Tag Archives: Information Technology

EL PAQUETE: CUBA’S UNDERGROUND NETWORK IS LIKE NETFLIX AND SPOTIFY, WITHOUT THE INTERNET

“Quartz Obsession”

March 16, 2018 at 3:46:38 PM

Cuba has one of the lowest rates of internet usage in the Western Hemisphere, and access to media is strictly restricted—but that doesn’t stop Cubans from watching Game of Thrones. Their secret is El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Packet”), a clandestine in-person file-sharing network that distributes hard drives and flash drives full of media.

Nobody quite knows how El Paquete, which has thrived since the mid-2000s, is created or how it makes its way across the country every week. But Cubans have come to rely on the pervasive distribution of music, TV, and movies—not to mention pirated software and e-commerce platforms.

Ultimately, the uniquely Cuban tech phenomenon is proof that just like life in Jurassic Park, information always finds a way—especially when you’re jonesing for the latest episode of a subtitled South Korean soap opera and the closest open internet is an ocean away.

BY THE DIGITS

  • 5.6%: Cuban households with dial-up connections, at speeds of 4–5 kB/s
  • 386%: Cost of household internet service in Cuba as a percentage of per capita GDP
  • 0.007%: Cuban broadband internet penetration (8,157 connections for 11 million people)
  • 2018: Year the Cuban government has promised to offer mobile internet service
  • $2: Cost per hour of public Wi-Fi hotspot access, equivalent to 10% of the average monthly salary
  • $3: Estimated cost of one week’s Paquete, accessed on a Monday
  • $1: Estimated cost on a Wednesday

 

How does it work?

There are a lot of question marks about El Paquete—more accurately, Los Paquetes, as there are reportedly several versions—but this much is clear: At the end of each week, its creator(s) compile the most in-demand media of the week—roughly 15,000 to 180,000 files, 1 terabyte in total. The provenance is murky, but the most likely source is a mix of illicit broadband internet access, secret satellite dishes, and hard drives and flash drives smuggled in from overseas.

From there, it’s top-down distribution. A network of Paquete wholesalers (many based in street-level phone repair and DVD shops) copy the contents onto their own hard drives and flash drives, which are then copied many more times. The last links are the door-to-door Paquete delivery guys, who will bring it to individual residences, copying over select files or the entire thing to customers.

The network is based in the capital Havana, but El Paquete also makes its way to most Cuban towns, with a noticeable time lag. El Paquete is most expensive early in the week; by Thursday or so, prices will have dropped by 50% or more.

 The kingpins of El Paquete

Former engineering student Elio Hector Lopez is one of the people credited with starting El Paquete around 2006, where it built on longstanding clandestine networks used to distribute physical media like books, videotapes, CDs, and DVDs.

“At the beginning we saw this as a way to make money—but after having penetrated the entire country we see it more as a responsibility,” he told NBC in 2015.

“For the time being, El Paquete replaces the Internet for those who don’t have it,” Lopez told Reuters. “If tomorrow El Paquete disappears I don’t know what people would do, it’s like water, or a pill for the Cuban body.” According to the CBC, as of 2016 Lopez had moved to the United States.

“El Paquete was founded by several people, each with a desire to find a way to entertain their towns,” he told Polygon last year. “We wanted to find a way for the island to see the world in ways outside of politics, showing them culture, sports, entertainment, economy and society, showing them all the things going on in the world that weren’t making it to our TVs.”

 Cuba’s make-do culture

El Paquete is a distinct phenomenon of the internet age, but according to Nick Parish, author of a fascinating in-depth study,there’s an interesting precedent in Cuban history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 left Cuba reeling, “the military issued a book called “Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos” (With Our Own Efforts) that served as a chronicle to survival through shared knowhow, with everything from horticultural knowledge and recipes to herbal medicines to public health to transport, featuring tips submitted by ordinary Cubans.”

“The make-do culture in Cuba, known locally by the term “resolver,” and the propensity for Cubans to bring a unique isolated, constrained lens to solving problems is important to bear in mind as we see some of the features and systems that make el paquete a unique Cuban solution.”

This week’s list

A volunteer site, Paquete de Cuba, lists the weekly contents, though they’re not available for download.

In the absence of actual internet access, techies in Havana and elsewhere have created a homebrewed network called SNET “that reproduces much of the consumer internet we know in the free world,” according to Wired. It includes copycat versions of Facebook and Instagram—and facilitates dissemination of El Paquete.

 

How does advertising work?

There are classifieds in El Paquete. According to a report from the Yugoslavia-based Share Foundation: “If you send an SMS to a certain number, the content of the message will appear in the El Paquete folder ‘classifieds’ in form of a jpeg image that has your message on one half and some advertisement on the other half.”

But local ads are also embedded directly into the content: Users might also see video advertisements for local services embedded at the end of a trailer for a Hollywood movie, or ads sandwiched between magazine pages.

There’s even an e-commerce supplement: “a 199-page PDF catalog with interlinked product pages and ordering instructions, so people can purchase handmade products such as purses, shoes, boots, backpacks, and belts,” according to Nick Parish.

 So, does the government know?

Cuba’s authoritarian government is known for its censorship and intolerance of dissent, which has prompted many conspiracy theories about El Paquete: Is it all a government scheme to placate the masses with the opiate-like effects of western mass media?

There’s perhaps one telltale clue that Raul Castro’s government chooses to tolerate the existence of El Paquete: It contains no porn or political speech, or even western news accounts that might run afoul of the country’s communist party.

“There exists a kind of established agreement in which El Paquete must not reproduce content critical of the government, propaganda, or pornography, and in exchange the state turns a blind eye,” one Paquete distributor told Cubanet.

At least, that was true until recently: Cubanet reports a new folder called “Tremendo lío” (“tremendous mess”) recently appeared in El Paquete, which contains videos from some Cuban social media stars who voice anti-government views, along with those who support it. Is this a brave new era for El Paquete, or a signal that a government crackdown is coming?

“In a country where materials, shopping, and consumption are limited to food and maybe clothing, El Paquete becomes a luxury, a form of asserting one’s independence from the state’s attempts to suppress individuality.”

— “El Paquete: A qualitative study of Cuba’s Transition from Socialism to Quasi-Capitalism,” an undergraduate thesis by Princeton sociology major Dennisse Calle.

“Prefiero gastar un dólar que estar como un zombi. (I would rather spend a dollar than be a zombie.)”

 El Paquete customer Alejandro Batista

 

 

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FAR FROM SILICON VALLEY, CUBA CULTIVATES STARTUP SCENE

BY Leani García |

Americas Quarterly, June 15, 2016

Original Article Here: Cuba Cultivates Startup Scene

 Cuba’s startup community is developing despite a lack of funding, equipment or fast internet.

 zz wifi-hotspots zzCubans can access the internet at government-run wireless hotspots.

The barriers to founding a tech startup in Cuba are high. For starters, hardly anyone has access to internet connections faster than dial-up.

But that’s not stopping a generation of young entrepreneurs on the island, where a nascent tech community is challenging the idea that tech innovation has to come from places like Silicon Valley.

Two of those entrepreneurs, Eliecer Cabrera Casas and Pablo Rodríguez Yordy, spoke with AQ at a recent tech startup event in Miami about their experience founding the Yelp-like app Conoce Cuba.

“Cuba is an emerging market where there are a lot of opportunities and talented professionals,” Cabrera said.You can’t invest at the moment, but in a short amount of time conditions can change. We’re preparing the field for the future.”

In addition to the challenges that entrepreneurs face region-wide – from weak infrastructure to innovation-stifling corruption – Cubans like Cabrera face a number of unique obstacles to getting their ideas off the ground.

One of the first hurdles they face is funding. While bank lending on the island is increasing, it’s still not sufficient to meet the needs of the 500,000 registered self-employed Cubans. And having been excluded from Cuba’s recent foreign investment law, tech entrepreneurs don’t have a legal avenue to receive direct funding from foreign companies or investors. Instead, they rely on a combination of state salaries and family connections to support their ideas. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of Cuba’s small businesses are funded with remittances and family money, according to Sergio Lázaro, president of the Cuban software engineering startup Ingenius.

Then there’s web access. Cuba has the lowest internet penetration rate in the region, at just 3.4 percent for authorized households. For businesses like Ingenius, which specializes in cloud computing, the key is to make the most of limited time on the internet. Programmers connect just twice a day, once in the morning to download what they’re working on and again in the evening to push finished products to their clients.

The spotty internet can also create opportunities. Conoce Cuba, which functions as an offline app and website, was built as an upgrade to traditional phone books, one of the few ways to discover business and restaurants on the island. Because Cuba has limited internet and nearly non-existent 3G or 4G cell phone network coverage, the app was first distributed through a network of cell phone repair shops. The shops agreed to act as physical app stores where Cubans could download the latest version of Conoce Cuba.

“Now there are about 70 of these repair shops in Havana that can […] install or update [the app] for users for free,” Cabrera said.

Today, the Conoce Cuba app is also distributed through the paquete semanal — a digital selection of TV shows, movies, foreign newspapers and music known in the U.S. as the internet in a box because it can be downloaded and shared without an internet connection.

The company’s founders acknowledged the difficulties in coding software so smartphones function as if they’re on the web even while not being connected to the internet. But a bigger challenge has been a lack of access to hardware, in part because of the U.S. embargo.

“We weren’t able to see what we’d created come to fruition because we lacked the resources,” explained Rodríguez.

Like many Cubans, however, they said they found ways to resolver, or overcome. By borrowing devices from friends and the repair shops they used to distribute the app, or by purchasing them outside Cuba, Cabrera and Rodríguez found creative ways to test and distribute their product on the island. Now, the task is to convince business owners and consumers that their product deserves a look.

“We were doing something new that people had never seen before, we had to earn their trust,” Rodríguez said. “The biggest challenge for us, and for any entrepreneur in Cuba, is to change the Cuban mentality about how to consume a tech product.”

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CUBA’S EMERGING STARTUP SCENE GIVEN A CANADIAN TECH BOOST

Jacob Serebrin

Special to The Globe and Mail, Monday, Feb. 01, 2016 5:00AM EST

Few countries are as technologically isolated as Cuba. Home Internet is rare, data plans are non-existent and, in a country where doctors make the equivalent of around $70 a month, paying almost $3 an hour for government-run WiFi is too steep for many.

Yet, even here, tech startups are beginning to emerge and they’re getting some help from Canada. Montreal technology hub Notman House has launched a program to give Cuba’s nascent startup scene a boost.  The idea of Develop Cuba is to create a seed fund and a way to support and educate the community on how to build an ecosystem,” says Noah Redler, the campus director at Notman House and the initiator of the Develop Cuba project. “The major obstacle they have isn’t around talent, it isn’t around want or desire, it’s literally just that basic seed capital.”

In Cuba, a little money can go a long way. So far, Develop Cuba has raised a few thousand dollars to rent space for startup groups to meet in Havana and bought a projector – a rare piece of equipment in a country where even basic supplies can be hard to find.

The next step will be to send a group of mentors from Montreal to visit Havana and work with local startups. If that goes well, Mr. Redler wants to help open Cuba’s first co-working space. The goal is to build capacity for Cuban startups, he says. While Canadians may be helping to get the project off the ground, it will be led by local people.

Internet usage has grown rapidly since the Cuban government lifted an almost total ban on Web access in 2008. By 2014, the country had more than three million Internet users, a little more than one-quarter of the population, according to Cuba’s national statistics agency. By now, that number is almost certainly higher.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-January, about a dozen people are gathered in a public square in downtown Havana, looking at their phones. A couple more sit on nearby benches with laptops. It’s a scene that would be unremarkable in Canada, but was extremely rare in Cuba until just a few months ago.

In June, Etecsa, Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications monopoly, cut the price of Internet access in half and opened dozens of new WiFi access points in parks and public squares across the country. More have opened since then. Before that, getting online usually required waiting to use a computer at an Etecsa outlet or a post office; WiFi was rarely found outside of hotel lobbies. Free WiFi is still almost unheard of, and Cubans have to prepay and show ID to get online.

For startups, “the most difficult part is accessing the Internet,” says Martin Proenza, the founder of YoTeLlevo, a website for booking taxis. While his business is generating revenue, it’s not profitable enough for Mr. Proenza to afford home Internet. Instead, he relies on his day job at a government-owned software company for Internet access.

The lack of mobile data means that Cuban apps are generally built to work offline. AlaMesa, an app for finding restaurants, is fully functional without an Internet connection. Its restaurant directory and map are downloaded onto a user’s phone. If a user opens the app when they do have an Internet connection, the database is updated. “Considering the insufficient connectivity infrastructure and cost of Internet access in the country, an offline solution was mandatory,” says Alfonso Ali, AlaMesa’s lead programmer.

But they also face a uniquely Cuban challenge. “Due to U.S. blockade restrictions, we are unable to use PayPal or Stripe,” Mr. Ali says. “So standard operations like online booking, coupons, etc., are very difficult and costly to implement.”

The Cuban government appears to have taken little notice of the country’s growing startup community, but there are fears about what will happen if they do. While economic reforms that began in 2008 have opened the door to an increasing number of private businesses, there are no provisions for tech startups, making them illegal.

“You have to keep yourself under the radar,” Mr. Proenza says. “But is it a big concern? No. Really, the state is not running after people for creating online businesses.”  He does think the government will allow startups to operate legally in the future, and says that’s a view shared by others in the startup community.

In Montreal, Mr. Redler says he sees some hopeful signs – accommodation-rental site Airbnb was allowed to enter the Cuban market earlier this year; there are now over 2,000 listings. But he says he doesn’t expect change to come rapidly.

Despite the challenges, Cuban business owners say they’re optimistic about the future. “The Cuba education system is very good, so it’s very easy to find talented people to work on any field of innovation,” Mr. Ali says.  “We used to say ‘need is the mother of invention,’ so people in Cuba have good talent, skills and the mindset to find solutions to almost any problem.”

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THIS IS CUBA’S NETFLIX, HULU, AND SPOTIFY – ALL WITHOUT THE INTERNET

How media smugglers get Taylor Swift, Game of Thrones, and the New York Times to Cubans every week. VOX; Original article here: CUBA’S NETFLIX, HULU, AND SPOTIFY By Johnny Harris on September 21, 2015

In Cuba there is barely any internet. Anything but the state-run TV channels is prohibited. Publications are limited to the state-approved newspapers and magazines. This is the law. But in typical Cuban fashion, the law doesn’t stop a vast underground system of entertainment and news media distributors and consumers.

“El Paquete Semanal” (The Weekly Package) is a weekly trove of digital content —everything from American movies to PDFs of Spanish newspapers — that is gathered, organized, and transferred by a human web of runners and dealers to the entire country. It is a prodigious and profitable operation.

I went behind the scenes in Havana to film how El Paquete works. Check out the video above to see how Cubans bypass censorship to access the media we take for granted.

There are two Paquete king-pins in Havana: Dany and Ali. These two compete to develop the best collection of weekly digital content and in the fastest turnaround time possible for their subscribers. It’s a competitive market playing out in the shadows of a tightly controlled communist economy.

Paquete subscribers pay between $1 and $3 per week to receive the collection of media. It’s either delivered to their home or transferred at a pickup station, usually in the back of a cellphone repair shop, a natural cover for this type of operation.

Dany relies on data traffickers to deliver the files, but said he didn’t know how those sources obtained the content in the first place. I gathered that most of it is being digitized via illegal satellites that are hidden in water tanks on rooftops. It’s unclear how they get ahold of the content sourced from the internet (digital news publications, YouTube videos, and pirated movies, for example). Only 5 percent of Cubans can access the uncensored World Wide Web, and when they do, the connection is horrendously slow. It’s not the type of connection that would support downloading hundreds of gigs of content every week. Instead, some speculate that content is physically brought onto the island by incomers from Miami.

I sat down with Dany in his pink-walled apartment in Havana. While I expected a mob-like character to be at the root of this extensive black market of pirated media, I found a 26-year-old guy who looked more like a stoned surf bum than the conductor of a giant black market operation.  Dany’s office shows off a lot more brawn than he does. It’s a simple room with two gigantic computers, their innards visible, tricked-out lights arbitrarily flickering. Hard drives are littered around the room, stacked and labeled. Two large screens are full of Windows file directories, and in the corner of one of the screens is a live feed from Telemundo, a popular Spanish-language station, with the words “Grabando” (recording) in the corner.

“Everybody has their responsibility,” Dany told me. “Everyone gathers a certain type of content, and they bring it to me. I organize it, edit it, and get it ready for distribution. And then we send it through our messengers.”

This is hard work. “A lot of the time is spent finding and embedding subtitles” he laments. Much of the content is pirated from American TV and movies. He and his team have scour the internet for any existing subtitle files.

The government hasn’t tried to stamp out El Paquete, and Dany works to keep it that way. “We don’t put anything in that is anti-revolutionary, subversive, obscene, or pornographic. We want it to stay about entertainment and education,” he says, and I catch a glimpse of the shrewd business behind the baby face and board shorts.  It might as well be Netflix

A look into an edition of El Paquete reveals a vast array of content ranging from movies that are in US theaters right now to iPhone applications. Havana-based artist Junior showed me around. He’s a pensive and gentle 34-year-old who is remarkably talented, judging by the stunning art pieces that hang from the wall. Junior paints and tattoos full time but he used to be a Paquete dealer. He’s now just a consumer. He takes me through the 934GB of data he has recently transferred from his provider.

I’m immediately struck by how polished the Paquete system is. As Junior files through the meticulously organized files, I realize it mirrors the consumption of a typical internet user. He opens the movie folder, and we browse through dozens of movies, many still in US theaters. All of them come in HD and with subtitles and poster art as the thumbnail of the file. The videos are high-quality with accurate subtitles. I have to remind myself that we are not browsing Netflix, but instead looking at an offline computer that is displaying content that has physically traveled to get here. The methods couldn’t be more different, but the result is strangely similar.

He moves on to TV shows. “So do you think they have—” I start, but am interrupted. “They have everything,” Junior says emphatically. Sure enough, the show I was thinking of, Suits, was there, with the latest episodes ready to watch.

zzzzzzzDany

We continue to browse and look into some of the more routine but most interesting parts of El Paquete: There are folders dedicated to antivirus software that can be updated weekly to the latest versions. “But there’s no internet, so there can’t be viruses,” I say. “Most of this stuff has touched the internet in some way. This software protects against anything that has snuck its way on into the content,” Junior says.

Junior clicks over to the “Apps” folder and shows me a smorgasbord of iOS and Android apps. Many are gaming apps with updates that can be loaded in every week. But there is another called “A la mesa,” a Yelp-type app that helps connect clients to restaurants in Cuba using maps, reviews, and in-app menus. Then there’s the PDF folder, which holds newspapers, magazines, and screenshot material from dozens of online publications, everything from tech news to sports. It’s the internet in a box.

In addition to the subscription fees, revenue for El Paquete comes from a classifieds section called “Revolico.” Within El Paquete, you click a file that opens Revolico in your browser. But it’s an offline version that runs from a file structure on your local computer. There, you can click around as if you were browsing Craigslist, looking at thousands of listings of everything from house rentals to big-screen TVs to car tires.

Sellers pay to list their items, and you can get a premium listing if you pay more. Revolico is the cash cow of El Paquete. It also happens to be one of the first semblances of an advertising market for Cubans who have lived in a world of central planning and price control.

The depth and breadth of El Paquete is astounding, so much so that I, an American who lives and works on the uncensored internet, feel a twinge of envy that I don’t have El Paquete delivered to my house every week for $2.

When I asked Dany if he is afraid that the internet will wipe out his operation, without missing a beat, he replied, “Nah. We offer a product that is like one giant webpage where you can see all the content you want for a very low price. The internet might take over some clients, but we offer something different and very effective.”

“Speed is key to beating the competition,” Dany said. When asked how quickly he can get a movie or TV show after it airs in the US he says, “The next day.” Last year, Dany started sending a hard drive on a plane to the far corners of the island.

After spending a week in Cuba, it was refreshing to talk to someone with the appetite to grow an enterprise. Most people I spoke to in Cuba work for the state and have zero incentive to deliver anything above the bare minimum. They get paid the same either way. Even the private restaurants lack the fervor of a competitive business, since the economic environment they work in is still completely controlled even if they themselves are private.

But in Dany’s office, I felt the thrill of cunning innovation and strategy at work. I got the sense that something big is happening. And indeed, I wasn’t just standing in some dingy apartment, but rather in what may be largest media distribution company in the history of Cuba.

 zzzzzzzz

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FINANCIAL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT ON CUBA, June 16, 2015

Financial Times, June 16, 2015

Document here: Financial Times SPECIAL REPORT on CUBA June 16 2015

Authors:

John Paul Rathbone, Latin America Editor; Geoff Dyer, US diplomatic correspondent; Richard Feinberg, Professor, UCLA San Diego; Marc Frank, Journalist based in Cuba; Cardiff Garcia, FT Alphaville reporter

obama-castroTHAW IN US RELATIONS RAISES EXPECTATIONS; Tentative signs of openness heighten hopes, but is the island ready to do business?

NEW CONNECTION DIVIDES OPINION; President Obama’s overtures play better than expected at home — although not with everyone

STRAITS DEALING BRIDGES MANY GAPS; Retailers in Florida cash in on items needed by customers across the water

GLIMMERS OF GLASNOST BEGIN TO WARM ISLAND; Government retains a firm grip, but there are signs it is loosening a little

NEW PORT ZONE HARBOURS BIG AMBITIONS; A would-be capitalist enclave in a socialist state, the Mariel project is emblematic of change

STATE EXPERIMENTS WITH CO-OPERATIVE THINKING; From garages and restaurants to dealers in exotic birds, co-ops are expanding

CUBA’S NASCENT KNOWLEGE ECONOMY; The island could capitalise on a wealth of expertise in science

US COMPANIES STILL FACE INVESTMENT HURDLES; Bureaucracy, eroded infrastructure and regulatory risk are among hurdles

GOVERNMENT LIKELY TO END TO DUAL CURRENCY; Change would be part of reforms to remove price distortins

COMPENSATION IS KEY TO FUTURE RELATIONS; What now for legal claims by those who lost property in the revolution?

OPINION: WHAT CUBA CAN LEARN FROM VIETNAM; The island has the resources and location to create a balanced economy

 There is a new entry among Cuba’s roll of important dates. Alongside Fidel Castro’s 26th of July movement and the January 1 1959 “triumph of the revolution”, there is now December 17 2014. That was the day when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the US and Cuban presidents, announced that they wanted to normalise bilateral relations and end more than 50 years of cold war enmity.

 To be sure, communist Cuba was already changing. After formally becoming president in 2008, Mr Castro began a tentative economic liberalisation process to boost the country’s flagging economy — especially urgent now that Venezuela’s growing crisis jeopardises the $1.5bn of aid it sends every year. But the December 17 announcement lit a bonfire of expectations among US businesses — even if Cuba’s $80bn economy, for all its exotic allure, is much the same size as the Dominican Republic’s. “There is a new sense of excitement, of US companies coming to look and thinking of starting seed businesses,” says one long-established European investor in Havana. “It makes sense. Start small, learn how the system works and then see how it all goes.”

 So, how might it all go? Continue reading:  Financial Times SPECIAL REPORT on CUBA June 16 2015

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SEEDING A SILICON VALLEY IN CUBA

ramphis-castro By Ramphis Castro, Founder, Mindchem

Original Here: Silicon Cuba?

When venture capitalists talk about Cuba as the next Promised Land, they note foremost the very real political hurdles that remain, both on the island and in the United States. The biggest obstacle, however, may be smartphones — the dearth of them.

Even as Cuba is a bright spot in the developing world for its top-notch health care and education systems, it remains in a technological dark age. Its communication systems, in particular, are almost as ancient as the Packards and Hudsons that putter around Havana. Mobile phone penetration (about one in 10 Cubans have one) is the lowest in Latin America, the country’s Internet is slow and government-censored, and owning a computer was illegal until eight years ago.

All of which makes it especially exciting to be a venture capitalist pondering the possibilities for funding companies in Cuba today and tomorrow. If VCs, particularly angel investors, can become involved soon, they will be getting in not at the proverbial ground floor but while the blueprints are being drafted.

Cuba, to be sure, has much to gain from the opening of its economy. For instance, it is one of the few places in the world where organic or non-GMO products, beloved by Americans, exclusively are grown. An export opportunity likely lies there. And then, of course, there is the Cuban cigar.

And certainly, the challenges for the first wave of early-stage VCs who hit the ground in Cuba are myriad. But we have made inroads before into early-stage economies: Iran, Yemen and Myanmar, to name a few.

Our fundamental role as VCs will be to support the creation of a new Cuban economy — one wanted by Cubans, not necessarily one desired by the U.S. or the outside world. Then we will back the local entrepreneurs who will build it.

A probable priority for Cuba: Telecom. Much of the island’s telephone connection with the rest of the world moves through an old undersea coaxial cable system. Banking networks and other infrastructure needed for e-commerce are just as antiquated.

The easing of sanctions announced by President Obama in recent months should make it more practicable for U.S. companies to export technology and consulting services to Cuba. There is the potential for leapfrog telecom networks, skipping over the wired and maybe even cellular network stages, going right to satellite technology.

The timing is excellent for VCs seeking partnerships in Cuba, as a new investment law, introduced in Cuba in March 2014, opens opportunities in agriculture, infrastructure, sugar, nickel mining, building renovation and real estate development.

Rodrigo Malmierca, minister for foreign trade and investment, believes Cuba needs to attract $2 billion to $2.5 billion in foreign direct investment per year to reach its economic growth target of 7 percent. To that end, in November 2014, the Cuban government appealed to international companies to invest more than $8 billion in 246 specified development projects. The 168-page Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment is available online and in English. “We have to provide incentives,” Malmierca said.

All this follows an initial effort four years ago by Cuba to make it easier, somewhat, to start a company, an initiative that hundreds of thousands of budding businessmen seized upon, taking their first steps into state-sanctioned capitalism.

Still, much more needs to be done — and faster — by both Cuba and the U.S. Congress for VC roots to take hold soon.

A recent Heritage Foundation report ranked only North Korea lower in labor freedom, respect for the rule of law and lack of corruption. Moreover, Cuba has repudiated or delayed debt payments to other nations and corporations; it also wants the U.S. to leave the Guantanamo Naval Base, which has proven to be problematic.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., resistance to normalization — although it’s lessening — remains problematic, as many Republicans, and especially Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of Cuban exiles, are unalterably opposed. Many Cuban exiles want reparations or the return of seized property and businesses, an unlikely scenario.

But the energetic, animated, conversations of the older generation Cuban exiles, often over a colada in Versailles or La Carreta restaurant in Miami, contrast with those of a new generation of Cuban Americans who want a different way forward and to play an active role in the rebuilding of their parents’ home country. At the same time, American nationals continue to become more curious about Cuba, its people, its music and business opportunities.

The rest of the world also has much to gain from Cuba’s expertise in medical-related fields; the country’s infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and there’s a high-functioning universal health-care system.

Startups can catch fire in Cuba. And why shouldn’t they? Necessity is the mother of invention, and Cubans certainly have had a tough time in recent decades. The literacy rate, however, is high — higher than in the U.S. Cuba also has a strong culture of collaboration and support, two of the basic tools entrepreneurs use to meet challenges large and small.

Starting a business is human nature, too. The desire to prosper from trade has existed since antiquity. Holding back this instinct forever is impossible — it’s like stopping rain; eventually, it falls and things begin to grow. Such will be the case in Cuba.

Ramphis Castro — no relation to the Cuban leaders — lives in Puerto Rico. He is a Kauffman Fellow and founder of Mindchemy, a startup specializing in bringing technology entrepreneurship into the developing world. Reach him @jramphis.

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The Past

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The Future ! ?

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Mark Frank on Cuban Access to Internet and Telephone Technology

By Mark Frank, (Reuters) – June 15, 2012

The original article is here: More Cubans have local intranet, mobile phones

The number of Cubans linked to the country’s state-controlled intranet jumped more than 40 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year and mobile phone use rose 30 percent, the government reported, even as Cuba’s population remained largely cut off from unfettered access to the Internet.

Communist-run Cuban monopolizes communications in the state-controlled economy. There is no broadband Internet in Cuba and the relatively few Internet users suffer through agonizingly long waits to open an email, let alone view a photo or video, which also hampers government and business operations.

The National Statistics Office said the number of ?Internet users reached 2.6 million last year, up from 1.8 million in 2010, although almost all were likely on the local intranet through government-run computer clubs, schools and offices.

Some of Cuba’s Intranet Users

Cuba reports intranet use as Internet use even though access to the Internet is banned without government permission.

The number of mobile phone users increased to 1.3 million in 2011, up from 1 million in 2010, the government said. Cubans do not have Internet connectivity on their phones. Cuba’s population is 11.2 million people.

Cell phone usage has grown by leaps and bounds since 2008, when the government first allowed all Cubans to buy the phones. That first year there were 330,000 users. Mobile phones are available only in a local dollar-pegged currency and sending even a Twitter message from a mobile phone can cost more than the average daily earnings of many Cubans.

There were 783,000 personal computers in the country, or 70 per 1,000 residents, though around 50 percent of those were in state hands, according to the report available at www.one.cu/ticencifras2011.htm

During a recent tour of Cuba by a Reuters reporter, no Internet users were found, though a few people said they occasionally accessed the Web using black market passwords or hotels.

WORST IN LATIN AMERICA

Cubans who want to leave the country often cite local telecommunications, rated as the worst in Latin America by the United Nations International Telecommunications Union, as one of the reasons.

Officials say that data detailing individual use of Internet and ownership of computers and telephones is misleading and argue the country’s technological priorities are on encouraging social use at government-operated computer clubs and through services that provide professionals access to literature in their fields.

Cuba blames the United States embargo for denying access to underwater cables, saying it must use a satellite system and is limited in the space it can buy. In February 2011, a fiber optic cable was laid fromVenezuelato Cuba to provide download speeds 3,000 times faster than Cuba’s current Internet and capable of handling millions of phone calls simultaneously. To date there is no evidence the cable is operational and the government and state-run media have remained mum on the matter.

Cuba has around a million fixed telephone lines. The country has a total telephone density of just 22.3 percent.

Access to satellite television is also severely restricted. Satellite TV access in Cuba is illegal without special permission from the government and authorities regularly raid neighborhoods and homes in search of satellite dishes.

 

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Una cartografía de la blogósfera cubana: Entre «oficialistas» y «mercenarios»

Por Ted Henken

Este artículo es copia fiel del publicado en la revista Nueva Sociedad No 235,  septiembre-octubre de 2011, ISSN: 0251-3552, <www.nuso.org>.

The complete document is located here: Henken Una cartografía de la blogosfera cubana

At this time, only a Spanish language version of this article is available. However, Ted Henke will shortly publish an English language version on his website located here: El Yuma

Pese al clima –por momentos  agobiante– de polarización, en Cuba ha emergido una variedad de blogs y de blogueros que buscan sobreponerse a las dificultades políticas y materiales. Más allá de los adjetivos con que cada «bando» busca descalificar a los otros, en los últimos años la extensión de la blogósfera cubana ha sido capaz, no obstante, de construir algunos puentes y espacios que buscan salir de los «monólogos» tanto oficialistas como opositores. Todo ello en un contexto en el que tanto para el gobierno cubano como para el de Estados Unidos la web forma parte de una batalla política de mayores dimensiones.

Ted A. Henken is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York. He has worked, researched and published widely on Cuba. His first book, Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook (ABC-CLIO, 2008), is a comprehensive overview and reference guide to Cuban history and culture. He is currently co-editing a follow up to this volume, entitled, Cuba: In Focus (ABC-CLIO, 2013). He has also written extensively about the development of micro-enterprise, the underground economy and the independent jo0urnalists in Cuba, His widely-read web site on Cuba is El Yuma

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Lenier Gonzalez, The Road of Patience

Lenier Gonzalez analyses the independent media in Cuba. Published by the Cuba Studies Group in “From the Island”, December `15, 2011

The full study is located here: Lenier Gonzalez, The Road to Patience, December 15, 2011

Conclusion:

The Cuban government should recognize the political plurality of the nation and consequently help channel the institutionalization of those new utopians inerted in the Cuban reality, through  consolidation of an open public space that would welcome debate between each of these Cuban groups. Taking on this challenge bears implicitly the radical redesign of state institutions and the Cuban Communist Party to be able to effectively accept in its midst all this diversity that we have been talking about. This should lead us to do without a “State ideology” that, in practice functions as a straight jacket that makes invisible and constraints all of the national diversity. The Martian republic “with all and for the good of all”, because of its ecumenism and universality, continuous to be the most suitable threshold to think Cuba in the beginning of the 21st century.

Lenier González Mederos. Havana, 1981. BA in Communications, Universidad de la Habana. Member of the Editorial Council (Assistant Editor) for Espacio Laical, publication of the Secular Council, Archdiocese of Havana. Member of the Secular Council
and Culture Commission for the Archdiocese of Havana. Currently teaches Communications at the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminaries. Academic Coordinator for the MBA program at the Murcia Catholic University, Centro Cultural Padre Varela.

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Larry Press on “The Past, Present and Future of the Internet in Cuba”

At the dawn of the Internet, Cuba led the Caribbean in computer networking and was well positioned to continue to lead.  But the Cuban Internet stagnated due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US embargo, and the “dictator’s dilemma” — a desire to enjoy the benefits of connectivity without its political and cultural risks.

Today, Cuban infrastructure, skills, and application sophistication are behind the rest of the Caribbean and most of the world.  The Cuban Internet is like their old cars — Cuba is stuck at Web 1.0.

What of the outlook for the future?  Here we have questions and predictions, but few certain answers.  The ALBA-1 undersea cable connecting Cuba and Venezuela has been installed and will begin service in the fall of 2011.[1][2]  The cable will dramatically increase the speed of Cuban international connectivity and decrease its cost.  It seems safe to predict that current users in areas like education, health care, government and tourism will be first to reap the benefit of ALBA-1.New domestic communication infrastructure and human resources will be needed if Cuba is to utilize the cable, but it is not clear how this investment will be financed or how much progress has been made to date.  Given the US trade embargo and Chinese involvement in the ALBA-1 cable, it is likely that the Chinese will also be involved in the upgrading of domestic infrastructure.  U. S. and Cuban leaders are also aging and will doubtless change, but it is uncertain how those changes will impact the Internet.

Larry Press produces a valuable Blog on the Internet in Cuba which is well worth examination. Its address is here: The Internet in Cuba.
Larry Press

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