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El Salvador’s Chivo BTC App Largely Disused & ATM Booths ‘Empty’ – Report

Tim Alper
Last updated: | 3 min read
Source: AdobeStock / Milosz Maslanka


Under 2% of remittances made to El Salvador make use of the state-operated Chivo bitcoin (BTC) app and wallet – and bitcoin ATM booths in the nation are “empty” less than a year after their launch, a new report has claimed. But the government claims that the app is still popular among many citizens.

El Diario de Hoy, one of El Salvador’s leading newspapers, reported that “few Salvadorans use the Chivo app and the ATMs to receive remittances.”

The media outlet is generally opposed to the government of President Nayib Bukele and his bitcoin adoption plans. It quoted data from the Central Reserve Bank that shows that between September 2021 and June 2022, USD 120.46 million entered the country via crypto wallets. That represents just 1.8% of the USD 6.4 billion total remittances sent to the nation – mostly from overseas-based Salvadorans – in the same period.

The figures also show that USD 29.68 million was remitted in BTC via the crypto wallets in October 2021 – one month after bitcoin was adopted as legal tender in El Salvador. Since then, however, senders have remitted no more than USD 20 million per month. In some months, that figure fell to around the USD 10 million mark.

But while the media outlet appeared keen to paint a picture of a fast decline in BTC remittances, one month’s data did stand out: in May this year, USD 15.6 million worth of BTC was remitted to El Salvador from overseas, marking a large rise from the previous month. The media outlet remarked that remittances are often generally higher than usual in May, the month in which Mother’s Day falls.

But, optimists may claim, this would still indicate that a small but significant minority of people are already choosing BTC as a remittance tool just ten months after Chivo’s launch and the BTC adoption law.

The data was released to the EFE news agency, which says the Central Reserve Bank refused to tell it if the figures represented BTC sent via Chivo only, or if it also included data from other BTC wallets.

Such information, the agency claimed, has been “placed under secrecy.”

El Diario de Hoy, meanwhile, claimed that “in the center of” the capital San Salvador, most Chivo ATM booths “look empty, with “few Salvadorans” coming to ask staff about how to use machines.

Others seem reluctant to “make transactions” using the app, the media outlet added.

The same newspaper claimed that multiple businesses in downtown San Salvador have removed the “bitcoin accepted” signs they put up only a few months ago.

But those itching to write Salvadoran BTC obituaries could be getting a little too trigger-happy.

Last week, social media outlets were flooded with news about how Chivo booths were being “dismantled,” after images and video footage showed workmen seemingly taking a booth in San Salvador apart had circulated online.

However, this turned out to be a false alarm: the booth was simply being moved a few meters away and is now apparently fully functional again.

Regardless, there are signs that the app has not enjoyed the success the government had initially hoped for. The technical team in charge of the app was changed earlier this year, and its social media accounts are largely inactive.

The Minister of Finance, Alejandro Zelaya, has responded by claiming that Salvadorans “continue to use” both bitcoin and the Chivo wallet.

Zelaya also denied that any Chivo booths were being dismantled, but claimed that there were “still many steps to be taken” in El Salvador’s BTC adoption journey.

In April, the American National Bureau of Economic Research published a survey that showed 20% of Salvadorans were continuing to make use of the Chivo Wallet.


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