Posted on Tuesday, 07.01.14
Google exec says Cuban internet is old and censored
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Fresh from a visit to Havana, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has
described the Internet in Cuba as “trapped in the 1990s,” heavily
censored and with a weak infrastructure dominated by Chinese equipment
because of the U.S. trade embargo.
The embargo “makes absolutely no sense to U.S. interests,” Schmidt wrote
in a column. “If you wish [Cuba] to modernize the best way to do this is
to empower the citizens with smart phones [there are almost none today]
and encourage freedom of expression and put information tools into the
hands of Cubans directly.”
Schmidt’s column was posted on Google and dated Sunday, shortly after he
and three other company executives returned from a brief trip to Cuba,
where they met with government officials, blogger Yoani Sánchez and
visited the Information Sciences University in Havana.
The trip had “the goal of promoting a free and open Internet,” he wrote,
without detailing how the visitors tried to do that in a country where
the government controls all access to the Internet and blocks “hostile”
pages. “The Internet is heavily censored,” he acknowledged.
“The Internet of Cuba is trapped in the 1990s. About 20-25% of Cubans
have phone lines … and the cell phone infrastructure is very thin,” he
wrote, adding that only 3-4 percent of Cubans “have access to the
Internet in internet cafes and in certain universities.”
Information is passed hand to hand in USB flash drives and other digital
memories in “a type of sneakernet,” the column noted, and youths have
been assembling mesh networks of Wi-Fi routers for file sharing and
Turning to U.S. policies on Cuba, Schmidt wrote that the
half-century-old embargo had opened the doors to Chinese equipment. “As
U.S. firms cannot operate in Cuba, their Internet is more shaped by
Cuban narrow interests than by global and open platforms,” he argued.
The embargo and keeping Cuba on the U.S. State Department’s list of
nations that support international terrorism “defy reason,” Schmidt
wrote. “There are dozens of countries we call our allies and we are free
to travel to that present much worse threats and concerns to the U.S.”
U.S. restrictions “make even less sense when you find out that Cuba
imports a great deal of food from the U.S. as compassionate trade. The
food imports to Cuba are important but so is importation of tools to
Cuba for the development of a knowledge economy,” the Google chief said.
“Walking around [Havana] it’s possible to imagine a new Cuba, perhaps a
leader of Latin America education, culture, and business,” he wrote.
“Cuba will have to open its political and business economy, and the U.S.
will have to overcome our history and open the embargo. Both countries
have to do something that is hard to do politically, but it will be
Schmidt seemed to be less clear on Cuba’s domestic politics, misspelling
the name of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro as “Raoul” and writing that cars and
houses, which can be bought and sold relatively freely since 2011, “are
beginning to be tradeable with restrictions.”
He wrote that “the two most successful parts of the Revolution, as they
call it,” are the free and universal healthcare and “the clear majority
of women in the executive and managerial ranks in the country.
“The least successful part of the Revolution has been economic
development [not surprisingly] and it appeared to us a drop off in
tourism and recent farm issues have made things somewhat worse in Cuba,”
Schmidt wrote in his column.
“We were told that there is a fight between more liberal and
conservative leaders under Castro, and someone said that the military
was becoming more involved in economic development,” he said. “A number
of people said the eventual model of Cuba would be more like China or
Vietnam than of Venezuela or Mexico.”
Schmidt also wrote that the U.S. terror list also included North Korea,
Syria, Iran and “North Sudan.” North Korea was removed from the list in
2008, and there is no North Sudan, just the countries of Sudan and South
Source: “Google exec says Cuban internet is old and censored – Cuba –
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