The External Blockade and Internet Sanctions on Cuba

Luis Rondon Paz

2 Checkout was the second company after Paypal that refused service.
2 Checkout was the second company after Paypal that refused service.

HAVANA TIMES — The normalization of diplomatic and commercial relations between Cuba and the United States began seven months ago. Today, the two countries have reopened their embassies and the island is authorized to make financial transfers through a US bank.

If we’re heading in the right direction, I thought perhaps one can already make direct Internet purchases from Cuba, so I gave it a try for my small company.

My mistake.

I thought that things would work quickly over the Internet, given the thaw between Cuba and the United States, since my country had been removed from the US list of countries that sponsor terrorism, I thought I would be able to make an online purchase or investment.

Again, I was wrong.

The fact Cuba is no longer in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism has nothing to do with the economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States, which, incidentally, is still in place and stronger than ever. This is what I ran into trying to use PayPal and 2Checkout, virtual payment mechanisms that facilitate all kinds of Internet transactions, which currently block and persecute any type of money transfer smelling of Cuba.

I’ve had more than my share of moments with PayPal. It’s the second time they restrict my account. The first time was because I was careless enough to make a money transfer using a Cuban IP, that is to say, connecting to their server from Cuba. The second was because I registered using my full name. The situation became complicated when, in order to unblock my account (allowing me to buy and sell online) they asked for my passport number and to verify that the information I’d provided was correct.

You can imagine what would have happened if I’d supplied that information. They would have automatically cancelled my credit card or, in the worst of cases, eliminated my account.

Right now, my account is restricted. I can’t buy or transfer the few cents I’ve made selling some of the photos I’ve taken, because I haven’t submitted – and won’t submit – the personal information they’ve requested. In short, I’m screwed, and can confirm the fact that PayPal persecutes and sanctions anything having to do with Cuba.

Like the hard-headed go-getter I am, I tried another payment mechanism, 2Checkout. At the time, they were accepting instant payments through credit and debit cards. A friend had given me a visa gift card that was non-rechargeable and for electronic use, and I set out to add credit to my account at smsacuba, one of the many Internet sites where one can send an sms to Cuba at one cent the message.

Everything seemed to work – the payment and transaction went through. I felt enthused. I had found a way to use my email account to send messages to Cuban cell phones at a price much lower than the one charged by the Cuban telecommunications monopoly ETECSA.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And that’s what happened.

Thirty minutes after making the payment, I received the following email message: “Dear customer, 2Checkout, the company which processes all payments made using debit cards, determined that your recent purchase of credit was fraudulent and did not process the payment. We are unaware of the reason. We have debited 10 US dollars from your account. We regret any inconvenience. Sincerely, the SMSaCuba.com team.”

“What nerve!” I thought, angry, and immediately wrote 2Checkout. Two days later, they diplomatically informed me of the following:

“Hello Luis, thank you for contacting 2Checkout. I apologize for the delay. I’ll be more than happy to assist you with your problem. Your order was cancelled because we cannot accept any transaction (or anything) related to Cuba. As a result of the sanctions imposed by the US government, we cannot accept any transaction that is in any way connected to the island of Cuba. I apologize for the inconvenience you’ve had. If you require assistance at any moment, feel free to contact us. Once again, thank you for contacting 2Checkout.com. Have a nice day.

Robert Cunnington
Fraud Expert

Fraud Prevention Unit.”

Having experienced this personally, disappointed and forced to run off with my tail between my legs, I am now more convinced than ever that the people who suffer the effects of the blockade the most are average folk trying to open on-line businesses in Cuba. I can only assume the bureaucracy will survive and continue to dictate how purchases and transfers are to be made at high levels.

That is one of the big problems here: the US blockade does not affect those in power, it affects average people like me.

It’s a shame. In situations like this one, the external blockade makes one feel isolated, imprisoned and discriminated against, as though the internal blockade weren’t enough.

We can only sit and wait for the US Congress to put an end to this and lift the blockade once and for all, see if my country manages to make progress then.


33 thoughts on “The External Blockade and Internet Sanctions on Cuba

  • October 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm
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    The bitcoin fad has had it’s day and passed. A friend of mine invested a lot of money in powerful computers he planned to use to “mine” bitcoins. He made some money for a while, but soon inflation of the bitcoin currency ate up his gains while the power of his computers were soon outstripped by other machines. It seems bitcoins are subject to the inescapable laws of economics as all other monetary systems.

  • August 18, 2015 at 11:19 pm
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    So Gomezz I’m glad you agree that I gave emagicmtman sound advice.
    Any currency I provide in Cuba is either in cash or through my bank and being a Canadian is in Canadian currency. My Canadian Visa similarly works in Cuba but use is very restricted and the Cadeca and banks charge heavily.
    So the best method is to take Canadian dollars and exchange for CUC’s. The money changers on the street give the same exchange rates CUC/PESOS as the banks and Cadeca. I too have never used American Express and likewise do not use PayPal.

  • August 17, 2015 at 8:49 pm
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    My point is that his issues are with the Castro regime, not the US. If the Castros felt a measure of internal pressure for political reforms as they feel for economic reforms, they would likely make some concessions. Possibly some measure of an independent media or relaxing their repressive tactics to suppress free speech. The Castros are not ideologues. They are survivors. They will only respond to pressure with changes that sustain their power.

  • August 17, 2015 at 8:42 pm
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    Simply put, the US policy is not anti-US, even if it feels that way to him. Our policy is pro-democracy. Americans have spent blood and treasure for our ideals. To have done so and then turn a blind eye to the blatant injustices of the Castro regime would be a disrespect for those few who sacrifice so much for the rest of us to live free. While imperfect at times, America stands for something. Our embargo against Cuba represents our high democratic ideals. Obama has decided to pursue those ideals a different way. He bravely acknowledges that the strategy that includes the embargo has failed to support our democratic ideals in an effective way. Time to try something new new.

  • August 17, 2015 at 8:34 pm
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    Really? Western Union from the US to Cuba works just fine.

  • August 17, 2015 at 5:03 pm
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    One of the or the head of Bitcoin just got popped (arrested) in Asia but I don’t remember where; don’t mess with that Luis, it’s just no good!

  • August 17, 2015 at 4:58 pm
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    That’s what I did, a certified cheque right to Julian and when I send $ to Cuba is always in Canadian Currency and taken by a trusted friend. My Canadian Visa works in Cuba, I boycott American Express and have never done PayPal for all the horror stories.

  • August 17, 2015 at 4:54 pm
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    Baloney Griff, it’s the Blockade, you can’t deny what has been written in this article no matter how hard you try to reverse the whole universe to rationalize this one, and that is just what you Right Wingers, Gusanos, Propagandists and Obsessive, Sour Old-Men try to do each time. This is exactly what dani is talking about. You just can not win this one!

  • August 17, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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    Oh man, it’s towards the EMBARGO! You are trying to reverse this, how can you when it’s the USA company which refused him service because he’s in Cuba. But this is your M.O.(Modus Operandi or the way you operate, in Latin), your interpretation is a complete and total reversal of the facts here, so Take a Hike, you are totally demented!

  • August 13, 2015 at 12:38 pm
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    Yes, understood, I top up my wife’s and step daughter’s cell when in Canada.

  • August 13, 2015 at 12:36 pm
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    Send a cheque to:
    Julian Assange
    c/o Equadorian Embassy
    London
    UK

  • August 13, 2015 at 11:24 am
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    “….doesn’t work on us?” That statement presupposes that you are in Cuba. You are not!

  • August 13, 2015 at 6:33 am
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    This is going to be difficult to explain. Bitcoins are a crypto-currency which bypass national governments, banks and credit cards. On the whole they only have a virtual rather than physical existence. In fact there is no central authority controlling it as it is based on peer-to-peer transactions similar to the internet itself. For obvious reasons there are a lot of vested interests that would lose out with its growing popularity. For more info try https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin.

  • August 13, 2015 at 4:50 am
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    A poor response. I didn’t ask you to justify the internal embargo. I asked you to justify the blocking of Luis by the US blockade which causes him to feel “isolated, imprisoned and discriminated against”.

  • August 12, 2015 at 4:28 pm
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    yes cell phones, but from outside of Cuba, and EZETOP works company2company , a cuban like me cannot do that kind of stuff, 🙁

  • August 12, 2015 at 4:26 pm
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    if i put my ID: Paypal Erase my account automatically and lock my Visa Gift Card (as they did with a VISA Electron a few years ago. 🙁

  • August 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm
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    Bravo! the stick don’t work on us but you are going to have to put some meat on that carrot before we ever bite, then Watch Out you don’t loose a finger there IC or get kicked in the head!
    The message here, in this article we are supposed to be reviewing, is how it was the USA Blockade that kept the Internet out of Luis’s computer, not Fidel. So take a hike Moses and Griff, and good for you IC, I see you are coming to your senses and I hope it was my didactic epistles that brought common sense into your life and love into your heart, Amén

  • August 12, 2015 at 11:24 am
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    Money cannot be sent by Western Union from Canada to Cuba as a result of the embargo.

  • August 12, 2015 at 11:12 am
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    VISA as far as I know.

  • August 12, 2015 at 10:11 am
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    I just checked with American Express and you cannot use the Card in Cuba as yet. What U.S. Credit Card companies are allowing use of their credits cards.

  • August 12, 2015 at 9:01 am
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    The Castro regime imposed an internal embargo on the Cuban people which prevents them from exercising their economic freedom. The Cuban State maintains a monopoly on all import-export business in Cuba.

    In Luis’ own words: “…I haven’t submitted – and won’t submit – the personal information they’ve requested.” What financial institution will execute transactions with customers who refuse to provide proper identification? And why is it Luis is afraid to identify himself to PayPal?

    Luis is indeed “isolated, imprisoned and discriminated against” …by the Castro regime .

  • August 12, 2015 at 7:35 am
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    Yes, at the CADECAs.

  • August 11, 2015 at 11:28 pm
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    Good! Are they still charging a 10% discount on US currency and on US bank cards?

  • August 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm
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    I’ve gone back and forth on the embargo for some time now. I was all for dropping it as a failed policy in our 21st century reality until Cuba got caught with their hand in the cookie jar sending weapons and military spare parts to the psychos in North Korea. Still, I’m all for dropping it and taking away the excuses of the regime. I want to be able to encourage Louis and others like him to experience free market capitalism and allow it to take hold in Cuba.

    Besides, we need a carrot and stick approach. So far we’ve only use the stick.

  • August 11, 2015 at 4:15 pm
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    US bank cards can now be used in Cuba. My wife proved that to me a few months ago.

  • August 11, 2015 at 4:13 pm
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    One would assume that if enough Cubans like Luis were to vent to those feelings of “isolated, imprisoned and discriminated against” towards the repressive Castro regime, the regime would be compelled to change or leave power. Then again, if pigs could fly. After more than 50 years of the US embargo failing to foment a widespread counter-revolution, Obama is correct to try something new. I disagree with his unilateral strategy but I understand the motivation behind it.

  • August 11, 2015 at 2:54 pm
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    “That is one of the big problems here: the US blockade does not affect those in power, it affects average people like me.” Exactly. Would Moses, Griffin and Informed Consent care to pose a justification for blocking Luis other than the usual tired conservative dogma. Like he says it makes him feel “isolated, imprisoned and discriminated against”.

  • August 11, 2015 at 1:22 pm
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    The problems you raise in the article affect US citizens and US sources. For example here in Canada if we endeavor to book an hotel in Cuba through one of the prominent US owned agencies (which may for example advertise using a .ca web site) the site says that there are no available hotels. This nonsense is a consequence of the US Government trying to impose it’s views upon what are supposedly the free peoples of the US. As it is a two party political system and both parties have supported the legislation, the US citizens are powerless.
    Cuba understandably in retaliation has made the use of US based credit cards illegal. So, I can use my VISA card in Cuba because it is registered in Vancouver, Canada. But US registered VISA cards are useless.
    Yes, Cuban cell phones can be topped up through EZETOP although it is based in the US.

  • August 11, 2015 at 11:53 am
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    It is nothing short of a minefield. Who do you believe?

  • August 11, 2015 at 9:09 am
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    In the meantime, rather than “Waiting for Godot,” there are other options, through third countries, for processing payments to parties in Cuba. Although O.F.A.C. periodically attempts to shut these down, just like the Cuban govts. attempt to censor the “weekly package,” etc., they can’t keep up. Years ago I paid for some of my (then) young daughter’s “Yugio” cards (those with children in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, remember them?!) through PayPal. Not only were the “Yugio” cards counterfeit, but a week later my credit card company called to query me about a $4,000 charge from Rumania, which of course, was fraudulent. When I contacted PayPal, they could care less. (Maybe they have tightened up their customer service act since then, but I doubt it.) Afterwards, I rarely did business with them. The final straw, however, was when, under U.S. Gobmen’t pressure, they refused to channel my donations to Wikileaks.

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