President Barack Obama landed in Cuba this afternoon, the first day of a historic three-day trip, marking the first time a U.S. president has traveled to the country in 88 years — and he’s making internet access for businesses one of his priorities.
U.S. businesses big and small rely heavily on the internet constantly for basic transactions, whether it be communicating with employees and business partners around the world or accepting online payments. It’s easy to take all of these perks for granted, but that’s not the case in Cuba.
Despite Cuba’s lack of global internet access, businesses and crafty consumers have created their own isolated interconnected internet network.
On Friday, thanks to some encouragement from the White House, Silicon Valley startup Stripe — which markets itself as “the best way to accept payments online and in mobile apps” — opened its services up to Cuban businesses looking to start selling to a global market.
The initiative is part of the company’s Stripe Atlas program, which claims it can help entrepreneurs incorporate their companies in the U.S., set up stateside bank accounts, and process online payments in more than 100 currencies.
Obama encouraged the company to bring its service to Cuba’s shores and is bringing along a cohort of U.S. business leaders who see opportunity in the newly opened market to the south. Stripe CEO Patrick Collison is among those visiting the country and, according to his Twitter account, he safely flew himself in his own plane to the island on Saturday.
While Obama has been attempting to loosen economic tensions between the two countries, including a recent order that allows Cubans to open up U.S. bank accounts through services such as Stripe, a Republican controlled congress is still blocking attempts to lift the embargo.
Since 1960 the embargo has blocked the sale of U.S. goods, except food and medicine, from sale in the country, but in an increasingly globalized economy internet access could greatly grow the fortunes of aspiring businesses leaders in the country.
“A majority of the world’s developers are in what we currently call emerging markets,” Collison says. “Companies that fail to take these markets seriously are really going to be left behind.”
During his visit, Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech live across state-run media, meet with the state’s leader Raul Castro, as well as political dissidents opposing the communist powers. On Tuesday he’ll attend an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.