For over a week this month, Twitter’s social media system could not be accessed from Cuba’s cell phones. Cuba’s surging blogger community was the first to bring this issue to prominence, sparking a quick reaction in just a matter of hours that even elicited a public statement from Cuba’s Vice Minister of Communications. By and large, the initial, though premature, reaction was to place the blame on the Cuban government —the product of raw nerves, past policies and actions, and years of mutual mistrust.

Yet, it turned out that the problem was caused by Twitter’s own glitch, as disclosed by Twitter in a statement released on October 6th, the day after Cuban bloggers became aware of the problem.

Thankfully, Twitter resolved the matter in a few days, and the Cuban people once again have access to this important service.  The incident, however, has highlighted how important social media has become to the Cuban people and around the world. The social media has become a powerful tool to interconnect people globally, and is rapidly being embraced by businesses as an important connectivity tool.

The frenzy of concern around this incident has given way to a renewed optimism that the availability and use of these technologies can, and should, thrive in Cuba.  We are very encouraged by the statement released on Wednesday by Mr. Jose Luis Perdomo, Cuba’s Vice-Minister of Communications, in which he stated that Cuba does not block access to the social media, and that it is not his Government’s policy to block or prevent anyone from accessing it.  I could be wrong, but based on my recollection, this is the first time that the Cuban Government has issued a policy statement on social media.  We welcome Mr. Perdomo’s statement and affirmation.

At the Cuba IT and Social Media Summit held in New York earlier this year, and sponsored by the Cuba Study Group in collaboration with the Council of the America and the Brookings Institution, the emphasis was placed on the importance of providing the Cuban people with increasing and unhindered access to IT and social media.  These technologies are not only powerful tools for the development of a strong civil society, but they have become essential enablers to support the kind of economic development that Cuba so desperately needs.

The Summit identified numerous obstacles to the availability of the technologies in Cuba.  Many have been in place by the Cuban Government. Others exist due to the lack of economic models to support them.  But, it is a fact that U.S. policy places significant restrictions and limitations that hinder the expansion of these technologies in Cuba.

The Summit report called on the Obama Administration to remove all obstacles to the development of IT and social media expansion in Cuba, something that can be largely accomplished through Executive Orders.  The United State’s present policy on IT and social media, the most restrictive against any nation, is counterproductive, counterintuitive, and incredibly damaging to the Cuban people and its civil society.

We trust this incident, along with Mr. Perdomo’s affirmation of a policy of non-interference, should encourage the Administration to move forth and issue new regulations lifting all U.S. restrictions on Information technology and social media investments and exports to Cuba.  Likewise, we hope Cuba will keep the affirmed policy of unhindered access and non-interference.

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