The Caribbean ingenuity: remittances with bitcoins arrive from the US to Cuba by bicycle

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With travel restrictions due to the pandemic and the tightening of economic sanctions applied by Washington to the socialist island, it is becoming increasingly difficult to send money to relatives. But Cubans are masters of survival.

Gretter received money in Cuba that her husband sent from the United States. The operation started in bitcoins, was transformed into Cuban banknotes and ended up on a bike ride to his front door. Caribbean ingenuity.

With travel restrictions due to the pandemic and the tightening of economic sanctions applied by Washington to the socialist island, the sending of family remittances is becoming more and more complicated. In 2017, these amounts were estimated at $ 3.5 billion, according to Cuban economist Carlos Mesa-Lago. Almost the same that tourism generates on the island per year.

Applying a dose of creativity typical of an island that lives 58 years under economic blockade, Erich García, a 33-year-old programmer and youtuber, found a way that goes from la blockchain (platform where cryptocurrencies operate) to Havana.

“We found this variant of the use of cryptocurrencies as a measure in which no bank is necessary“, explains Erich.

Several financial entities have desisted from operating with Cuba as a result of the sanctions imposed by the United States Department of the Treasury.

Washington seeks a change of regime on the island, and wants to avoid economic profit from the government in transactions.

Bypassing the embargo, Erich released a few weeks ago a platform that links the sender and the receiver, although in the middle several actors intervene so that the money reaches its recipient.

“Anyone who wants to send remittances to Cuba must buy bitcoins and send them through the automated system of and that same amount (equivalent in Cuban money) reaches its beneficiary in Cuba,” explains Erich.

The operation begins: whoever sends money must have an electronic wallet with bitcoins (BTC), an increasingly widespread currency.

Born in 2009, one bitcoin was equivalent to one dollar in February 2011. It currently exceeds $ 11,500.

After entering the amount and details of the beneficiary, Gretter’s husband sent 0.0087 BTC (100 USD). Through a QR code, the remittance page is linked to the electronic wallet that the sender has on his cell phone. Ready the first step.

For the second step, there is a network of “enthusiasts” in Cuba hungry for bitcoins, waiting for Erich to notify them that a remittance has entered.

In Cuba it is difficult to acquire bitcoins conventionally, so those who want to buy are willing to either pay more or give up part of their profits.

Via WhatsApp or Telegram, a “negative bid” begins between them: they compete for how many bitcoins they are willing to lose to win this operation. It is usually up to 25%.

In this auction the winner was Adalberto Orta, 33, also a programmer. He must give Gretter the equivalent of 100 USD in Cuban money. They can be 100 CUC or 2,500 CUP.

If she had a bank account, Adalberto would make a transfer to her. But since he doesn’t have it, he takes his bike and, at the tip of the pedal and sweating under the Caribbean heat, travels 14 km to get the money.


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