Cubans are turning to digital currencies to get around U.S. sanctions.
With the U.S. trade embargo prohibiting Cubans from obtaining credit or debit cards for international use, many residents are buying cryptocurrencies to make purchases online, as well as to invest and trade, according to Reuters.
“This is really opening new doors for us,” said Jason Sanchez, who owns a cellphone repair shop in Havana and uses bitcoin to purchase parts not available in Cuba from an online Chinese store.
And Alex Sobrino, founder of the Telegram channel CubaCripto, estimates that around 10,000 Cubans are using crypto.
“We are using cryptocurrencies to top up our cellphones, to make purchases online, and there are even people reserving hotel rooms with (it),” he said.
Sanchez bought fractions of bitcoin — which are worth around $10,000 each — through Fusyona, a startup founded by Cubans in Brazil that claims it is Cuba’s first crypto exchange.
“For foreigners, cryptocurrencies is just another option,” said founder Adrian C. Leon, a 31-year-old Cuban computer scientist based in Rio de Janeiro. “But for Cubans it is a necessity and can be a solution to their exclusion from the global financial community.”
In July, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel even announced a plan to use cryptocurrencies to boost his country’s ailing economy.
“We are planning to explore the potential application of cryptocurrency […] In fact, we’ve gone further and decided to study the potential use of cryptocurrency in national and international commercial relations,” Alejandro Gil Fernandez, the country’s Minister of Economy and Planning, said at the time.
That same month, tech guru John McAfee claimed he could help Cuba launch the digital currency.
“You can’t just create a coin and expect it to fly. You have to base it on the proper blockchain, have it structured such that it meets the specific needs of a country or economic situation,” explained McAfee. “There are probably fewer than ten people in the world who know how to do that, and I’m certainly one of them.”