Perhaps even before developers and tourism businesses, tech giants are some of the eagerest American companies ready to do business in Cuba. Last month, a Google executive traveled to the island, reportedly to discuss the idea of expanding internet service in the nation through an advanced WiFi network. However, the Miami Herald reports that Cuban officials remained deeply skeptical of the plan.
None have officially spoken on the record about the idea, but this weekend former vice president and current second secretary of the Communist Party José Ramón Machado Ventura gave a long interview to Juventud Rebelde, the state-controlled youth newspaper, in which he talked about the plan in a roundabout way. Machado, perhaps unsurprisingly for a lifelong Communist, is worried that Google is merely an imperialist tool out to destroy the Revolution.
"This is a great opportunity, as well as a great challenge, because new technologies are new and essential, not just for communication between people, but also for development. Everyone knows there is no Internet in Cuba because of its high cost," said Machado. "Some [companies] want to give it to us for free. However, they're not offering this as a way to help the Cuban people communicate, but as a way to penetrate us and do ideological work for a new conquest. We must have Internet, but in our own way, with the knowledge that the intention of imperialism is to manage the Internet as just another way to destroy the Revolution."
Cuba currently has one of the lowest internet access rates in the world, with only 3.4 percent of homes having access to the web, and the internet that is officially available there remains painfully slow by modern standards. Rates to access the internet at official web cafés also remain prohibitively expensive for most Cubans. Though, a growing number of Cubans have begun to access the internet through blackmarket satellite phones.
The attitude toward increased access to the internet has sharply changed over the past few years among the highest level of the party. Machado says that more access to the internet in Cuba is an inevitably and a necessity. Those fall in line with recent remarks from Machado's vice presidential successor Miguel Diaz Canel.
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"We must use technology to influence young people and use them to defend what we have built in these years of Revolution," Machado continued. "It is not a question of yes or no; we must do it, so that young people are not far from today's world. But we must explain why it's not happening quicker; we must reach them with the truth argued, not with truth as dogma."
It seems, however, that the Communist Party remains deeply skeptical of any plans of how exactly to go about that presented by outside sources.
"It is clear that they seek to soften youth ideologically, because often these technology platforms can be enhanced mechanisms of subversion by big business and media. Therefore we must understand the interconnection and what we can do for it to have a different process. We have to make way for greater mastery and knowledge to be on our side."
The blog La Chiringa de Cuba has recently leaked documents concerning the government's own internal plans to expand internet service. An initial step would be to allow home access through telephone lines (which only about a quarter of homes have) with speeds averaging somewhere between 1 to 8 megabits per second. It's a far cry from the up-to-date WiFi option reportedly being offered by Google.