Cryptocurrency has without doubt found a use case within a subset of people – those for whom cash is, for whatever reason, hard to utilize. This includes countries like Venezuela where the government has caused hyperinflation and made the sovereign currency all but worthless, to countries like Iran where sanctions by foreign powers have driven residents to use cryptocurrency as an alternative to local currency. This latter group now has a new member to add to the list, according to Reuters – Cuba.
Bitcoin’s Cuban Invasion
Cuba is famously a country stuck in the past in a number of ways, mainly because of decades of underfunded public spending and trade embargos from the likes of the US. These embargos and sanctions have cut Cubans off from conventional international financial markets and payment systems, with Cubans unable to obtain credit or debit cards for international use and struggling to use them abroad if they can get their hands on them. However, the rollout of mobile internet across the island over the past year has ushered in something of a mini revolution and allowed cryptocurrency to flourish as an alternative, unrestricted form of currency. Reuters quotes a cellphone repair shop owner as saying that the advent of Bitcoin on the island is “really opening new doors for us”, with suppliers as well as retailers starting to accept the digital currency, creating a burgeoning business ecosystem. Hotels are also beginning to accept Bitcoin for reservations, which has the potential to expand the appeal to foreign travelers.
Bitcoin’s Premise in Practice
Like most nations suffering financial oppression, either from internal or external sources, Cubans using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies see it as a clunky, slightly awkward compromise to get round the restrictions imposed upon them. Cryptocurrency itself is something of a gray area legally – it isn’t formally recognized as a form of currency, but it’s not illegal to spend, hold, or accept it – which has encouraged people to take a risk and try it. Reuters quotes a Cuban computer scientist as saying that “…for Cubans it (Bitcoin) is a necessity and can be a solution to their exclusion from the global financial community.” If this isn’t a summary of one of Bitcoin’s founding principles then you’d be hard pushed to find a better one.