Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has led a team to Cuba in order to promote free and open Internet access.
Cuban blog 14yomedio.com reports that the Google team spent at least two days in the country, meeting figures in the public sector and digital scene.
The publication, started last month by dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, states that Google executives visited Havana "to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet." The team, which included Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling, also visited the University of Information Sciences (UCI) to speak with students.
In 2013, a report released by Freedom House (.PDF) rated Cuba as "one of the world’s most repressive environments for information and communication technologies." Licenses are generally required to have completely unfettered access to the Web, and these licenses are often limited to tourist hotels, foreign firms and government bodies. Otherwise, access is limited to state-approved websites.
Unsurprisingly, 14yomedio, on which Sanchez's Generation Y blog has earned accolades worldwide for exposing Cuba's politics and the daily lives of citizens, is on Cuba's block list.
Schmidt confirmed the visit via a lengthly Google+ post, saying:
"With the goal of promoting a free and open Internet, Jared Cohen and I and two others traveled to Havana on a business visa. [...] If Cuba is trapped in the 1950’s, the Internet of Cuba is trapped in the 1990s. About 20 -- 25 percent of Cubans have phone lines but mostly subsidized land lines, and the cell phone infrastructure is very thin. Approximately 3 -- 4 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet in internet cafes and in certain universities. The Internet is heavily censored and the infrastructure, which we toured, is made out of Chinese components.
The "blockade" makes absolutely no sense to US interests: if you wish the country to modernize the best way to do this is to empower the citizens with smart phones (there are almost none today) and encourage freedom of expression and put information tools into the hands of Cubans directly.
As US firms cannot operate in Cuba, their Internet is more shaped by Cuban narrow interests than by global and open platforms."
Cuba is not the only country Schmidt has visited with the promotion of the free Web in mind. Last year, the executive visited North Korea, where he and his daughter dubbed the country "The Truman Show, at country scale." Colloquially known as the 'Hermit kingdom,' North Korea's citizens rarely have access to the Internet unless they are in state-run universities or high up the social pecking order, and even then, use is regulated and both social media and email are banned.