Cuba had its first-ever Bitcoin-only meetup over the weekend, with more than 60 people attending. It was hosted by Cuba Bitcoin at the Bitcoin-friendly bar and restaurant Pazillo. Cuba Bitcoin is a lively group of Bitcoin (BTC) advocates and activists whose discussions on Telegram between anonymous social media accounts that hide people’s identities had yet to make it into the real world.
Cuba’s foray into Bitcoin signifies a departure from the centralized economic model that has shaped Cuba’s economy for decades. Despite limited internet access, financial constraints and a socialist-styled government, the meetup underscored that Cubans are increasingly turning to crypto as a means of financial freedom and an “exit” from the local economy.
Cuba Bitcoin co-founder Forte11 (not his real name) told Cointelegraph:
“The mission of the meetup is to educate, not convince Cubans about the potential of Bitcoin in Cuba. Each person has the freedom of expression to decide what they want to do. It’s education, education and education first and foremost.”
While Bitcoin meetups in the West might be dominated by white, middle-aged men, Cuba’s Bitcoin-only meetup included a wide range of characters. From small business owners and software developers to teenage students and grandmothers, more than 60 people turned up. Paco de la India, a Bitcoin vlogger and evangelist, also attended, delivering a talk on Bitcoin adoption around the world.
Although Cuba is technically a centrally planned economy, the state recently relaxed laws on private business ownership. This arena is the target market for Bitcoin merchant adoption, as it is now legal to accept cryptocurrencies for goods and services thanks to recent crypto regulations passed in Cuba.
To demonstrate this, the group sold Cuba Bitcoin T-shirts for 1,000 satoshis ($0.30) so attendees could learn about the layer-2 Lightning Network — and they sold out.
Nonetheless, the main talk of the day revolved around how to get one’s hands on Bitcoin. In a country where mobile internet penetration remains relatively low and smartphones are not yet ubiquitous, downloading Bitcoin applications or wallets is out of reach for many Cubans.
What’s more, due to the United States trade embargo, familiar exchanges such as Coinbase, Kraken and Gemini are not welcome in Cuba. As a result, Cubans tend to buy Bitcoin the OG way, through peer-to-peer exchange.
Bitcoin Cuba co-founder “C” delivered a talk on how to buy Bitcoin peer-to-peer through Telegram trading groups. Through a Lightning-enabled tipping bot on Telegram, Cubans can buy Bitcoin in exchange for Cuban pesos or the Cuban Moneda Libremente Convertible, or MLC — a “dollar-backed,” government-owned stablecoin. Mobile transfers can also make purchases as more and more Cubans access government-run banking services. Most trades in the Telegram groups range between $0.20 and $50. (The average Cuban earns just $40 a month.)
Well-known Cuban crypto enthusiast Erich Garcia Cruz also attended the meetup. He told Cointelegraph:
“Using Bitcoin, you can be a freedom person. We have a lot of opportunity here if we teach all the businesses to use Bitcoin as a payment method, to use Bitcoin as a freedom tool — as that’s the path.”
Now more than 10 businesses in Cuba’s capital, Havana, accept Bitcoin for goods and services. Buoyed by the success of the first Cuba Bitcoin meetup, the community intends to set up regular future meetups and events.
This interview is part of an upcoming Cointelegraph documentary about Bitcoin adoption in Cuba. Subscribe to Cointelegraph’s YouTube channel here.