Cuba and the United States are promptly moving the telecommunications pieces. The start of talks to resume diplomatic relations has speeded up the game in that field, highly sensitive for the rest of the spheres of life and development: science and technology, culture and access to information, politics, the economy.
With the simultaneous announcement by presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama last December 17, the U.S. president recognised the failure of the policy of economic embargo. But he warned immediately that his intentions and purposes with the neighbouring Caribbean island continued the same. The decades of Cuba being isolated by the U.S. did not achieve our goal of promoting the emergence of a stable, prosperous and democratic Cuba, Obama said. He only proposed at the time a different, more civilised way of focusing or achieving his strategy.
Washington’s cards include making more flexible travel to the Caribbean nation, though for the time being these trips are banned for common U.S. citizens. It also promises to remove the limits to the sending of remittances, commercial exports for the nascent Cuban private sector and facilitating the financial transactions of U.S. companies with the island’s banks.
But among the promised and dreamed of fruits, it seems that the steps and expectations in terms of telecommunications are making more progress.
According to Obama’s initial statement – reiterated later by other officials -, the White House plans to authorise “increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba” and “Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.” This option would include the sale of communication devices, software, applications, hardware and services, among others.
The U.S. government also proposes to allow telecommunication suppliers to establish the necessary mechanisms in Cuba, including the infrastructure, to provide commercial telecommunications and Internet services.
U.S. companies involved in this sector immediately responded to the invitation, as was recognised by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, in charge of the talks with Cuba. Last week she announced that some of her country’s telecommunication companies have contacted their government to sound out the possibility of doing business in Cuba.
Following this statement, several media commented that Washington is working on the reduction of restrictions so that telecommunication companies can develop commercial ties with Havana, as part of its measures for an eventual normalisation of relations with Cuba.
A few hours later, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) and the U.S. company IDT Domestic Telecom, INC. (IDT) concluded talks, with the aim of “signing a Service Agreement for the Operation of International Telecommunications which will allow for direct interconnection between the United States and Cuba,” according to the Caribbean nation’s firm. With the brevity proper of an official communiqué, ETECSA left the ball in the U.S. court. Now it is waiting, it said, “for the approval by the U.S. authorities for their subsequent implementation.”
It would be the first business agreement between both countries since Jacobson sat face to face for the first time with her Cuban counterpart, headed by Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s General Director for the United States, in an attempt to put an end to almost half a century of official lack of communication.
If IDT gets the approval from the FCC, it will become the first U.S. operator to have direct communication with Cuba. IDT Telecom CEO Bill Pereira said he was “very satisfied” with the “pioneer agreement” with ETECSA.
With this, the Cuban entity expects to gain “greater facilities and quality in communications” between both peoples. But this step has much deeper reaches. The reestablishment of direct means of communication will be key in approaching economic, social and, by extension, political interests that until now remained distanced by force in many fields.
Meanwhile, Havana is speeding up changes inside the country. ETECSA recently tested measures to liberalise and cheapen access to mobile phone lines, while the country is reviewing the policies to accelerate information for society, judging by the debates of the First National Workshop on Information Technology and Cybersecurity held last week.
The Cuban authorities expect the start of a different stage, with opportunities as well as with ricks. At the close of that Workshop, First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel confirmed that he can see a “change of tactics, but not of the goals of the U.S. government policy toward Cuba.” Even so, he said that the new stage “accentuates the need to advance more in the Cuban process of information.” It is a conclusion after reiterating that “the blockade on Cuba…has restricted the access to financing, technology, systems, infrastructure, software and applications.”
In addition to recognising the Cuban people’s right to the Internet and the need for designing a strategy for this, Díaz-Canel spoke about the responsibilities represented for citizens. And he insisted on its value when pointing out that “the development of science is inconceivable today without Internet.”
Cubans’ access to the web has traditionally come up against numerous technical obstacles that could be reduced rapidly to the extent that the United States crosses a door that controls the majority of companies in that country. Cuba will then be in the face of valuable opportunities for the building of a more advanced economy and for integral development, but it will also face conflicts, threats and risks that demand more skilful actions and policies with a really strategic vision. (2015)
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