With the crisis going on in Cuba right now, I felt that now would be a good time to put out some of my thoughts on this topic. It’s deeply personal to me as half of my family comes from Cuba. My grandmother and grandfather fled the country to escape the communist Castro regime. We still have family there. Furthermore, almost our entire team at Bitstop is made up of immigrants from Cuba and Venezuela, two of the most oppressive countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.
I felt compelled to write this article for me, my family, my team and for those who are being persecuted in Cuba and other oppressive regimes around the world. It pains me that I can’t physically make a dent. But I know the awesome freedom fighting power of Bitcoin well. Perhaps there is a small chance some of these ideas inspire and aid future generations.
Aside from bringing awareness to this situation, I want to focus specifically on how I think Bitcoin could be a beacon of hope for Cuban citizens. It can serve as a tool which offers them financial freedom and a chance to one day transition their country out of the dark ages and into the twenty-first century.
What’s going on in Cuba?
For those who don’t know or haven’t been following the discussion, there have been protests and Cuban citizens have taken to the streets. They want freedom and liberty.
The government and current president Miguel Díaz-Canel will do anything to squash this. They will blame the pandemic and Trump sanctions which they claim destroyed tourism and hospitality and caused a massive drop in remittances from Cubans living abroad. Both of these are vital sources of income for cuban citizens and their families. The government will blame electricity outages, as well as shortages of food and medicines, on the U.S. embargo and the restrictions reimposed by the U.S administration that cut off Cuban access to hard currency.
At the end of the day, the Cuban government will blame everyone and anything other than themselves. These hardships that Cubans are facing are government self-inflicted wounds and the result of communist controls. For over six decades, the Cuban people have been silenced, starved, and controlled. This is really about Cuban citizens who want freedom and liberty and to put their lives on par with the rest of the world. They want access to basic human needs. Instead they are stuck frozen in a time that has long since passed. They are tired of the control and being held back. The reality is this has been going on for sometime. But thanks to modern communication technology its being recorded and shared with the world like never before.
I have been to Cuba. I have walked the streets. I have spoken to the people. They were suffering but could barely speak up out of fear of who might be listening. You can’t easily find food, gas, and even water. Meat is restricted or limited to government officials. The buildings are crumbling, basic needs are luxuries. It’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of people who are jailed for even voicing a difference in opinion. Cuban protestors are being fast tracked into a kangaroo court for an expedited trial without representation and jailed.
On the way back to the Havana airport, I once asked a taxi driver who used to be a doctor “Why don’t the people rebel? Everyone I’ve spoken to is so smart and loves this country.” His response was chilling. The driver said “after fifty years of being repressed by the government, all hope is lost. We are apathetic because we feel like nothing will ever change”.
Can Bitcoin change Cuba?
First, Bitcoin has to change the world. Luckily, that’s happening now and very quickly. Bitcoin is only 12 years old and today you can’t stop hearing about it. It’s penetrating democracies and dictatorships and helping millions of people circumvent tyranny every day which seems to be encroaching faster than ever lately.
This won’t be a virtue-signaling post about how Cuba will be saved by Bitcoin today or even tomorrow. Cuba is past the point of “frogs in a boiling pot of water”. In a country of extreme centralization and control where the government controls almost everything and is even shutting off the internet to prevent information coming in and out, Bitcoin will have a much harder time thriving as fast as it is everywhere else. I recognize this and it must be acknowledged. Bitcoin is not top priority for most Cubans. In a place where people can barely get food or medicine, Bitcoin will not be of that much importance for most Cuban citizens right now.
Make no mistake. The people of Cuba are starving. Being silenced, murdered, and oppressed. In the short term there is nothing Bitcoin will do for them to alleviate these issues. Bitcoin won’t change Cuba overnight, but it will eventually. What Bitcoin can offer though right now is hope and a potential escape for future generations.
Bitcoin is accessible to all. The network cannot ban access to any individual. It’s free and open source. It has proven itself as a reliable tool for those that are oppressed. It is censorship resistant and if stored correctly extremely difficult and in some cases impossible to confiscate.
Bitcoin can be used by anyone even corrupt Governments
It’s important to note that Bitcoin can be used by anyone. Dictatorship governments will use Bitcoin first for their own benefit and do everything they can to not let the citizens use it. They will lock you up or kill you for unauthorized use of Bitcoin.
Just look at Venezuela, another dictatorship spawned from Havana. Venezuela used to be a sprawling democracy and the 4th richest country in the World only 20 years ago! Today it’s riddled with extreme hyperinflation and poverty. The Maduro Government is mining Bitcoin and openly using digital currency and even creating their own centralized neutered version. They will confiscate your Bitcoin miners if they find out you are mining Bitcoin and use your equipment for their own Bitcoin mines to enrich themselves. They will tell you that you are able to use their centralized shitcoin “the Petro” with no fear of retribution or consequence. But if you use Bitcoin, you are evil.
It’s all about control.
How does that compare with a developed nation?
It’s an extreme version of what’s going on in developed or developing countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, China or some European nations right now. Every central bank around the world is working on their own centralized digital currency as we speak. While they do so, they simultaneously promote Bitcoin as risky and a tool for money laundering and drug dealers.
In most developed nations, they aren’t throwing people in jail or killing them for using Bitcoin (at least not yet). But they are trying to push a narrative that makes you look like an outsider or bad person for doing so. They will tell you you may lose all your money even though Bitcoin has gone up an average of 200% every year for the last 7 years. They may even ban Bitcoin for a short period of time like China does every few months. The goal is to slow down adoption while they work on getting out their own “safe currency”. They want you to use CBDC’s instead of Bitcoin. The same fiat centralized currency in new clothing which is much easier to control and manipulate.
Bitcoin is a trojan horse. Citizens of dictatorships like Cuba may not benefit immediately. But when a government invites bitcoin inside even in a very limited way even if just for just a few people, it doesn’t realize that’s all it takes for Bitcoin to begin to infiltrate.
Dictatorships think they will be able to control the use of Bitcoin. Fortunately, this is not possible. It’s like a fist trying to grab powdery sand in your hand. The harder the fist squeezes, the more the sand pours out of the crevices of the fingers.
Bitcoin is uncontrollable. No one has the ability to control the entire network. No government can shut it down. No matter how much you kill, no matter how many people you silence or throw in jail, a transaction is irreversible when it has been confirmed in a block. A transaction can be broadcast by anyone anywhere as long as they can reach the internet. Transactions on the Bitcoin network can be propagated even with radio waves or through a satellite dish.
El Salvador opened Pandora’s Box
When Jack Mallers from Strike and President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador announced to the world that El Salvador would make Bitcoin legal tender, it was a game changing moment. It brought a whole new level of awareness to other countries in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean. A sovereign nation will now make it legal to accept Bitcoin as payment for goods and services, savings and even let you pay your taxes in it. This was a defining moment.
El Salvador showed that they think it’s possible to move to a Bitcoin standard and they’re going to try and make it happen.
El Salvador citizens benefit with access to a free digital wallet capable of remittances, savings, and the ability to receive digital payments in a country that is 70% unbanked. This delivers massive value, savings, and enables new financial transactions that are not currently possible.
Confiscation-Proof Savings — “One of the Killer Apps”
Bitcoin creates a confiscation-proof savings account for the people. This is one of Bitcoin’s killer app. Most people in Cuba can’t save their money. There is no concept of saving because everything can be confiscated by the government. Now there is a persistent unstoppable savings account that’s always there when you need it whether you use it all the time or not. You can use it when you want to and with very little effort conceal its existence. This is a bigger deal than most could imagine.
Imagine that Bitcoin was around when my grandparents fled Cuba back in the 60’s after the Castro revolution. They had to leave everything behind and risk their lives to get to the United States. My grandmother was stripped of her gold and valuable belongings. Even the earrings on her ears didn’t make it. If it was of value it was stripped from you on your way out. They stole real-estate, jewelry, money, belongings. If it was physical and tangible it was stolen. If they had Bitcoin back then they could have traveled with the majority of their family’s wealth in their pocket or even memorized in their head.
Bitcoin is an invisible savings account that allows you to store value and wealth and take it with you when you need to get the hell out. It’s accessible to everyone and no one can prevent you from generating a bitcoin wallet.
It would have changed history: The Holocaust, Cuban Castro revolution sprawling instability and dictatorships across South America like Chavismo in Venezuela, the Soviet Union and many other tragic situations that happened in this last century.
Bitcoin is a financial life raft
Bitcoin allows anyone, with the motivation necessary, to generate a private key even when their shitty centralized internet is turned off. Bitcoin private keys can even be generated offline. In fact Cubans are very familiar with sharing highly censored information offline. Every week, more than a terabyte of data is packaged into external hard drives known as “el paquete semanal” (“the weekly package”). It is the internet distilled down to its purest, most consumable, and least interactive form: it’s content.
The same thing can easily be done with Bitcoin using a Bitcoin paper wallet generator. Bitcoin can be stored on a piece of paper or even in your mind. You can hop on a make-shift raft with your life-savings and paddle 90 miles to freedom.
In my hometown Miami, Florida leaders like City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez have embraced Bitcoin and digital currency. This is not by accident or circumstance. This is because the majority of the population here is from Cuba or of Cuban descent. They or their loved ones experienced first hand what it’s like to lose everything and leave it all behind.
People like my grandparents from my fathers side of the family who had to leave friends or family members behind or face jail or murder. We have all felt the effects of communism and dictators first hand here in Miami. Growing up I would hear the stories and see the scars left behind by the experiences of living in communist Cuba. From my family, friends, and fellow community members. It’s what makes this city so special. It’s attracting people from New York and San Francisco who are fleeing to Miami just like Cubans did. People love freedom and liberty and the Miami that exists today was built on those values.
If only my grandparents had Bitcoin when they needed it. It wouldn’t have been as hard for them to leave Cuba faster and start a new life much easier. The inability to easily take your wealth and savings with you in the past makes it extremely hard just to get up and leave. It makes you wait until the very last minute when in many cases it’s too late.
Most people who have never experienced this first hand have a difficult time understanding this. I believe Bitcoin wasn’t made for multi-millionaire director Spike Lee and those who live in a free country yet have been convinced by the media that they are oppressed because of their race, gender or sexuality while they enjoy the freedom of living in the United States. They claim Bitcoin is for inclusion. But their version of inclusion is completely warped. They are trying to steal and spin the narrative. They are wrong. I have nothing against those people and they can also use Bitcoin (Bitcoin is for everyone), but Satoshi was most likely not thinking about them when he created Bitcoin.
Bitcoin is spreading everywhere
Bitcoin was born for the situations going on in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and many other countries. It was made to circumvent hyperinflation, confiscation, control, bailouts and bail-ins. It’s an invisible savings account that persists and cannot be confiscated so that you and your family can store value in it and take it with you or send it anywhere in the world when shit hits the fan.
This is why Bitcoin was made. This is why it exists.
This is why I helped install the first Bitcoin ATM in Miami in 2015 and fund development of a free and open-source Bitcoin Wallet. I have since devoted my life to Bitcoin by making sure that Bitstop and Hodl Wallet makes Bitcoin accessible to as many people as absolutely possible.
Bitcoin wasn’t given to us to be an asset class for more rich kids to play with. It was given to us to be a tool for the people to access financial freedom. This is the key.
I couldn’t agree more with him. As someone who is a world class expert in peer-to-peer finance, he understands Bitcoin better than most. Bitcoin is the key. And those who know how to use it, can unlock unlimited potential freedom for themselves and their friends, families, communities and countries.
Bitcoin is a game changer. It can prevent history from repeating itself.
Second, Third and Fourth generation Cuban-Americans in Miami and the United States will use Bitcoin to get money to their loved ones left behind in Cuba. “Mulas” or couriers will figure out how to convert it for them back and forth from the government mandated currency or into smuggled goods such as toiletries, clothing and food. It will penetrate the hearts and minds of the Cuban people no matter how much the government wants to stop it. In fact no one will use Bitcoin more in Cuba than the Cuban government itself. They won’t be able to stop it even amongst the rank and file members of the communist regime some of which are private defectors behind closed doors.
Remember the government will use Bitcoin to exchange value for supplies with trading partners in Russia, China and Venezuela. They will eventually mine Bitcoin if they aren’t doing so already just like Venezuela does.
Despite the Governments use for their own benefit, ultimately the people will reap the real benefit of being able to store value out of the reach of those who deem them unworthy of such a basic right.
Bitcoin WILL change Cuba. It’s inevitable. All Bitcoin needs is time.
It won’t happen overnight. Many Cubans will be persecuted for using Bitcoin. This is part of the journey to adoption in Cuba. Bitcoin will carve its way into the lives of all Cubans like a river cuts into rock. Eventually you end up with the Grand Canyon. If Bitcoin does nothing more for the Cuban people then allow them to store their wealth and transfer it, then that alone makes Bitcoin worth fighting for.
Bitcoin won’t save Cuba today. But it will transform Cuba over time into a completely different country. One for the better. This is all you need for hope to survive. Hope is a dangerous thing for communist regimes.
¡Patria y Vida!