Web3 freedom? OpenSea blocks Cuban artists due to US sanctions

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In accordance with US sanctions law, OpenSea – the world’s largest NFT marketplace – is removing the accounts of Cuban artists and collectors 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 prohibits “sanctioned individuals, individuals in sanctioned jurisdictions, or services” from using its platform. This extends to Cuba, as well as Venezuela, Iran and Syria.

The confirmation is a blow to Cuban artists who leveraged NFTs to 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 on the internet.

Another artist who benefited was photographer Gabriel Bianchini, whose work has been featured at the Havana Biennial and the MIA Photo Fair in Milan. Its NFT Hotel Havana, which contrasts with the colorful and dilapidated buildings of the Cuban capital, sold out a few days after its listing.

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

The restrictions even seem to extend to the Cuban diaspora. NFT Cuba.ART, a website promoting Cuban artist NFT drops, claims to have had his OpenSea profile disabled.

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

A notice on the band’s website notes that OpenSea’s banning of his account is “sad and unfortunate” and that it was probably only enacted “because it is named after Cuba and they fear Sanctions”.

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Against the principles of Web3?

One of the fundamental principles of Web3 is the extension of financial services to everyone, regardless of nationality or geographical borders. As such, some users have interpreted the OpenSea ban as going against these principles – and surprising given that it encouraged Cuban artists not too long ago.

Others expected this result, however. Cuban NFT artist Yordanis García Delgado told Artnet News that he “saw it coming,” adding that “it’s very difficult to be decentralized and not be responsible” for US sanctions.

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

CryptoPotato reported in May that more than 100,000 Cubans turned to crypto to bypass centralized payment service providers who must comply with the sanctions law. Nevertheless, Chainalysis maintains that it is too difficult for large parties, such as national governments, to circumvent such restrictions using cryptography.


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