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Cuba Takes Steps to Connect, Sell, and Probe

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Cuba's crawl toward the 20th Century took a few major steps this week when the Communist regime -- which has struck oil offshore -- announced it would ease up on free-market restrictions and build an undersea cable to hook up with Chávez in Venezuela.

The cable -- which will run 3,125 miles linking Cuba, Jamaica, and Venezuela -- is expected to improve Internet and telecommunications on the island crippled by the U.S. embargo, which forces the country to use satellite service from Europe and other faraway lands. The cable likely won't be in place until next summer.

The anticipated cost of the cable has risen from $63 million to $70 million, according to Communist Party newspaper Granma. The project has been delayed over and over again since a deal was cut in 2007 with French company Alcatel-Lucent to produce and install the fiber-optic line.

Despite its retrograde technology, Cuba was one of nine countries selected as members of the International Telecommunications Union Council during the 18th Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Guadalajara, Mexico. The other countries were Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela -- by comparison, all technological giants.

Meanwhile, Cuba took some steps toward embracing the evils of capitalism by announcing residents would have more freedom to start small private businesses. The announcement came after the government laid off a half-million workers.

The Paleolithic economy could get a boost from large offshore oil reserves that have big oil companies drooling at the bit. To the Castro brothers' glee, the United States has been left on the sidelines, according to experts at a seminar last week cosponsored by Inter-American Dialogue and Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute.

"What we're seeing could be a potential game changer," said Kirby Jones, president of consulting firm Alamar Associates. "For the first time in 50 years, Cuba would have something the U.S. needs, something of strategic importance."

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