Airbnb Fined for Violating the US Embargo on Cuba

Photo: Ernesto Verdecia

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that Airbnb Payments, owned by Airbnb, agreed to remit $91,172.29 “to settle its possible civil liability for apparent violations of the sanctions against Cuba.”

The note from the agency belonging to the US Treasury Department reports that “this activity included payments related to guests traveling for reasons outside of the authorized categories of OFAC, as well as failing to keep certain mandatory records associated with transactions related to Cuba.”

The 12 categories of authorized trips to Cuba are: family visits; Official business of the United States government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; export, import or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

At the urging of OFAC, Airbnb conducted a review based on a sample of transactions by stays (accommodation of travelers by Airbnb ‘hosts’) and ‘experiences’ (traveler activities provided by Airbnb hosts) in Cuba. This control showed that between September 28, 2015, and March 1, 2020, Airbnb processed payments related to 3,464 transactions of stays in Cuba by Airbnb guests who traveled for reasons outside the authorized categories.

The average transaction amount for each stay was $139.52. Airbnb also processed payments related to 3,076 transactions for Experiences in which Airbnb Payments did not keep records in accordance with OFAC regulations. The average transaction amount processed for each Experience was $78.40.

Airbnb stated that it took steps to correct its enforcement deficiencies and, as part of its agreement with OFAC, implement additional commitments designed to minimize the risk of a similar violation in the future. These include:

– An IP blocking regime to consider problems related to allowing people located in Cuba to act as hosts on the Airbnb, Inc. platform, at the same time as preventing these people from conducting transactions as guests on the platform;

– The compilation of information on the country of residence and the payment instrument, in order to determine whether the users are nationals or residents of Cuba;

– A review of Hosts in Cuba to ensure that no Hosts are officials of the Cuban government or members of the Communist Party, and also perform manual checks to ensure that there are no publications associated with the Cuba Restricted List;

– Require Guests who book a Stay or Experience to complete a certification before completing the process; and

– Require that users who include a property in Cuba as a Host on the Airbnb, Inc. platform certify that they are independent entrepreneurs.

Background

Airbnb has been enabled in Cuba since April 2015. In just hours, nearly a thousand ads from landlords across the country appeared, most of them in Havana.

Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s former deputy national security adviser and political analyst, commented on Twitter that the OFAC fine involves “denying US citizens the ability to directly bring income to Cubans and build connections between our people.”

Rhodes pointed to the contradiction in the fact that “allowing more US citizens to travel to Cuba was a policy that many members of Biden’s team helped design in 2015.”

In November 2020, it became known that OFAC was investigating Airbnb activities in Cuba to review compliance with the US sanctions against the island.

“Depending on OFAC’s assessment of its Cuba review, we could be subject to potentially significant civil monetary penalties and litigation, and our brand and reputation could be adversely affected,” the company said at the time.

Airbnb in Cuba in figures*

$40 million paid to Cuban people to share their home, between 2015 and 2017

33 nights is the average number of nights that Cuban hosts share their space per year

$164 is the average amount paid per reservation to a Cuban host

The average age of Cuban hosts is 43.

$2,700 is the average annual payment for a Cuban host

58% of Cuban Airbnb hosts are women

*Figures from 2019

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.


11 thoughts on “Airbnb Fined for Violating the US Embargo on Cuba

  • January 5, 2022 at 3:29 pm
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    Nick simple. I want you with the same fervor that you condemn the Embargo to condemn the Cuban regime repression against the opposition and demand the release of the political prisoners.
    I promise I’m not going to hold my breath.

  • January 5, 2022 at 9:03 am
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    Aside from the usual bickering in the comments–some of which is interesting but much of which is not–the key questions for me are:

    1) Was this review of AirBnB initiated by the Biden administration, even tho it looked back thru 2015? Or did the review of AirBnB begin under Trump? I would expect it from Trump, but If it is a Biden effort, good lord, focus on bigger issues and don’t worry about US citizens visiting Cuba and spending a couple hundred bucks through AirBnB….while US citizens are still allowed to visit all the other sinister countries of the world. It’s one thing that Biden seems afraid to reverse Trump’s backward-looking changes to US Cuba policy. It’s quite another for him to take any further steps to make it any harder for Cuban people to make some money as entrepreneurs, or for US citizens to visit Cuba.

    2) Are Cubans really abusing the rules? Remember that AirBnB was authorized to operate in Cuba. The stated concerns seem pretty basic and easy to at least ask in a simple 3-question survey at time of registering as a host. All AirBnB hosts I have seen and met in Cuba seem to be actual individuals and not agents of government. However, it is unrealistic for a US company to certify the political party status of Cuban citizens. They could just say ‘no’ and how would AirBnB know? So it is just another layer of wasted energy.

    3) If the concern is US citizens abusing the rules, many US travelers are aware that there has not been much follow-thru on any record-keeping related to the 12 approved categories of travel. Much of that burden was shifted to the US Airline Companies when they were allowed to fly us to Cuba–and they distilled that burden into a simple “which category are you traveling under?” type of auto-generated question. However–and this is very important–I know that many US travelers to Cuba are doing precisely what the US General License is intended to promote: interacting mostly with individuals and small businesses in Cuba. Do they have some fun in doing so? Yes. Do they occasionally spend some money that goes to the Cuban gov’t? Yes. But small businesses, independently owned casas, etc., are where the fun is anyway. So you can do both–enjoy the time and be compliant. The biggest disappointments to me of Trump’s changes to the US Cuba policy approach were the ones that clearly impacted individual Cuban citizens and individual Cuban business owners. If there are some easy ways to keep lots of money from dumping directly into the GAESA pockets, I have no problem with that. But don’t conflate those with new rules that mostly hurt the people instead.

    If you are going to sit on the beach at a resort for 7 days and not interact with Cuban people or support small, independently owned businesses, and if you are afraid to get out into the communities of Cuba and talk with people, then yes, you are not really following the OFAC rules–but more importantly, you are missing so much of Cuba. Many travelers make the same mistake in many countries around the world. They are afraid to venture out. But I do think American citizens should be able go wherever they want to, and spend their money wherever they want to.

  • January 5, 2022 at 2:31 am
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    Olga is describing Cuba as a zoo? It’s a country with a lot of problems.
    It would seem that Olga wishes to see the problems in Cuba get worse and worse.
    From her wealthy part of the world there seems to be a desire to see others suffer. Just to satisfy a political viewpoint and a lust for some kind of revenge.
    The freedom of Cubans is going to be achieved by putting restrictions on the freedom of people from the USA? Some strange kinda non-logic there?
    There is no sense to it. Other than getting those juicy FLA Electoral College Votes.
    It’s not just me Olga – the entire world condemns this hypocritical approach.

  • January 4, 2022 at 6:50 pm
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    Nick you state: “I’m very clear in my viewpoints. I put forward my thoughts such as they are.”

    OK than well said, your criticism about the corruption and hypocrisy on the part of the Cuban regime. I totally agree.

    Likewise, I also agree that the embargo is cruel and should be ended. It is also a catch-all excuse for the Cuban government for its time worn failed economic policies. However, as you, an expert on the USA know, the embargo being ended depends on the Republicans in Congress and don’t hold your breath on any change in the coming years.

    The corrupt and hypocritical Cuban government you correctly cite, which stepped up repression, imprisonment on ridiculous charges, or forced exile for any and all peaceful dissenters, doesn’t make it any easier for Biden to even repeal Trump’s executive orders.

    I personally don’t think the Cuban Communist Party / Government wants the embargo to be lifted. Since there is no way to remove them by a fair vote, they can stay in power with inefficient policies that keep the population in poverty for maybe a hundred years. They only have 37 to go. Having an eternal enemy is an important tool for them.

    As to some of your questions:

    Do you agree with this fine on Air BnB? NO

    Representatives of every country in the world (apart from Israel) quite rightly condemn U.S. policy toward Cuba. But do you approve of this policy? NO

    Do you not think that US citizens should be allowed the freedom to travel to places of their own choosing and spend their money as they wish? YEP

  • January 4, 2022 at 6:39 pm
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    Nick, you are not even an American but you think the American’s policy towards Cuba is wrong e immoral, but you abstain to call the Cuban regime a dictatorship or condemn the horrendous repression and lack of freedom courtesy of the Cuban regime because according to others comments you had make in here you don’t like to give opinions about others countries political affairs. You sound like a member of PETA visiting the Zoo

  • January 4, 2022 at 5:37 pm
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    Anti Imperialist,
    You frequently very ask very strange questions about my comments.
    I’m very clear in my viewpoints. I put forward my thoughts such as they are.
    Rather than popping up once again with another strange criticism, why don’t you state what you actually think about the article?
    Do you agree with this fine on Air BnB?
    Representatives of every country in the world (apart from Israel) quite rightly condemn U.S. policy toward Cuba. But do you approve of this policy?
    Do you not think that US citizens should be allowed the freedom to travel to places of their own choosing and spend their money as they wish?
    Maybe you could put forward some views of your own?

  • January 4, 2022 at 1:56 pm
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    Nick, once again you post a comment with many reasons the US policy towards Cuba is erred. Then you give your standard one liner to be able to continue riding the “neutral” fence.

    You state:
    “As I’ve said a million times, the Cuban Government is at fault, but two wrongs don’t make a right. This has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom and everything to do with corruption and hypocrisy.”

    Are corruption and hypocrisy the things you feel the Cuban government is at fault about or are you referring to the US in that second sentence?

  • January 4, 2022 at 1:05 pm
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    In a couple of days it’s the first anniversary of the storming of the Capitol by those who wished to put a stop to the U.S. democratic process. These people are still around. Their numbers are growing. Unfortunately there is complete disagreement and total fragmentation when it comes to opinions on what constitutes democracy in the USA. But the representatives of these people who’s power hangs on a thread, still insist on preaching to others. People in the world’s biggest glass house just keep on throwing their stones. And old President Biden retains trump’s policies toward Cuba.
    These policies worked. They achieved their purpose of securing FLA electoral college votes. trump lost the election but did actually win in Florida. Now President Biden doesn’t have the guts to revoke the trump’s Cuba policy. This policy is condemned on an annual basis by every country in the world. But Joe’s got no guts.
    Those who support this policy are people who wish to turn up to MAX the problems of ordinary Cuban people. It would seem that they fantasise over the difficulties and problems of others less well off than themselves.
    And the gutless perpetrators actually use ‘democracy’ as a pretext for their corrupt ways.
    The stench of hypocrisy.
    Looking at this policy from an entirely different perspective, the basic rights of U.S citizens to go where they choose and spend money on what they choose are being trampled upon. It is 100% unconstitutional. This is self evident. Benjamin Franklin and his buddies will be spinning in their graves.
    As I’ve said a million times, the Cuban Government is at fault, but two wrongs don’t make a right. This has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom and everything to do with corruption and hypocrisy.
    The stench.

  • January 4, 2022 at 2:57 am
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    This is so ridiculous as the rest of the embargo regulations. Sorry Moses, but your comment is a bunch of nonsense. Why should Cuba be held to a higher standard than Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and numerous other countries with much more repressive governments that we have normal relations with. I resent my hard earned tax dollars being used to finance OFAC, which has more employees in charge of Cuba, than the “axis of evil “ countries of Iran and North Korea. I have traveled toCuba six times. Some were”illegal” and I broke that law with great pride. Those who want to report me, sorry but the Statue of Limitations absolves me.

  • January 4, 2022 at 12:15 am
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    There are 656 people still incarcerated for the protest on J/11 among them 11 minors.

  • January 3, 2022 at 8:19 pm
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    I support OFAC in their efforts to enforce US regulations. If those who take issue with the OFAC actions would like to see the US relax its position towards Cuba, they should either (1) encourage Cuba to meet the basic requirements for installing democracy in Cuba or (2) work to change US policy towards Cuba. Until either of these things happen, the US government should continue to do as it said it would do. That is to say that the government must apply sanctions and penalties on those US companies who violate policy. Simple as that.

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