El Salvador anti-bitcoin marchers burn ATM, slam cryptocurrency 'fraud'

Polls show the majority of Salvadorans oppose the move to make bitcoin official.
Polls show the majority of Salvadorans oppose the move to make bitcoin official. Photo credit: Getty Images / Twitter

Thousands of protestors have hit the streets in El Salvador expressing anger at the country's decision to introduce bitcoin as legal tender.

The Central American republic became the first nation to adopt the cryptocurrency earlier this month with businesses now obliged to accept bitcoin payments. Previously only the US dollar was used.

But the adoption has been hindered by technical glitches that have meant the Chivo digital wallet, which is used to manage bitcoin payments, has been unavailable at various times and some Salvadorians have had difficulties accessing their money.

President Nayib Bukele introduced bitcoin to try and avoid high transaction costs associated with citizens overseas sending money home - which accounts for up to a fifth of El Salvador's GDP.

Bukele said the cheaper fees, quicker transfers and lack of need to have a bank account could save Salvadorans US$400 million per year.

But there are many who are unhappy, with recent public opinion surveys in El Salvador saying a majority of Salvadorans oppose the move to make it an official currency, AP reports.

That has seen anti-cryptocurrency rhetoric on T-shirts and signs such as "we were defrauded by bitcoin", as well as a Chivo ATM being set on fire in the capital San Salvador.

Bukele hasn't been quiet on the matter either, sharing anti-march tweets on social media, including one saying "they even had the nerve to burn a flag of El Salvador" in reference to the ATM fire.

The marchers were also taking aim at Bukele's attempts to consolidate his power in the country, with some brandishing slogans labelling him a dictator.

Those accusations come after a move by the Bukele-controlled top court which ruled the president can serve two consecutive terms, something not previously allowed.

In 2014 the court had ruled presidents needed to wait at least 10 years after leaving office before standing for re-election.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, had said "democracy in El Salvador is on the edge of the abyss" after the decision was handed down.

However, Bukele still enjoys strong support in El Salvador with the BBC reporting a recent newspaper poll showed he had a nearly 86 percent approval rating.