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Web3 Freedom? OpenSea Blocks Cuban Artists due to US Sanctions

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In compliance with U.S. sanctions law, OpenSea – the world’s largest NFT marketplace – is delisting Cuban artist and collector accounts from its platform. 

A recent statement from the company confirms previously held suspicions that its platform discriminates against Cuban users. 

Compliance With Sanctions

In an email received by Artnet News, an OpenSea spokesperson clarified that the company bars “sanctioned individuals, individuals in sanctioned jurisdictions, or services,” from using its platform. That extends to the likes of Cuba, as well as Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. 

The confirmation is a blow to Cuban artists who leveraged NFTs to make a profit when the asset class boomed in 2021 – especially after tourist money in the region dried up due to pandemic travel restrictions. Earlier this year, NBC News interviewed Ernesto Cisneros – a Cuban musician who revived his music business by tokenizing his music and videos and selling them for money over the internet. 

Another artist to benefit was photographer Gabriel Bianchini, whose work has been featured at the Havana Biennial and Milan’s MIA Photo Fair. His NFT Hotel Havana, which contrasts the Cuban capital’s colorful and decaying buildings, sold out within days of listing. 

Speaking with Artnet News, Bianchini explained that the technology helped people like him navigate the tough economic and political climate of the past two years. “This technology was a liberation, not only economically but creatively, a bridge that allowed us Cuban artists to connect with the world,” he said. 

The restrictions appear to even expand to the Cuban diaspora. NFTCuba.ART, a website promoting Cuban artists’ NFT drops, claims to have had its OpenSea profile disabled.

“Your account has been disabled due to activity that goes against our Terms of Service,” read a notice from OpenSea received by the group. “This means you can no longer access OpenSea with your account.”

A notice on the group’s website notes that OpenSea’s ban of its account is “sad and unfortunate” and that it was likely only enacted “because it has the name Cuba in it and or they are fearful of sanctions.”

Against Web3 Principles?

One of the core principles of Web3 is the extension of financial services to all, irrespective of nationality or geographic borders. As such, some users interpreted OpenSea’s ban as going against those principles – and surprising given that it was encouraging of Cuban artists not long ago. 

Others expected this outcome, however. Cuban NFT artist Yordanis García Delgado told Artnet News that he “saw it coming,” adding that “It is very difficult to be decentralized and not be accountable” to US sanctions. 

NFTs are difficult to directly monetize without some sort of centralized exchange or marketplace to facilitate trades. On the other hand, fungible and divisible cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether are easier to directly transact with for goods and services – making sanctions enforcement on such transactions more difficult. 

CryptoPotato reported in May that over 100,000 Cubans have turned to crypto to bypass centralized payment service providers that must comply with sanctions law. Nevertheless, Chainalysis maintains that it is too difficult for large-scale parties, like national governments, to work around such restrictions using crypto. 

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