Empowering Cubans Through Technology

paper_sm_empoweringThe Committees of the Cuba IT & Social Media initiative issued a report outlining recommendations to private and public sector leaders on ways to facilitate Cuban's access to technology. The Cuba Study Group in collaboration with the Brookings Institution and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas authored a whitepaper entitile: "Empowering Cubans Through Technology: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders," which summarizes and endorses the conclusions of the Committees and provides arguments in support of their recommendations.

Main Recommendations

The power of information technology and social media to fuel economic growth, enhance communications and expand educational opportunities is one of the legacies of the last quarter century. Access to ICT is strongly correlated with economic growth and development


throughout the world. As described in this report, there are several obstacles to the development of information technology in Cuba, including the impact of economic sanctions by the United States. However, the primary reasons for Cuba’s underdevelopment in ICT stem from the Cuban government’s own policies, which aim to prioritize political control over economic development and information infrastructure.


Broad reforms to U.S. sanctions against Cuba—as they relate to technology and telecommunications—along with expanded efforts to increase private donations and knowledge transfer from U.S. citizens to Cuban citizens, can go a long way toward preparing the Cuban people for participation in broad-based, modern economic development under a more open political system. As mentioned above, In September 2009, responding to presidential directives issued in April 2009 by President Barack obama, U.S. Treasury and Commerce officials published regulatory changes that eased some embargo restrictions on the export to Cuba of donated personal communications equipment under a new Export Administration Regulations (EAR) license exception designation of Consumer Communications Devices (CCDs). In March 2010, these regulations were further loosened to include certain Internet services and social media applications. Although these are steps in the right direction, more needs to be done to empower the Cuban people through greater access to technology and communication tools. Given the current U.S. ICT regulations for Cuba, the following steps should be taken:


Review and Clarify Treasury and Commerce Department rules and regulations:


• Re-define “efficient and adequate” telecommunication services to mean fast and reliable links that allow Cubans access to modern satellite, Internet and mobile communications services.


• Review the term “domestic telecommunications network” to ensure that U.S. regulations do not prevent the Cuban people from accessing the tools required to receive a free flow of information.


• Authorize more flexible end-user requirements to allow for the sale of pre-paid phone cards and mobile phones in Cuba.


Seek presidential executive order reforms that:


• Expand the scope of investments that U.S. companies can make to establish greater communications links between the U.S. and Cuba.


• Allow the creation of revenue models that allow U.S. companies to contract Cuban computer engineers and software developers for their services in the development of ICT products, software and applications (i.e., the creation of iPhone applications).


• Allow U.S. persons and companies to export to Cuba the equipment necessary to receive and decode satellite television and radio signals (i.e., DirecTV services).


• Allow a broader range of financial transactions between U.S. and Cuban ICT vendors and buyers.


Explore and catalog free, low-bandwidth versions of online software and social media applications that can easily be downloaded by Cubans on the island for local use.


Support existing social media applications that are popular in Cuba and build from the existing connectivity patterns of the Cuban people (i.e., Revolico.com).


Promote automatically generated Web-based proxies and anonymous Twitter relays for users in closed societies with repressive regimes like the Cuban government that censor and monitor access to the Internet.


Work with private foundations and corporations on scalable donation of ICT products and services to the Cuban people (i.e., Technology access platform, one Laptop Per Child).


Commission a comprehensive study and assessment of Cuba’s ICT infrastructure and gaps.


To the extent that the President cannot take the necessary steps to enact these recommendations, Congress should enact the necessary legislation to authorize the above- mentioned policy recommendations.

  • Empowering Cubans Through Technology A whitepaper released by the Cuba Study Group in collaboration with the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in July 2010. The report summarizes the conclusions of the Cuba IT and Social Media Initiative, a project launched by the Cuba Study Group in January 2010, which brought together over 50 IT and telecom experts to identify ways to empower the Cuban people through technology. (971.6 KBs)