Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Silicon Valley aims for Cuba, but treads carefully
By Matt O’
POSTED: 05/07/2015 03:59:16 PM

In this May 9, 2014 photo, people try to connect to the Etecsa server as
they wait with other customers outside the offices of the state telecom
monopoly Etecsa in Havana, Cuba. (Franklin Reyes/AP photo)
If Horacio Nuñez grew up in the United States instead of Cuba, the
26-year-old software engineer might have spent hours of his youth
surfing the Web. But he had no Internet connection to his Havana home,
so he learned how to code under conditions most of his Bay Area
programmer peers are too young to remember.

“Internet in Cuba is like the Internet you had when Netscape was
battling Internet Explorer,” said Nuñez, referring to the slow dial-up
era of the 1990s. “You can’t use Skype. There’s no cloud. I used to
carry a hard drive with all the books I could find.”

That could change quickly as Silicon Valley’s tech giants and startup
entrepreneurs set their sights on the island’s Internet-hungry populace
amid a historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations and the easing of trade
restrictions. Cuba entices the tech community in ways that transcend the
buying power of its residents, fitting into a larger social vision for
building bridges and bringing life-changing technology to the world’s
most isolated corners.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a Latin American summit recently that
expanding to Cuba “definitely fits within our mission.” His company —
already a popular social network for the islanders who can get it —
also hosted a private Code for Cuba hackathon at its headquarters
attended by Nuñez and several dozen other programmers late last month.

“Cuba is a huge, huge market,” said Nuñez, who graduated from Cuba’s
computer science university and now works for a San Francisco startup.
“They have 11 million people and they are crazy about iPhones, even
though they don’t have connections to the Internet.”

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited the island last summer and called
for an end to the embargo and to “empower the citizens with
smartphones.” A second visit by Google Ideas, the company’s global
policy wing, followed several weeks ago, though it was met with Cuban
suspicion because the group’s director is a former U.S. State Department

Airbnb and Netflix have already begun doing business on the island after
President Barack Obama announced in December he was relaxing some trade
restrictions. Apple has also said that it can now sell some consumer
products to Cubans but declined to say which devices.

“Will Silicon Valley companies play a role in communication in Cuba?
Definitely,” said U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who joined a
congressional delegation to the island in March. “Are the Cubans
prepared right now to leapfrog into the 21st century? No, they’re not.”

Telecommunications companies are likely to be the first to make a
significant mark on Cuba, Eshoo said. Although completely lifting the
1962 embargo banning U.S. business in Cuba requires congressional
approval, Eshoo said many of the restrictions Obama eliminated pave the
way for telecom companies that want to build and expand high-speed

Only 16 percent of Cubans report having Internet access, and most get it
through government-controlled Internet cafes or at work or school,
according to a recent poll for news outlets Univision and Fusion.

Better networks could someday be developed by legacy companies such as
AT&T, which in the 1920s built an undersea cable to Cuba that fell into
disrepair after the revolution, or from the Internet-carrying drones,
satellites and balloons imagined by Facebook and Google. That’s if
China’s fast-growing tech companies don’t get there first.

So far, only one American wireless carrier, New Jersey-based IDT, is
known to have brokered a deal with Cuban officials to do business on the

Silicon Valley hardly existed when rebels took over Cuba in 1959, so the
valley’s companies don’t have the complicated history of older American
firms that once dominated the island’s economy and became a target of
nationalization. But that clean slate might not help much if Cuban
authorities view unrestricted search engines and social networks as
tools for regime change.

“Even when you’re not trying to be a Trojan horse, the Cuban government
often gets mileage out of perceiving and painting you as a Trojan
horse,” said Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York.

Cuba is likely to welcome U.S. tech investment, but it might adopt the
Chinese model of monitoring access, Henken said.

Programmers with a different vision gathered April 25-26 at Facebook’s
campus for a hackathon organized by Miami-based human rights group Roots
of Hope. Executives from Facebook, Salesforce and other firms judged the
competition, awarding the $3,000 top prize to the developers of an
email-based news feed that will help Cubans skirt government censors.

“We’re looking at this from the perspective of promoting a free and open
Internet,” said Ramses Martinez, one of the judges and Yahoo’s director
of online security.

Martinez, like many of the Cuban-American participants, felt a personal
connection to the group’s mission. Staunch anti-Communists, his family
had sought to flee the island since the revolution. They finally got
their chance during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, when Martinez, then 9
years old, was among thousands allowed to escape.

“It’s a very positive step,” he said of Obama’s policy shift. “Anything
that starts to heal the wounds of 60 years of exile and families being
broken up, and that helps the Cuban people in having a better economic
situation and political situation, I’m glad to see.”

But neither Martinez nor any of the other participants was willing to
share details of what they developed at the hackathon, a sign that
Silicon Valley will likely tread carefully as it tries to set a tech
foothold on the island.

“When a government and a culture opens itself to you, you have to be
very respectful, very careful in the way you introduce yourself,” said
Sabeen Ali, co-founder of Angelhack and another hackathon judge. “We
have to take it very, very slow.”

Contact Matt O’Brien at 408-920-5011. Follow him at

Source: Silicon Valley aims for Cuba, but treads carefully – San Jose
Mercury News –

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