El Salvador was the first state to recognize bitcoin as legal tender. However, problems began from the very start - Chivo's digital wallet was not always accessible, the public was alarmed by the rate hikes, and technical support was not up to the task. A month later, only a small fraction of businesses were using the cryptocurrency.
Builder Adalberto Galvez, 32, said he lost $220 trying to withdraw cash from his Chivo digital wallet. Dozens of Salvadorans have experienced a similar problem at least once, and few use Chivo daily."The program took money from me, but I didn't get anything," Galvez says. He had already been using bitcoin successfully for several months in another app as part of a small Bitcoin Beach pilot project in the coastal city of El Zonte.
Galvez said funds were withdrawn from his Bitcoin Beach wallet, but he was never able to withdraw cash. At the same time, he never received a response to his complaint.
Others reported transaction errors and attempts to steal identities. President Nayib Bukele attributed the problems to high demand. A spokesman for the president's administration and the Chivo project was not available for comment.
El Salvador can be considered a poor country. One-fifth of families here live on remittances. That said, the introduction of bitcoin as a state currency has been fairly rapid.
Buquelet said Chivo has been downloaded by 3 million people, about 500,000 more than originally planned, about half the country's population. In September, he said the wallet had 2.1 million active users.
The Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development reported that one month after the launch, the cryptocurrency was used by 12% of consumers.
Last week, Bukele wrote on Twiiter that Salvadorans had begun depositing more cash to buy bitcoins than withdrawals from ATMs.But the fund, which surveyed 233 companies in different sectors, found that overall usage was still low.
93% of organizations reported that they do not accept bitcoin payments.
"We're still not sure what benefits the government expected," says Leonor Selva of the National Association of Private Enterprises, one of several business groups that remain skeptical about the implementation.
The Buquel government hopes that the 2.5 million Salvadorans living in the U.S. will eventually send remittances through Chivo.
So far, 30 ATMs have been installed in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles to send remittances, and Bukele says about $2 million is sent through Chivo each day.
Builder Juan Mos, who has lived in the U.S. since 2005, recently decided to send remittances to his family through Chivo. That way, he says, he can save up to $18 compared to traditional money-transfer services.
"I'm definitely going to keep using it," he said in a phone interview from San Francisco.
But most remittances (that's about $6 billion a year, about a quarter of El Salvador's GDP) are still made the conventional way, because many are wary of the volatility of cryptocurrency.
El Salvador bought 700 bitcoins last month. On September 7, just after the currency was recognized as legal tender, its exchange rate collapsed sharply. By the end of the month, however, it had risen, and now stands at about $56,000 per coin.
Several people told Reuters that they downloaded the wallet and received the $30 bonus that the government offered at the start of the program.
That was enough to benefit small business owners like Alexander Diaz. His restaurant, which serves chicken wings, has seen an increase in demand.
"Most of the people who got the bonus wanted to check out how to spend it, so several customers paid us with bitcoin," Diaz says. Now about 20 percent of his visitors are using cryptocurrency. - Chivo has benefited small businesses because it has made it easier for customers to pay."