is silence.

It’s not just me who wants answers to these questions. Pretty much all my readers want to know the answer too.

More importantly, I’d guess that most of the people who work at UCSF would want to know the answer to these questions as well.

But apparently UCSF management and the mainstream media don’t think any of these questions are important.

I wonder if any members of the UCSF Health Leadership Team are curious about the answer to any of these questions. And if not, why not? Do all of them think secrecy is the best way to go? Which questions do they not want to have answered and why? I’ve emailed Dr. Adler and I hope he will respond.

They can’t keep running from the truth. The longer they avoid answering these questions, the worse they look.

Some day there will be accountability. You can bank on that.

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Australian National Review – Government-Backed Digital Money To Represent $213B In Payments By 2030





Government-backed Digital Money to Represent $213B in Payments by 2030

By Lucas Mearian

Digital currencies backed by government banks still face a mountain of challenges before they’ll be ready for prime time, but 114 countries are involved in various projects, either in the planning stage or all-out pilots.

The global value of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) will grow dramatically from $100 million today to $213 billion by 2030, once the virtual money gains greater adoption for domestic payments, according to new data from Juniper Research.

By 2030, 92% of the total value transacted through CBDCs around the world will be paid domestically, as cross-border payment systems face an uphill battle for adoption, Juniper predicted.

The digital currency, which is backed by traditional fiat cash such as the US dollar or British pound, can bolster financial inclusion because customers don’t have to have a bank account to hold them; they can instead use encrypted “digital wallets” that exist in the cloud, on a desktop or laptop, or even on USB storage device.

With a cross-border CBDC payment system, immigrants, for example, could send money back to their countries of origin without having to pay what can be exorbitant fees for electronic money transfers. Businesses would also be able to make cross-border payments for goods and services with much cheaper, and faster, settlements.

Central-bank-backed digital currencies would also reduce the costs of printing and replacing mone, help improve fraud detection, and allow money paid to scammers to be more easily traced and recovered, according to Lou Steinberg, former Ameritrade CTO and managing partner at cybersecurity research firm CTM Insights.

“It would simplify and speed up cross-border payments and reduce the cost and complexity of processing checks, wires, etc.,” Steinberg said in an email reply to Computerworld. “Unlike cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, a currency that is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States or other trusted government would provide certainty that the value of the currency is being carefully managed. A government can adjust everything from the money supply to interest rates as they manage and maintain the value of a fiat currency.”

Digital currencies also eliminate the anonymous nature of consumer cash transactions. In places such as China, where spending activity is closely monitored, that would let the government know what movies an individual is buying tickets for of whether they are spending money at a bar. Those are hard to track with cash.

The US has been a slow follower compared to other nations, such as China and its digital Yuan, in developing a CBDC. Australia, China, Thailand, Brazil, India, South Korea and Russia already have pilots or will begin test programs this year. By 2030, the Bank of England and UK Treasury are planning to launch a digital pound or ‘Britcoin’ CBDC.

It matters which nation’s digital currency achieves widespread adoption first because that government will be able to set the global rules for most others, according to Steinberg. “Whomever sets up large international payment systems first will have a de-facto standard, one which latecomers will have to adopt,” he said. “The US continues to study a digital dollar while others are making progress. We need to prioritize a system for international payments and settlement based on a digital dollar, almost the equivalent of a next-generation SWIFT network.”

The features and standards can be used to design in privacy or state surveillance and traceability. They can include limited use currency, such as a type of dollar that could only be used for stimulus but not saved, or a digital dollar food stamp.

“On the other hand, countries like Cuba have two types of currency, and limit the use of one type to foreigners only (so they know which of their citizens are collecting money from foreigners),” Steinberg said. “If we want western standards around privacy, we need to set the standards. If we want the dollar to maintain its role as a ‘reserve currency,’ we need to set the standards around cross-border networks. Showing up late to the game means you play by some else’s rules.”

All together, 114 countries representing 95% of global GDP are investigating the creation of CBDCs, according to the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. Only 10% have launched general CBDC networks. Sixteen percent of projects are in pilot stage, 30% are in development, and 27% are still in the research stage, according to the Atlantic Council.

“We are behind. The good news is that we are starting to realize this,” Steinberg said of the US.

This map by the Atlantic Council shows the maturity of CBDC projects around the globe.

In March 2022, for example, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling for more research on developing a national digital currency through the Federal Reserve Bank, or “The Fed.” The order highlighted the need for more regulatory oversight of cryptocurrencies, which have been used for nefarious activities such as money laundering. The Fed has been investigating the creation of a CBDC for years.

US lawmakers have also introduced bills that would allow the US Treasury to create a digital dollar. The electronic dollar would allow people to make payments using tokens on mobile phones or through cards instead of cash.

In November, the New York Federal Reserve Bank began developing a wholesale CDBC prototype. Named Project Cedar, the CBDC program hammered out a blockchain-based framework expected to become a pilot in a multi-national payments or settlement system. The project, now in phase 2, is a joint experiment with the Monetary Authority of Singapore to explore issues around the interoperability of the distributed ledger.

Juniper Research’s Maynard believes China will lead both domestic and cross-border CBDC use in 2030, “as it has had early pilots which have seen some success in the market.”

Since CBDCs are issued by central banks, they will be mainly targeted at domestic payments at first, with cross-border payments arriving as systems become established and links made between CBDCs used by individual countries. Crucial to CBDC success, however, will be cross-border and retail merchant acceptance.

CBDCs will also require a complex regulatory framework including privacy, consumer protection, and anti-money laundering standards, which need to be made more robust before adopting the technology, according to the Atlantic Council. Any new system of payment could also jeopardize the national security objectives of the country using them.

“They can, for example, limit the United States’ ability to track cross-border flows and enforce sanctions,” the group said. “In the long term, the absence of US leadership and standards setting can have geopolitical consequences, especially if China and other countries maintain their first-mover advantage in the development of CBDCs.”

Steinberg agreed, saying a fully distributed system has risks, “both that wallets will be electronically pick-pocketed, and that transaction validity (consensus) can be cheated. A well-designed system could be quite secure today and future proofed. A poorly designed one would lead to widespread theft and fraud,” he said.

The research by Juniper said to date there is still lack of commercial product development around CBDCs, with few well-defined platforms for central banks to leverage — a big limiting factor for the current market.

“While cross-border payments currently have high costs and slow transaction speeds, this area is not the focus of CBDC development,” said Nick Maynard, Juniper’s head of research. “As CBDC adoption will be very country specific, it will be incumbent on cross-border payment networks to link schemes together, allowing the wider payments industry to benefit from CBDCs.”

For success, any CBDC platform would need a full end-to-end financial network, including wholesale capabilities, digital wallet, and merchant acceptance, Juniper said.

Full end-to-end CBDC solutions, including wholesale capabilities and – most importantly – widespread merchant adoption central banks to generate buy in. That will mean leveraging platforms from experienced payments vendors, as well as having a public consultation model which involves key stakeholders at every stage.

“In order to achieve merchant adoption, it’s a chicken or egg scenario to an extent,” Maynard said. “Merchants will want to use the platform users are transacting in, but users will want to use the platform their favourite merchants and brands are on. As such, it will likely require a mix of incentives at both the user and merchant level to generate initial traffic.”

One of the challenges for central banks is figuring out how to enable a CBDC that adds value above existing payment systems, according to Gartner Research. The success of CBDCs also depends on “programmability” enabled by smart contracts, Gartner argued in a January report.

“In order to further justify investments into CBDCs, developers are experimenting with injecting programmability into CBDC-enabled payment value chains,” Gartner said. “Therefore, bank CIOs need to prepare for this transformation,”

As part of ongoing pilots of the digital Yuan, or e-CNY, for example, the Bank of China Chengdu is using smart contracts to manage the deposits for extracurricular school activities, such as field trips to museums. Using the e-CNY CBDC reduces reliance on third parties to deal with a refund if a class is canceled, or a student couldn’t attend, Gartner said.

Countries such as Russia and China see how payments that depend on US infrastructure and currencies can be affected by sanctions and are working to develop alternatives, Steinberg said.

“The one to watch is China,” Steinberg said, referring to the mBridge Project. “Domestically, they need to keep electronic payments from all moving to tech companies, and undoubtedly see benefits in increased consumer surveillance. Internationally, they piloted cross border payments and settlement with central banks in places like Thailand and UAE. That’s the current concern.”

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