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Cuba works to join the global economy, and IT sees a golden opportunity

Rebecca Gatesman | June 3, 2016
More than just a tourist destination, the country has a growing population of IT-savvy workers and potential customers for tech gadgets.

Ask IT hiring managers and tech executives what they think about the 6 million educated adults in Cuba, many of whom have an interest in IT, coming online in the near future. Then tell them that Cuba's National Statistics Office reports those citizens currently make an average salary of just $20 to $30 per month, and statistics from the United Nations show that over a fifth of them have technical degrees from reputable universities. It's enough to make hearts race.

After decades of isolation and more than a half-century of strained relations with the U.S., Cuba is now working to re-establish diplomatic relations with the U.S. and lift the Cold War-era trade embargo in order to open tourism and commerce between the two countries.

In 2012, the Castro regime began slashing government jobs and promoting the public sector in an effort to create a more capitalist-compatible economy, while still preserving its communist and socialist government structure. In May, that effort was enhanced with the announcement from the Cuban Communist Party Congress that small, midsize and "micro" private businesses would be legal to operate going forward. Increasing the island nation's Internet access and opening up its borders is a continuation of those efforts, and one of the most critical steps in restoring Cuba's economy.

Warming relations between the two countries could be a boon to the tech industry here in the U.S., giving companies looking to add to their IT staffs access to highly skilled, inexpensive labor and offering tech vendors a fresh crop of customers eager for the latest gadgets and services.

Eleven technology company CEOs accompanied President Obama on a visit to the island nation in March, including Google, PayPal, Airbnb and Stripe, all of which have started offering services to citizens there.

The president made it clear that increasing Cuba's access to technology and the Internet would be the most powerful way to end the embargo, as it would solidify mutually beneficial relationships. Said Obama, "If we start seeing those kinds of commercial deals taking place and Cubans are benefiting from greater access to the Internet [...] that builds a constituency for ending the embargo."

A growing Cuban community of software, Web and mobile developers, as well as entrepreneurs in a variety of industries, have added their voices to citizens' demand for legal, modern Internet access. Many millennial Cubans own devices such as smartphones, tablets and even Apple products, but must resort to contacts in other countries to ship them in.

And finding an Internet connection that makes these devices useful is an everyday struggle. The government has begun installing public hotspots, but the small increase in accessibility has mainly served to whet the appetites of potential broadband users.


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