Luis Rondon Paz
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.
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.
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.