Real-world sovereignty will soon hit the metaverse — Barbados plans to establish the first-ever virtual embassy.
Real-world sovereignty will soon hit the metaverse as Barbados plans to establish the first-ever virtual embassy.
The government confirmed earlier this month that it concluded a deal with leading metaverse platform Decentraland
to legally declare digital real estate for the unprecedented idea. While sparse on details, the move positions the island nation as a pioneer in the much-hyped online social space Mark Zuckerberg calls the “future of the internet.”
According to statements from the Barbadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the embassy will provide “e-visa services” and include a “teleporter” that will allow users to jump between Decentraland and other visual worlds. The move to purchase land on the popular crypto-powered platform, finalized Nov.14, is reported to be the first of several agreements Barbados expects to realize with other metaverse platforms like Somnium Space and Superworld.
Billed as “technological diplomacy,” the Caribbean nation “looks forward to welcoming the world in its metaverse embassy,” proclaimed
foreign minister Senator James Walcott in a press statement.
Since cabinet approval in August for the virtual land purchase, officials have been working on “identifying and purchasing land, architecting the virtual embassies and consulates, developing facilities” for an expected embassy launch in January 2022. According to Walcott, the virtual embassy “will be at the centre of activities to advance the growth of stronger bilateral relationships with governments globally”. The small island currently maintains diplomatic missions in only 18 countries, and the expansion to the metaverse is hoped to augment the nation’s international profile, especially in business matters. The government claims that metaverse embassy will be vested with similar diplomatic rights to those guaranteed physical embassies under the Vienna Convention, although to what degree this will be the case is subject to legal debate.
Spearheading the concept is Barbados’ ambassador to the UAE, Gabriel Abed, a major proponent of cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies in the Caribbean. The Barbadian-Syrian entrepreneur is the co-founder and CEO of Bitt, a crypto fintech company whose projects include developing Nigeria’s e-Naira, Africa’s first central bank digital currency.
As the country’s first ambassador to the UAE, Abed has sought to market Barbados internationally as a haven for emerging industries like cryptocurrency that face uneven regulatory scrutiny in many G20 countries. In a statement
to Barbados Today, Abed called the metaverse embassy “the first phase of a multi-phased approach towards delivering digital solutions that evolve the way we interact with the world around us. This will be critical as Barbados fosters stronger relationships with technologically advanced nations.”
Since the 2008 banking crisis, Caribbean countries have been the victim of “de-risking” moves by mainland commercial banks. Heeding U.S. State Department warnings that the islands’ financial systems are havens for money laundering, banks have pulled back from lending in the region.
As Abed recently complained on Twitter
, the Caribbean region has some of the highest banking costs in the world. This situation has catalyzed bold moves into the crypto and DeFi spheres as the small island economies seek new capital streams. In 2017, Abed helped launch DCash
, a digital currency for member states of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, a monetary organization that includes Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Grenada.
Furthermore, nine of fifteen currencies in the Caribbean are pegged to the U.S. dollar, easing potential exchange friction for investors. As a leading advocate for central bank digital currencies in general globally, Abed’s pivot to champion Barbados’ foray into the metaverse reflects his desire to “pioneer the evolution of global diplomacy beyond the physical world.”
The metaverse is also pitched as a way to open new virtual opportunities for Barbados’ tourism-dependent economy. After two years of pandemic-related disruptions to international travel, ambassador Abed stressed in an interview how the move “allows us to open the door” to new forms of tourism “using technology diplomacy which then extends to cultural diplomacy – the trade of art, music, and culture.”
Whether this new type of virtual tourism will take off is an open question, yet Jeremy Stephen, a local specialist in cryptocurrencies and the digital economy, views the metaverse as a potential boon for the island’s cultural section. Speaking to Barbados Today, Stephen commented, “if we have another pandemic, God forbid, it doesn’t rob the artist down the line from being able to, through the embassy, do worldwide performances, and then do their own performances on any metaverse.”
The metaverse embassy announcement has spurred a robust debate online, with some commentators viewing the move as a gimmick, while others herald it as a progressive move that will become common practice in the near future.
After running a critical op-ed
by Coindesk reporter Will Gottsegen, CoinDesk’s chief content office Michael J. Casey felt compelled to defend
Barbados, arguing that metaverse embassies could allow “nation-states to forge digital age Westphalia treaties and set a host of different reciprocal rights for their respective citizens.”
Yet, as ambassador Abed conceded with the official announcement, “the metaverse is still very young and new.” The island’s embassy is an test case for establishing sovereign rights and digital citizenship in the unknown waters of the metaverse.
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