By Alberto C. Toppin (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – The year 2021 was a growth year for Cuba’s crypto ecosystem. The development of payment gateways and online stores, adopting bitcoin as a payment method in physical spaces and other events led to a dollar in bitcoin being listed higher in Cuban pesos than a dollar in cash, for the first time on the archipelago.
However, in 2022, there are still people who doubt the purchasing power of cryptocurrency for many reasons, including the belief that the crypto world must be linked to theft, Ponzi-style schemes and fraudulent investment companies. Add to this decentralization and a lack of support in physical currency or bills, two of the greatest differences between cryptocurrencies and conventional currencies.
However, despite this, cryptocurrency offers Cubans more and more opportunities.
1 – Payment for Apple+, Netflix and Spotify Premium
While flat rate Internet access isn’t a reality for everyone in Cuba, more and more homes have the Nauta Hogar service every year, which is one of the more stable and affordable ways of connecting to the Internet. This stability allows users to access entertainment platforms such as Apple+, Netflix and Spotify Premium (the latter via a VPN).
It wasn’t easy to sign up to these services before cryptocurrencies appeared. Normally, you had to pay with an international debit or credit card which a friend or relative would lend you. This process is more accessible today thanks to platforms such as HeavenEx, QvaPay and Bitrefill.
On HeavenEx, for example, you can buy with bitcoin or ethereum Visa and Mastercard cards. These cards are compatible with payment on the US version of the Apple Store, so you can now access Apple Music and Apple+.
In the case of QvaPay, in addition to similar prepaid cards, gift cards are also being offered to pay for services and products on the Apple Store, Spotify, Walmart’s online store, Netflix and Xbox/Windows 10 games. The same thing goes for Bitrefill.
“There are three cards for Netflix on Bitrefill, with a set value in dollars,” Denis Frometa explains, who has bought some of these gift cards on the platform. “Purchases are made via payment gateways and you choose the cryptocurrency you want to pay with.”
The card has a code that you put into the box “Redeem gift card”, on Netflix’s payment page. Then, the balance in dollars on the card purchased is transferred to the user’s account and goes down over time, depending on the plan purchased, Frometa adds.
More affordable options include the online store Nino Tech that offers alternatives, as well as the chance to buy mobile data along with your subscription to one of the services. The store can only be accessed via a cellphone, using the Slyk app, availabe on Android and iOS.
2- Transfers to international bank accounts
Ever since MLC (the USD priced) stores have expanded across the country, banking authorities are often explaining how one of the ways to receive money in Cuba is via a bank transfer from abroad. They rarely talk about how money deposited into a national account in this currency will never be transferred outside the country.
Thanks to the crypto universe – and a business venture in particular – this is now possible. QvaPay not only offers prepaid and gift cards, it is also a payment gateway that allows you to send bank transfers to any bank in the world. Since December 2021, it has been charging 4-7% in commission fees, depending on where the bank is based.
In addition to promoting these transfers, QvaPay allows you to send money to US bank accounts in particular via a different channel.
“I sent money to the US via Zelle so that a friend could buy me something I needed,” Javier Aguila explains, a user of this platform since its early days. According to his experience, the transfer took between 48-72 hours.
To make a transfer, you need to add cryptocurrencies to an account on this finance website. It is then automatically converted into QvaPay (SQP) credit, which allows you to pay for services on the platform and send money as if they were digital dollars. Transfers are peer-to-peer (P2P), which means that QvaPay looks for an intermediary to carry out the operation.
This credit can also be bought in online stores such as CardshiPPer and in Telegram groups such as Selling QvaPay Credit and SellIVA Exchnge.
3- Paying a bar bill
Paying for services in physical Havana businesses is now a reality, although it’s still far from being a widespread practice. Transactions are made on the Bitcoin Lightning Network, a network of the famous cryptocurrency.
While normal transactions with bitcoin are recorded on a blockchain with relatively high taxes and after a long period of time, the Bitcoin Lightning Network allows operations to be carried out safely and paying very little. According to its website, the Bitcoin Lightning Network has a series of interconnected nodes that have previously deposited a certain amount of bitcoin onto a blockchain. Then, users’ transactions return this deposit to the nodes.
Operations via the Bitcoin Lightning Network also have light client proof that allows you to identify which node this money was transferred to. You can also see the availability of bitcoins on the nodes, as well as their location.
At least four places have set up crypto payments: Yarini, El Cafe, paZillo and the Al Pirata establishment, although more are interested in setting this up.
In order to make a payment, you have to have a digital wallet that is compatible with this network. Muun Wallet is one of the more well-known ones.
4- Buying bikes, motorbikes, cellphones, electrical appliances and more
Up until a few years ago, you needed to have money issued by government banks to buy means of transport, like a bike and even an electric moped, in or from Cuba. This isn’t the case anymore, and not exactly because informal sellers are a plenty either.
PST Express, one of the first online stores in the Colon Free Trade Zone (Panama) accepts payment in bitcoin, ethereum, ripple, litecoin and USD coin, and it incorporated QvaPay as a payment alternative in November. Thus, users with enough SQP are able to buy products on sale there. This list includes electric motorbikes, cellphones and electrical appliances, and even washing machines.
Smaller products (food, personal hygiene, and some smaller electrical appliances) are sent via air, while the rest arrive by sea. Both delivery options have different rates.
QvaPay credit can also be used to buy products on Bachecubano, one of the first online stores to open up in Cuba’s private sector. Food is sold there, such as coffee and cooking oil, as well as cellphones and digital cards. Some of these products are sent express by plane.
These aren’t the only businesses that are accepting cryptocurrency. On Vivencrypto, the directorate of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, there are a lot more businesses, ranging from photography and marketing services to the commercialization and installation of digital TV antennas. These are all organized by category.
There’s no doubt about it: the cryptocurrency community in Cuba is constantly growing.