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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.

El Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Package) is a terabyte of downloaded Internet content distributed throughout the country each week for the equivalent of $2 per person. It includes everything from new smartphone applications to TV. Users can download as much content as they want, and it's common for customers to download the entire package every week.

That operation is run by Elio Hector Lopez, one of a group of twenty-something, tech-savvy professionals helping to bring Cuba into the 21st century. Others include Luis Mazorra, currently living in Spain and founder of CiberCuba, a news aggregation site; Robin Pedraja, a Cuban resident and founder of Vistar Magazine, an arts and entertainment publication; and Hiram Centelles, currently living in Spain, who operates Revolico, which functions similarly to Craigslist.

tech pioneers helping to bring Cuba into the 21st century
A group of tech pioneers helping to bring Cuba into the 21st century, at a technology conference in Spain. From left to right: Robin Pedraja, Luis Mazorra, Hiram Centelles and Elio Hector Lopez. Credit: Luis Mazorra

El Paquete, combined with the new hotspots, has already allowed this tech and entrepreneurial community to strengthen their relationships with U.S. citizens and companies, as well as form new bonds.

"There are already a lot of connections between Cubans and global app developers and engineers," explains Tummino. "The Miami tech community and the Cuban tech community, they're able to get around [government] restrictions in certain ways."

"From the policy and [regulations] standpoint of the U.S., everything is wide open and can be done as long as you follow normal boundaries and restrictions," adds Freyre. This means getting approval from more than a dozen agencies just to ensure that the person you're looking to hire will have access to the Internet, as well as acknowledgement of all regulations, rules and areas in which the government will have control.

While the Communist nation does have many hurdles to overcome regarding technology and communication, Freyre says by following in the footsteps of similar countries — Vietnam, Chile and China — the Cuban government will evolve to accommodate the increased demands of today's business.

The wheels start turning

Last June, the Cuban government published a plan of development for the telecommunications infrastructure of the island, including a goal of offering broadband access to at least 50% of homes, while keeping costs to 5% or less of the average salary.

The following month, the government installed the first of 65 broadband hotspots, mostly in Havana. These hotspots have made it possible for Cubans to use videoconferencing to speak with relatives long-distance, as well as to send and receive assignments from remote employers.

 

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