More U.S. Companies Line Up to Seek Sales in Cuba After Obama's Visit

U.S. technology companies are showing interest in doing business in Cuba as U.S.-Cuban tensions continue to slowly thaw.

Obama, Cuba, Cuban trade embargo, Google, Airbnb, Xerox, Priceline, Stripe, PayPal

U.S. technology businesses are lining up to look into entering the Cuban market on the heels of President Barack Obama's historic goodwill visit this week to the country, where he explored Havana and held a joint news conference with President Raul Castro.

Business executives from several U.S. tech companies, including Airbnb and PayPal, traveled with Obama during his March 20 to 22 visit to Cuba, while other companies are continuing to push initiatives there as relations between the two countries continue to pursue an improved relationship after decades of strain, according to a March 22 story by Bloomberg.

Other U.S. companies that are showing interest in doing business in Cuba or expanding their operations in that country include Google parent Alphabet, Priceline, Stripe and Xerox, the article reported.

A key to the expansion of business connections between the two nations is the lifting of restrictions on money transfers between the two countries, which is being worked on by the Obama administration, according to the story. PayPal CEO Dan Schulman was traveling with the president in Cuba and told Bloomberg that Paypal will begin offering payments to and from Cubans later in 2016 through its Xoom international money transfer division.

San Francisco payments startup Stripe is also offering money transfers in Cuba but is aiming at those who want to start businesses, according to Bloomberg. Stripe is "offering Cuban entrepreneurs the ability to incorporate companies in the United States, set up American bank accounts, and use Stripe to accept payments in Cuba," according to the article.

Airbnb's founders also traveled with Obama on the Cuban trip, the article reported. Airbnb has already been operating in Cuba for almost a year and has booked about 13,000 stays so far from U.S. guests.

Earlier in March, executives from AT&T, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Marriott International also talked about doing business in the Cuban market as U.S.-Cuban relations continue to normalize, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

Communications between the United States and Cuba have been improving in the last 18 months as the long U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, which began in 1962, has been slowly thawing. The United States and Cuba dropped diplomatic relations in 1961 during the Cold War after Fidel Castro came to power.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba remains, but it has been getting lots of new attention as Obama has called for it to end. Critics oppose the move because they say the nation's communist government has not done enough to enact economic and social reforms to benefit the Cuban people.

Other U.S. companies have been making small inroads on their own since Obama first began talking about Cuban-U.S. relations in December 2014.

In September 2015, Verizon Wireless announced that it would begin offering cellular roaming services in Cuba as the thaw in relations between the two nations had begun. The new roaming capabilities arrived about a month after the United States officially reopened its embassy in Havana, according to an earlier eWEEK story. Under the Pay-As-You-Go plan, Verizon customers can add the service to their accounts and make voice calls in Cuba for $2.99 per minute. Data use is billed at $2.05 per megabyte, and standard international text messaging rates will apply.

In June 2015, competitor Sprint added a "Sprint Cuba 20 Plus" calling plan to allow customers to make direct calls to Cuba. The Sprint Cuba 20 Plus plans offer 20 minutes of international calling to Cuba per month for $10 (50 cents per minute), while additional minutes can be purchased for 70 cents per minute.

In March 2015, Cuba's state telecom service, Etecsa, approved the startup of Cuba's first public, open WiFi services, which began recently in Havana's central cultural center building. For the first time, Cubans can now have a place where they can have free, open use of the Internet, even though it will sometimes be slow and spotty, depending on user load and other conditions, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The service is being provided due to famed artist Kcho, who organized the effort at his own expense to benefit his local community.

In August 2014, Google made its Chrome Web browser available for use in Cuba, where Internet access can be difficult to find and afford, and where free communications is not guaranteed by their government. Censorship on the Internet by the government is a fact of life in Cuba.

Approximately 90 miles off the southeastern coast of Florida, Cuba has a patchwork of old and beautiful cities and towns, American vehicles that date back to the 1950s, a proud and rugged population, and a long legacy of government control, communism and economic stagnation.