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Havana is the next tech hotspot. Here’s why.

The scene in Havana (courtesy Yamil Lage/AFP)

Need to Know

When President Obama landed in Havana yesterday, he became the first American President to visit Cuba since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge arrived on the battleship Texas. That visit was a success – “…the motor car containing Presidents Machado and Coolidge followed slowly while the people near by showered them with roses,” The New York Times reported at the time.

In the intervening years, Cuban-American relations haven’t been quite so rosy, with political difficulties and trade embargoes (along with Communist Party restrictions) leaving the island nation largely isolated from its neighbors in the hemisphere. As a result, much of Cuba remains a time machine of sorts back to 1959, when Fidel Castro took power.

While tech and the internet have found inroads in Cuba, those paths have been long, winding, and strange. Only 5% of Cuba’s population has internet access – one of the lowest rates in the world. Many residents resort to the black market to get online.

That’s going to change very soon. In an interview with ABC News, President Obama revealed that Google will soon begin setting up wifi and broadband on the island.

On Sunday, the Treasury Department authorized Airbnb to expand its Cuban rental listings to international travelers – they’ve already had a presence on the island for nearly a year.

Also on Sunday, PayPal announced they will bring Xoom, the company’s global money transfer service, to Cuba by the end of 2016. Payments company Stripe will bring its Atlas service to the country, helping entrepreneurs conduct business internationally.

Despite tight economic restrictions, there appears to be no shortage of fledgling business owners in Cuba. In November, 500 Startups hosted Startup Weekend Havana, where 70 entrepreneurs practiced their startup pitch.

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