Thursday, May 21, 2015

Will the nascent Cuban startup community thrive?

The first meetup of the Merchise Startup Circle will be held in Havana on May 23. The event is being organized by a couple of Cubans who have worked abroad and hope this is the first of many meetings for people interested in startups, tech and entrepreneurship.

Can Cuba develop a vibrant tech startup community? Cuba may be short on financial capital, but that be raised fairly quickly -- Cuba's human capital has taken years to develop.

A successful software industry requires trained, demanding users and skilled technicians and Cuba's long-standing emphasis on education leaves them with both. As an indication of their commitment to education, Cuba spends 12.8% of its GDP on education -- the highest rate in the world -- and the Cuban literacy rate is 100%.

The United Nations Development Program reports a human development index (HDI) for every nation annually. The HDI includes components for health, economy and education and the only nation in Latin America and the Caribbean to out rank Cuba on the overall HDI and the education index is Chile. (Chile and Cuba rank 43rd and 44th on the HDI and 49th and 50th on the education index).

Cubans are generally well educated, but are they "trained, demanding users of technology?" Internet connectivity is nearly non-existent in Cuba and relatively few have sporadic, slow access to the Cuban intranet, but there a long history of promoting computer use and literacy among the youth. In 1987, Fidel Castro agreed to create 32 Youth Clubs of Computing and Electronics (YCCs) for promoting and teaching computer technology. As shown below, he expressed his envy of the young people at the dedication the YCC headquarters, which occupied the ex-Sears store in Havana (prime real estate) and his support has continued.

Fidel at the opeing of the YCCs

Today there are 611 YCCs and over 2.25 million adults and kids have completed their courses. The YCCs are distributed throughout the island, not concentrated in one or a few large cities -- a common pattern in developing nations.

Of course, Cubans have some Internet and intranet experience. Most is at work or school, but there are also paid Internet access "CyberPoints." It is noteworthy that ETECSA (Cuba's single provider of Internet and telephone access) plans to increase the number of Cyber Points from 155 to over 300 by late this year -- evidently there is demand for slow Internet connectivity even if it costs as much as a week's salary per hour. (I would be curious to know who the users are and how they are using it. That would be an interesting survey).

Trained users will demand and shape tech products, but what about developers? The YCCs trains and supports hackers as well as users. Their Free Technology Users Group is active in information exchange and support of development. For example, they have been involved in developing and contributing content to EcuRed, Cuba's faux-Wikipedia. This photo shown below was taken at a 2015 users group freeware festival.

Latin American Freeware Festival 2015

In a 2011 report on the state of the Internet in Cuba, I looked at Cuban universities and found their general enrollment rates and expenditure per pupil were high, another indicator of potential user demand, but what about technicians? In 2011 Cuban universities produced 5,407 technical science graduates and 572 in natural science and mathematics. One university, the University of Informatics Sciences (UCI), which specializes in information science has graduated 12,648 engineers in computer science since it was founded in 2002.

In my 2011 report, I compared the UCI curriculum with the computer science curriculum at Carnegie Mellon University and found that
The work-study balance – ten semesters of professional practice and three studying business topics – differentiates UCI from U. S. universities. Students are expected to work on useful applications in education, health, sport, and online government -- writing software, building Web portals and developing multimedia products.
While they may not have experience with the latest technology, Cuban graduates should be ready to do practical work and good students may gravitate toward startups since state enterprises are the only alternative source of employment.

Even without domestic users, outsourcing can help bootstrap a tech community and Cuba's outsourcing prospects look good. Cuba is close to the large U. S. market, is in the Eastern time zone and there are many Cuban expats in the U. S. and elsewhere with professional and family ties to Cuba. Cuban developers have been doing small-scale, sub rosa work for U. S. firms for some time, but now that we have approved work by independent Cuban programmers (as opposed to state enterprises) that work can expand openly.

UNDP HDI and education ranks
I checked the 2014 A.T. Kearney Global Services Location Index™ and it turns out that the top ranked nation for outsourcing is India and Mexico (4th) and Chile (13th) are among the top 15. Given their UNDP Human Development and Education indices, Cuba looks like a formidable competitor to all three.

I've focused on tech and education to this point -- what about Cuban culture?

Of necessity, Cubans are resourceful. The old cars that Cubans have managed to keep running are as well-known as Cuban cigars. Homebrew computers are common. Before the government cracked down, homemade TV dishes were ubiquitous in Havana. There are even illegal satellite links in Cuba. These are a few examples of Cuban resourcefulness in the face of constraints. For more, watch this video:

The legacy of years of socialist rhetoric might also contribute to the success of a startup community. The early ARPA/Internet community or Silicon Valley in the 70s and 80s provide examples of success that was partially due to a somewhat idealistic, cooperative culture and a sense that the participants were doing something important.

When the PC revolution was just getting under way, computer clubs sprung up around the country. One, the Homebrew Computer Club (HCC) met in an auditorium at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley. The meetings featured a "random access" session during which people stood up to ask for help or offer to share information. At one meeting I attended, Steve Wozniak offered schematics and a parts list for anyone who wanted to build a copy of the single-board computer he had designed, while his partner Steve Jobs stood at a table showing off wire-wrapped versions of the machine. After the meetings, "competitors" met at a hamburger place in Menlo Park (I forget its name) to talk about their latest S-100 but boards.

Random access session at the Homebrew Computer Club

The early Silicon Valley user/maker community was very much influenced by the "counter culture" movement that valued sharing, cooperation and appropriate technology. The Whole Earth Catalog ("access to tools and ideas"), The People's Computer Company and the Community Memory project and later the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link exemplified the values in the Silicon Valley.

Might the Merchise Meetup and the YCC Freeware Festivals turn out to be Cuba's HCC?

I've been painting a rosy picture -- talking more about what I would like to see happen than what I think will happen -- "Silicon Malecón" faces many obstacles.

Readers of this blog well know the sad state of Cuban Internet connectivity. As neuroscientist Frances Colón, acting science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Kerry says, "More than anything else, Cuban science and technology entrepreneurs need connectivity to finally move into the 21st century of scientific discoveries and technology development."

A lack of capital is another obvious problem, but Cuban entrepreneurs with good ideas and organizations will be able to attract capital if government polices encourage foreign investors. That being said, the Cuban economy is already looking up with easing of tension with the U. S. and Cuba may find it desirable to finance significant parts of its own Internet infrastracture.

A lack of business and marketing experience may also hinder Cuban entrepreneurs. That should be mitigated by close ties between Cubans and the expat community. Business schools are also eyeing Cuba. There is also Proyecto Cuba Emprende, which offers "training and advisory services to Cuban entrepreneurs who wish to start or improve a small business in order to contribute to the development of an entrepreneurial culture, social progress and to improve the quality of their lives."

The biggest problem for the startup community may be Cuban bureaucracy and the power of incumbent state software enterprises. Will the government stifle startups with micromanagement and regulation (as exemplified by their list of jobs eligible for self-employment) and taxes? Will politically entrenched state software enterprises like Albet and Desoft view startups as competitors to be beaten or will they be a training ground for future entrepreneurs? (This is similar to the question of the infrastructure policies of ETECSA).

I've mentioned some of the things the Cuban startup community has going for and against it. Let's hope it takes off.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Connecting Cuban Schools

Cuba plans to provide Internet connectivity to all schools at all levels during the next three years. We offer a few suggestions, based in part on the US experience of the 1980/90s.

Fernando Ortega, Director of Educative Informatics Services at the Cuban Education Ministry, has announced a plan for connecting Cuba's 295 high schools and 395 polytechnic institutes to the Internet during the next school year. During 2017 they plan to extend the education network to junior high schools, day-care centers and special schools and in 2018 the network will connect the remaining primary schools. They hope to connect 26,650 teachers to the Internet by next May.

This is an encouraging announcement, but it leaves many policy and technical questions unanswered, like:

  • Will the schools be connected to the international Internet or the Cuban intranet?
  • If connectivity is international, will it be over the undersea cable or satellite?
  • If the link is to the Internet, will sites be filtered out?
  • Will users be surveilled and tracked?
  • What will be the backbone technology and speed?
  • How fast will the backhaul links to the schools be?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, a school backbone and connectivity to it is only a small part of the networking of schools. What about school LANs? Curriculum? Teacher training and student expectations? Cuban schools are facing the same questions US schools and universities faced when first connecting to the Internet -- can they benefit from our experience?

In the late 1980s, the National Science Foundation connected all US colleges and universities to the Internet. (They also connected networks in many developing nations, including Cuba). They did this by establishing a backbone network (NSFNet) and gave each school a router and paid for a link to the backbone. That cost the US taxpayers $94.5 million, but it was just seed money.

The schools spent much more collectively -- hiring network technicians, building local area networks (LANs), buying computers and incurring overhead on all of that. Could Cuba do something similar -- connect schools to an education backbone and leave the rest to the schools themselves?

I reviewed the curriculum of Cuba's University of Information Science in a report I wrote in 2011. Compared to the US, the curriculum was relatively practical and it involved working on real-world projects. If the government of Cuba were to construct an educational backbone and provide a high-speed connection to each school, advanced university students could be deployed to schools where they would lead the installation of LANs by the students and faculty of the schools. (Note that idealistic, motivated graduate students implemented much of the ARPANet).

This decentralized, do-it-yourself approach was used in networking California high schools. Sun Microsystems founder John Gage led the NetDay initiative in which equipment kits were assembled and distributed to schools for installation by students and faculty under the supervision of professionals. In a similar effort, my students established a wireless LAN connecting the rooms in our campus dorms to out campus backbone.

There was a major change between the time of John Gage's NetDay project and my student's dorm connectivity project -- WiFi equipment became available, making our task easier. Necessity being the mother of invention, it turns out that Cuba has experts in the deployment of modern WiFi LANs -- the people who have created mesh "streetnets". Cuba might also take a look at Google's experiments with high frequency wireless communication. Sun Microsystems is not longer with us, but might Google sponsor a Cuban NetDay?

A Cuban "NetDay" project would establish a LAN at relatively low cost and also provide initial training and involvement for the people who would eventually run and use the LAN.

What about computers? Mr. Ortega reports that there are about 30 students per computer in Cuban school labs and his plan is to replace them with tablets. I would think twice about those tablets.

Los Angeles, where I live, recently cancelled an ill-advised project, which sought to deploy tablets in schools. The project envisioned a large expenditure for tablets that would quickly become obsolete. Furthermore, machines with keyboards, and perhaps touch screens, would be more appropriate. Today, the best bet for most students and many teachers would be Chromebooks and, where necessary, laptops. One Laptop per Child has distributed laptops to over 2.4 million children -- how about One Chromebook per Child in Cuba? (Is anyone at Google reading this)?

But the biggest problem with the failed deployment in Los Angeles was not sub-optimal hardware, it was in software and curriculum. The tablets were to come with installed teaching materials provided by a single vendor. The tablets were "Trojan Horses" for the curriculum.

I would worry about something similar happening in Cuba -- top-down design and distribution of teaching material by experts at the Ministry of Education. Cuba has developed some educational software, but it is limited in scope and quantity and, more important, not Internet oriented. We are in the midst of a boom in MOOC-inspired online education and innovation in curriculum, technology and pedagogy. Cuba should look to the outside (the Khan Academy in Spanish would be a good place to start) and also encourage decentralized domestic development -- perhaps providing a hosted, Spanish-language "YouTube" for teaching material using Google and MIT's open source platform. (Better yet, that should be hosted by Google).

Without answers to the questions I raised at the start of this post, one cannot say what will happen with Cuba's school network. I've assumed the best intentions on behalf of the Cuban government and thrown out some relatively low-cost ideas, some of which were helpful in getting US schools online. Let's hope Cuban kids are enrolling in MOOCs and working their way through Khan Academy material before too long.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Russia, Japan and others want to do business in Cuba

The US is interested in doing business with Cuba, but we are far from alone and we are late to the party. Cuba has a history of trade with Vietnam, China, Spain, France, etc. and visits from trade delegations have picked up.

The Cuban and Soviet economies were deeply intertwined before the Soviet breakup and on April 22 Russia and Cuba signed a five year deal for trade in the aeronautics, metallurgy, medicine, railway transportation and other sectors.

Russian and Cuban delegations met in Moscow.

The emphasis in US-Cuba trade discussions seems to be on the sale of US goods and services to Cuba rather than the other way around, but the Russian agreement includes the sale of Cuba-made pharmaceuticals to Russia, if they are found to be satisfactory in testing. Note that Russia is willing to purchase goods and services from Cuban-state enterprises while the US allows the purchase of goods and services from private Cuban enterprises, but not state firms.

Japan is also interested in doing business in Cuba. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and on May 2 some thirty business people met with representatives of a dozen Cuban state firms to discuss possible business deals at The Cuba-Japan Business Forum.

Cuban and Japanese foreign ministers and their delegations met in Havana. Foto:

Cuban debt came up as a possible barrier to trade. Forum President Tomoyoshi Kondo said that "once the issue of the Cuban debt is solved, the two countries will be able to discuss and talk about the future.” The issue of Cuban debt also arose around the financing of the ALBA undersea cable. I don't know the current situation, but a Wikileaked memo from 2010 stated that:
Payment problems continue for all countries. Despite once again restructuring all of its official debt in 2009, Japan has yet to see any payments.
Many nations are looking for business and trade opportunities with Cuba now that detente with the US appears likely. In the short run, Cuban debt and poverty may limit that trade, but improved relations with the US and Cuban economic reform will surely improve the Cuban economy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Cuba the tenth most censored nation in the World, but they are improving.

Cuban newspaper vendor sells the state paper, Granma

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has listed Cuba as the tenth most censored country in the world, saying:
Despite significant improvements in the past few years-such as the elimination of exit visas that had prohibited most foreign travel for decades-Cuba continues to have the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas.
That sounds pretty bad, but CPJ has been reporting about repression of journalists on their Web site since 1998. In that year, they ranked Cuba as the fourth worst offender on their Enemies of the Press list, saying "The independent journalism movement seemed to gain strength until early 1996, when Cuban MIGs shot down two private planes piloted by exiles from Miami" -- an action that strengthened hard liners in both Cuba and the US -- and went on to say that:
Despite implicit promises to Pope John Paul II that there would be greater room for freedom of expression, Castro continues his control over all media outlets and his harsh treatment of independent journalists, who are routinely detained, arrested and beaten, or forced into exile, especially before major political events.
Unfortunately, I could not find a clear explanation of the methodology for these rankings, nor does the CPJ do them on a regular basis. I found three more in their archive:

  • 2006 (Cuba ranked 7th)
  • 2009 (Cuba ranked 4th)
  • 2012 (Cuba ranked 9th)

CPJ has many blog posts and some country reports (like this 2011 report on Cuba) which are best found by going to their Web site and searching for Cuba. Somewhat ironically, CPJ needs a better organized and designed Web site.

At any rate, the situation in Cuba is better than it was before, and, with the current rapprochement with the US, I bet Cuba is off the ten worst list next time CPJ publishes their rankings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cuban networking -- past and future

Grenada's Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, who heads CARICOM (the Caribbean Community Secretariat), has announced that CARICOM will send a science, technology and innovation committee delegation to Cuba with the hope of strengthening the regional ICT structure.

At first it may seem surprising that CARICOM would be looking for leadership in the nation with the worst Internet access in the region, but, upon reflection, it is not so strange. In the period just before their connection to the Internet, Cuba was the leading networking nation in the region. In the pre-Internet days, Caribbean networks exchanged traffic asynchronously, doing bulk international transfers once or twice a day.

As shown in the following table, Cuba's pre-Internet international traffic volume was second only to that of the Dominican Republic in early 1996.

Nbr. of
Dominican Republic63.622
Trinidad & Tobago17.141
Saint Lucia11.721
Antigua & Bermuda1.061
St. Vincent & The Grenadines.791

However, international traffic volume does not tell the whole story. Cuba had four significant networks with international links. Three served specific user communities -- Medical researchers and practitioners, Biotechnology researchers and young people at Cuba's Youth Computer Clubs. These networks had their own technicians and knowlegeable users. (The Domincan Republic had two networks but one was dominant, with 94% of the nation's traffic).

The fourth Cuban network was operated by CENIAI, the Center for Automated Information Interchange of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. CENIAI began networking in 1982 and was the Cuban interface to Soviet block networks. They had a large staff and they offered email, discussion forum access, database access, consulting services, etc. Later in 1996 CENIAI established Cuba's first direct connection to the Internet.

CENIAI staff in 1990

(It is interesting to note that Cuban Internet connectiivty was initiated in the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment and it is now overseen by the Ministry of Informatics and Communications -- paralleling the evolution of the Internet from a research and education network to one for general use).

Together, the four networks had 3,386 users -- by far the most in the Caribbean. This and the statistics shown above are from a 1996 article, Cuba Networking Update, which concluded that:
Cuba has developed a sizable user community, with networking skills and applications. The community has grown out of both a long-standing commitment to education throughout the society and major research, development, and therapy programs in biotechnology and medicine.
Given Cuba's networking history, relatively large population, policy on education and research and the present thaw with the United States, CARICOM may be quite right in their expectation that Cuba will become a significant force in Caribbean ICT.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

US-Cuba talks on telecommunication and the Internet

Both sides moving slowly

Last week, a US government delegation visited Cuba to discuss telecommunication and the Internet. I've not seen any official release on the meetings, but a few "off the record" quotes by US attendees have been reported in the press:

Latin American Herald Tribune:
  • "The United States has identified 'real potential' for faster and more accessible internet and mobile phone services in Cuba, a 'big' trade opportunity for U.S. telecommunications firms in coming years."
  • “There has already been an express wish by the U.S. private sector to invest in this."
  • “Cubans create an attractive environment for investment and the provision of services.”
  • "[The Cubans] are looking for mechanisms by which, in the first instance, they can expand connectivity while at the same time retaining their mechanism for market management, which is obviously vastly different than ours."
  • "I believe they are extremely eager to [modernize] ... They are falling behind, and that's denying their people access to knowledge and to the opportunity to grow as an economy and as a people, and they're aware of that,"
  • "There's real potential here if there's a real will on the Cuban side ... as long as the Cubans create an environment that's attractive to investment ... and attractive to the delivery of services, I believe those services will reach the island."
In general, the US seemed to reiterate the position that our Internet infrastructure and service firms are now authorized to do do business in Cuba and the ball is now in Cuba's court -- what will they allow, what do they want and what can they afford?

I've also had a chance to speak off the record with folks with knowledge of the meeting, so can add a little to these quotes.

The meetings were "constructive" and relatively informal. Previously, US government contact had only been with and through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but this delegation also met with representatives of the Ministry of Communication, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment and ETECSA, the monopoly Internet and telecommunication service provider.

Hearing this, I recalled the early days of the Internet in Cuba, when academics and technical people met freely and informally with members of the Cuban networking community and people from different ministries -- Science Technology and the Environment, Public Health and Higher Education. In those days, the topic was the Internet; today it is business and politics.

The discussions focused on domestic infrastructure, not undersea cables. I asked whether the Cubans had shared specific information on their current domestic
infrastructure. They had not, but the folks I spoke with have gathered a rough picture over time. They think there is a fiber backbone connecting each province (including Isla de la Juventud?) with more fiber in Havana and the tourist areas. There is a mix of equipment from China, France and Vietnam -- the US has competitors.

I asked about the undersea cable being installed between Florida and Guantanamo and was told that it was not mentioned and that Guantanamo is for future discussion -- perhaps in five years.

The delegation met with people from ETECSA as well as the government and I asked about the structure of ETECSA and its relationship to the Ministry of Communication. I was assured that although it is owned by various organizations, ETECSA is definitely a government run operation with revenue of about $1 billion per year.

I also asked about possible legal roadblocks -- civil damage claims by Americans and Cubans. They said that there is precedent for settling such claims and some funds will change hands, but this will not be a deal-killer. Cuba being taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism will also ease these problems. (Stefan M. Selig, the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for international trade has said Cuba will be removed soon).

I asked whether they had discussed copyright violations, for example, in the weekly distributions of software, entertainment, news and other content on flash drives. This was not discussed, but it too will be the subject of negotiation.

I don't know how these things go, but I imagine the government representatives who traveled to Cuba will now meet with and inform US businesses that might are interested in offering things like satellite connectivity, terrestrial wireless equipment, fiber, networking equipment, service, etc. -- giving them some insight into what to expect in terms of regulation and demand. Presumably they are also in touch with companies like Google, IDT and Netflix that have begun investigating and offering service on their own.

The emphasis of these talks was on Cuba as a customer rather than a vendor, and I hope future talks and policy changes facilitate bi-directional business.

One thing is for sure -- these talks were only a small first step. US companies are interested in Cuba, but will move cautiously, realizing that Cuba is poor, has only 11 million people and, more important, they remain a dictatorship with over 50 years of a bureaucratic, socialist economy. That will change, but not over night.

If I were running the show in Cuba, I would also go slowly -- adopting some short term measures, while planning for the long term. I would talk more with equipment vendors than service providers and look to the example of Stockholm instead of Miami. Most important, I would be thinking about the role of ETECSA -- the Cuban Internet should serve the people, not increase government/ETECSA revenue.

Update 4/6/2015

I speculated that the government officials associated with the delegation to Cuba on telecommunication and the Internet would be letting US companies that were interested in doing business in Cuba know what they learned and on April 1, three officials gave keynote presentations at the Wharton School's sold out Cuba Opportunity Summit attended by 200 executives, investors and analysts at the NASDAQ in NY.

The keynote speakers were Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Stefan M. Selig, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator, Small Business Administration.

The rest of the summit consisted of panels of expert investors, academics, government officials, etc., including one on opportunities in technology, media & telecom. (Two other industry-specific panel sessions were on opportunities in tourism, payments and retail banking and pharmaceuticals and biotechnology -- immediately "hot" industries). You can see the see the entire agenda here.

As far as I can determine, the sessions were not archived -- the main purpose of a meeting like this is to allow people to meet and network -- but several short interviews were published on the Wharton Web site:

Monday, March 30, 2015

If you are reading this, you are probably not in Cuba.

I've been involved in a conversation about content blocking in Cuba recently. The discussion began with this screen shot -- a notice that my blog could not be found at a Nauta access room in Cuba:

I asked around and found one private home where my blog was also blocked and another home, belonging to a foreign journalist living in Cuba, where it was not blocked -- the Cuban blocking is selective.

My blog is hosted on Google's blogging platform, Blogger, and Google assures me that they do not block my blog or any others and that Cubans are free to create blogs on Blogger, watch YouTube videos (if they have fast enough connections), use Gmail and Google Plus, etc.

Google does, however, block Cuban access to their developer site. They are compelled to do that by the government because the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism includes Cuba, along with Iran, Sudan and Syria, and encryption algorithms are considered weapons. Cubans cannot download Google Earth for the same reason; however, if a Cuban installs a copy of the program, it works -- the service and data are not blocked.

Until recently, Cubans were unable to download the Google Chrome browser (maybe because it contains https code), but that restriction has been removed. I'm sure that anyone in Cuba who wanted Chrome earlier had little trouble getting a copy.

Cuba's being on our list of sponsors of terrorism is about as goofy as their list of jobs that are eligible for self-employment, so I would expect to see that reversed soon.

Google is compelled to block access to their developer tools and Google Earth code, but on a recent visit to Cuba, a Google delegation said they could not accepts Cuban apps in their Play Store. I don't understand that restriction now that US companies are authorized to do business with Cuban programmers.

I wonder why the Cuban authorities decided to block my blog and when. Perhaps it was after reading the very first post in which I postulated three primary causes of the sad state of the Cuban Internet. One of those was the government's fear of freedom of speech and communication. Maybe that did it. If so, it's too bad the censor did not notice that I also said the US embargo was another cause.

In general, I've tried to keep politics out of my posts -- I see enough that is good and enough that is bad on both sides to get everyone angry with me.

Some time ago, someone commented that I had probably been assigned a state security officer. At the time, I wrote a post saying "hi" and inviting him or her to comment on my posts. The offer remains open -- and, if you exist, thanks for not blocking my Google Plus posts. Oh, and you might ask the NSA for a look at my emails.

Friday, March 27, 2015

El Paquete and Mi Mochila -- sneakernet competitors

I would be curious to know how one submits and ad or music video for distribution in El Paquete and who and how much they pay to have their material included.

Michael Voss (@mvosscuba) of CCTV just did a news segment on El Paquete, a weekly distribution of entertainment and information on flash drives. Voss says El Paquete, which sells for about $2 per week and is available throughout Cuba, has has increasing amounts of advertising, like this ad for a local restaurant:

and videos of Cuban talent like Joel La J, lead singer for the band Los Metalicos.

El paquete is a cool response to a lack of connectivity, but I am left wondering who is assembling this material. Voss says "there's no single person or organization putting the weekly package together; rather it’s a loose knit grouping (sic) across the country." That does not answer my question though -- there are many neighborhood distributors, but who compiles the material?

Cuban blogger Isbel Diaz Torres (@Isbel_oc) has suggested that El Paquete might be produced by the government. I would be curious to know how one submits and ad or music video for distribution and who and how much they pay to have their material included.

El Paquete seems to have a sanctioned competitor in Mi Mochila, a collection of material curated and distributed by the Joven Clubs. Unlike El Paquete, the source of Mi Mochila is known and, as a Joven Club project, it is sanctioned by the government.

Is this inter-government competition? Regardless, I expect that the issue of government sanctioned copyright violation will have to be addressed during the negotiations leading to the US and Cuba establishing diplomatic relations.

The CCTV segment:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A high-level US delegation is in Havana to discuss telecommunication and the Internet

I hope Cuba's policy is not shaped by political fear or the desire to protect government/ETECSA revenue and that the US delegation is not trying to influence Cuban politics or maximize the profit of US telecommunication companies.

Conrad Tribble, second ranking diplomat at the US Interests Section in Havana, posted a tweet this morning saying a US delegation is meeting with the Cuban government today to discuss telecommunication and the Internet.

Last month, Roberta Jacobson, who is heading our negotiations with Cuba, said the meeting would be to ascertain how we could "work with the Cuban Government on increasing its capacity for greater internet connectivity to better support access to information by the Cuban people."

The US has indicated that, in spite of the trade embargo, we are willing to offer Internet infrastructure and services to Cuba and I suspect that the purpose of this meeting is to begin to learn what the Cuban government and ETECSA are willing to allow.

I hope Cuba's policy is not shaped by political fear or the desire to protect government/ETECSA revenue and that the US delegation is not hoping to influence Cuban politics or maximize the profit of US telecommunication companies.

Cuba has little legacy Internet infrastructure to protect -- it is a "green field." I am not betting on it happening, but they have a chance to build a uniquely Cuban Internet to serve the Cuban people.

As Conrad Tribble says, this meeting should be interesting.

Update 3/26/2015

The talks were completed this afternoon. Voice of America reported that the delegation, led by Daniel Sepulveda (@DSepDC), the U.S. State Department's coordinator for international communications met with Cuban officials led by deputy communications minister Jose Luis Perdomo. A statement by Havana says the Cuban side offered the U.S. delegation information about the country's computer systems and cybersecurity policy.

Mr. Perdomo headed the organizing committees for the 2011 and 2013 Informatica conferences and says the limitations on Cuban Internet access are technical, not political and has stressed the government's willingness to open Internet access to the general public. Let's hope he is sincere and represents current thinking of the Ministry of Communication.

Jose Luis Perdomo

Update 3/26/2015

The US delegation visited the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Foreign Investment plus ETECSA, UCI & ISPJAE.

Update 3/31/2015

We are starting to see some reaction to the US delegation to Cuba. Reuters reports that Cuba said they are committed to getting "Web" access to 50% of the households by 2020 and a US representative said that "as long as the Cubans create an environment that's attractive to investment ... and attractive to the delivery of services, I believe those services will reach the island." (Does that mean Cuba wants 50% international Internet access)?

A post on the Havana Times blog asserts that the fix was in from the start and Cuba will hand over telecommunication to the US.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cuban apps in Google's (or anyone else's) online store?

A Google delegation, led by Scott Carpenter, Deputy Director of Google Ideas, and Brett Perlmutter, who had accompanied Eric Schmidt on his Cuban visit earlier this year, is in Cuba. They have visited two important technical universities and some of the Cuban Youth Computer Clubs.

At the University of Information Science, the Google representatives were asked about access to their developer's Web site. Evidently Google is required to block access to that site because the State Department lists Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism and the site contains encryption software. Hopefully Google will be able to open that site to Cuban programmers when the terrorist designation is reversed.

Students also asked whether games they had developed could be marketed through the Google Play store, and were told that was not possible at this time.

I find that a bit confusing, because it is my understanding that the US will now allow software imports from Cuba as long as the programs are produced by independent entrepreneurs and computer programmer is one of the jobs the Cuban government authorizes for self-employment.

There may be some problem with allowing Cubans to sell software through Google Play that I am not aware of, but, if that is not the case, this would seem like a quick, simple thing for Google to do. (I'll add it to my earlier posts on things Google might do in Cuba and things the Cuban government might do).

Netflix moved quickly to offer their service for sale in Cuba, and it seems that Google has an opportunity to kick off commerce in the other direction. While there is little chance of Netflix doing much business in Cuba at this time, Cuban Spanish language apps -- games or more serious things like medical or educational applications -- might sell well in the Play store.

Of course, the same applies to Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and any other company selling apps online.

Update 4/14/2015

Secretary of State Kerry has formally recommended rescinding Cuba's status as a state sponsore of terrorism. The president says he will act soon.

Assuming he follows the State Department recommendation, will that allow Google and others to list Cuban software and other content in online stores?

Will Google be able to provide Cuban programmers access to their development tools?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A drop in the Internet bucket -- big news or not?

Adonis Ortiz chats with his father, who lives in the U.S., using a free Wi-Fi network at a center run by famed artist Kcho, in Havana, (Desmond Boylan/Associated Press)

The Cuban artist Kcho received permission from the Cuban telecommunication monopoly ETECSA to provide free WiFi access to his Internet connection.

Cuba has many open WiFi hotspots, but this is different in two ways: it is authorized by the Cuban government and it provides access to the Internet, not the Cuban "intranet."

Users of the hotspot share a single 2mbps ADSL link so it must be slow when only one person is online and very slow when several are sharing the access point. By itself, one slow access point in the nation is essentially meaningless, but might it be the first of many?

I have suggested a number of low cost steps the Cuban government could take immediately if they are willing to open the Internet. For example -- how about rolling out WiFi access to satellite links throughout the nation?

Is this an isolated drop in the bucket or an indicator that ETECSA is willing to open the Internet? I suspect it is the former, but maybe ...

Update 3/13/2015

This is a photo of young people sharing the DSL link -- with this many users on line at one time, the service must be very slow -- nobody is watching Netflix.

Update 3/15/2015

Havana Times reported that the connection speed is only 500 kbps, not 2 mbps, the free WiFi connections have been available for nearly 3 months and they have been offering free Internet access at the center library for a year and a half.

Login instructions -- up to 15 simultaneous users

Since this is not a new development, why are they getting publicity now?

Kcho in the news -- why now?

Update 3/19/2015

Isbel Diaz Torres has written a post describing his experience using Kcho's shared link to the Internet. It is no surprise that it was too slow to be useful. In an hour and a half, the only thing he succeeded in doing was reading tweets. He was unable to post a tweet, use Gmail or Facebook, etc.

Needless to say, he found the experience frustrating and concluded the post saying:
The worst part of this isn’t the bad or non-existent service but the logic behind it. As you can see, access to the Internet isn’t presented as a right but as a hand-out, a gift that this magnate of the arts gives us, through a paternalistic, populist and opportunistic gesture towards those who do not have his privileges.
I am puzzled by this "event." It has garnered a lot of publicity -- I have seen more Google alerts and stories on this "breakthrough" than any event I can recall.

No doubt Kcho and anyone associated with the project knew in advance that the connection would be unusable. Does it have any significance? Why did Kcho do it and why did ETECSA allowed it?

Fidel Castro visits Kcho at the Romerillo Studio in January 2014. Photo:

Update 3/24/2015

As we see in the photo above, Kcho is supportive of and supported by the government of Cuba, yet he says the Cuban government should have no fear of the Internet. He does not fear an Arab-style "Cuban Spring." As he put it "Cuba is not North Africa."

This is reminiscent of the debate between Cuban leaders who feared the Internet in the 1990s and those who argued for embracing it. At that time, Raúl Castro argued against the Internet, stating that "glasnost which undermined the USSR and other socialist countries consisted in handing over the mass media, one by one, to the enemies of socialism."

Will he rectify that mistake?

Update 4/5/2015

WiFi access to the Internet was authorized and tested at Kcho's studio for a couple of months before they went public with a very successful publicity campaign. This seems to have been a trial balloon for similar WiFi access points and now ETECSA has announced that there will be more beginning in May -- "¡Viene la WiFi! Ahora sí."

I don't know any of the details like -- what it will cost (Kcho's access is free), whether it will be to the Internet or intranet, what the back--haul speed and latency will be, etc. This still feels like a drop in the bucket -- stay tuned.

Update 4/25/2015

ETECSA has expanded cell coverage and installed a public WiFi spot in in Sancti Spíritus. Unfortunately, they are still focused on SMS and phone calls and the WiFi backhaul is 2 mbps, which they say can be shared by 90 simultaneous users -- unusable.

I understand that this is a short term, interim step, but it is a drop in the bucket. I hope they experiment with other short-term technologies while planning long-term policy and technology.

Update 5/3/2015

ETECSA will increase the number of Internet access "Cyber Points" from 155 to over 300 by late this year. ETECSA Cyber Point access is slow and expensive -- I would be curious to know who the users are and how they are using it. That would be an interesting survey.

Update 5/23/2015

New free, public-access WiFi hotspots are coming on line in Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus.

I wonder how many hotspots ETECSA plans to roll out. I am not sure whether these sites offer access to the Internet or the Cuban intranet and I don't know about connection speed and latency either.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What might Google do in Cuba? Content? Infrastructure?

Commercially, Cuba is small potatoes to Google -- a mere 11 million potential users. But what of potential creators? Google is recruiting in another small nation, Israel -- will they be recruiting in Cuba some day?

The other day, a journalist who was writing an article on Cuba contacted me to ask what Google might do there in the short run. I referred him to an earlier post in which I had listed some short term steps, but I will add some speculation on production and hosting of domestic content and infrastructure here.


Cuba has a vibrant film-making community and revised relations with the US could lead to significant improvement. Netflix is open for business in Cuba. I don't think the current Cuban government would be willing to allow unfettered access to YouTube even if there were bandwidth to handle it, but I can see Google employing and supporting Cuban film makers.

YouTube has video production spaces in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London and São Paulo -- how about opening one in Havana?

I won't be surprised if I see Cuban content turning up on Netflix in the near future -- along with Cuban film and animation on YouTube.

Of course, Cuba is a largely untapped source of content beside cinematic video. For example, in an earlier post, I suggested that a free, well connected Cuba could be a rich source of online education and medical information.

Google has built a MOOC platform and offered MOOCS. In 2013, they announced a partnership called with edX that promised an open platform for hosting courses, but, over a year later, the Web site is unchanged. However, they have been contributors to open edX, the open source edX platform. Could Google host an open edX service for Spanish language courses developed by Cubans (and others)?

The same applies to medical information. Cuba has focused on medical research, training and practice since the time of the revolution and Infomed, their medical network, predates their connection to the Internet. Could Google provide hosting services or high speed connectivity to Infomed and Cuban universities?

On a recent trip to Cuba, Google executives told students at the University of Information Science that they could not sell applications they had developed in the Google Play store at this time.

I find that a bit confusing, because it is my understanding that the US will now allow software imports from Cuba as long as the programs are produced by independent entrepreneurs and computer programmer is one of the jobs the Cuban government authorizes for self-employment.

There may be some problem with allowing Cubans to sell software through Google Play that I am not aware of, but, if that is not the case, this would seem like a quick, simple thing for Google to do -- it would create a relationship between them and Cuban software developers.


That is fine for Cuban-produced content for export, but what about domestic consumption? The Cuban economy and infrastructure can not support video distribution today -- might Google contribute to Cuban infrastructure?

Google has data centers in many cities around the world, but it is hard to imagine them building one in today's Cuba, which has little power and very few Internet users. However, for the short term, they could invest to improve ETECSA's data center.

Google also has an interest in last mile wireless and, since necessity is the mother of invention, Cubans have a lot of experience with mesh Wifi LANs. Google might hire and learn from those folks.

Could they help with Cuban backbone infrastructure? Satellite and terrestrial wireless might be used for interim connectivity in rural areas, but what about Havana? Even if ETECSA were to allow it, there is no way Google could justify becoming a retail ISP in Havana, but might they provide wholesale backbone infrastructure as they have with Project Link in Kampala, Uganda where they have installed over 800km of fiber.

Kampala is a smaller, more densely populated city than Havana, but the GDP per capita in Cuba is ten times that of Uganda and only about 5% of the Ugandan population lives in Kampala while around 20% of Cubans are in Havana. Considering these rough figures plus Havana's advantages in health and education, Havana seems as good a place to invest as Kampala.

Havana's demographics look good, but there is one large problem -- a lack of competition. In Kampala, Google is a wholesale service provider not a retail competitor. The Internet Society lists 13 retail ISPs in Uganda, while Cuba has one, ETECSA. If Cuba is unwilling to forego ETECSA's monopoly in the retail ISP market, neither Google nor anyone else will make the sorts of investments needed to build a modern Internet.

Early this month, a US delegation headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy Daniel Sepulveda, will travel to Havana to work on greater Internet connectivity "to better support access to information for the Cuban people." While the ultimate goal is to better support the Cuban people (customers), the delegation will focus on finding out how and when the Cuban government/ETECSA wants to engage US companies interested in selling them equipment and services.

Charles Rivkin, assistant secretary of state says they have received comments from many US companies and the delegation's goal is to "see what is possible from the point of view of Cuba."

Josefina Vidal, who has been leading Cuban discussions with the US said they welcome US telecommunications companies to explore business opportunities, but there a lot questions. As I said in an earlier post, the ball is now in Cuba's court. Perhaps this delegation will learn what they plan to do with it.

Update 3/8/2015

Last week, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai said they would be expanding Project Link, installing fiber backbones "many more" African cities this year.

Update 3/16/2015

While Google has a vested interest in increasing the number of Internet users world wide, Cuba is not an easy place to do business -- The Heritage Foundation ranks their economy as one of the least free in the world, but they are taking steps to improve the business climate.

In March, 2014 the Cuban government formally acknowledged the importance of foreign investment to their economy and revised foreign investment regulations. Foreign investment is authorized in "all sectors except those dealing with the health and education of the population and the armed forces institutions, with the exception of their business systems."

Update 5/19/2015

Cuba recently announced a plan to bring Internet connectivity to all schools at all levels within three years and I made several suggestions for doing so in an earlier post. (I am full of free advice for the government of Cuba :-). Google could contribute to this effort in several ways. One would be in helping with a backbone network to connect the schools. I also suggested that the Cubans take a decentralized approach to building LANs at the schools, and Google could help with that effort -- perhaps using the hi-frequency wireless equipment they have been testing. Finally, the Cubans are talking about tablets for students -- Chromebooks would be better. The One Laptop per Child project has distributed laptops to over 2.4 million children -- how about One Chromebook per Child in Cuba?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

List of jobs that are eligible for self-employment in Cuba -- send in the clowns (and the programmers)

In a previous post I noted that the US will now allow imports of goods and services produced by Cuban entrepreneurs who are independent of the government. It turns out that the Cuban government has a list of 201 jobs that are authorized for self-employment and the list includes Computer Programmer -- leading me to wonder if we would be importing Cuban software and software services.

Another job that caught my eye was Retail Telecommunication Agent, which got be thinking about operators of local Internet-access businesses in rural areas -- perhaps using satellite links where terrestrial connectivity is not available.

But what of the other 199 jobs that are eligible for self-employment in Cuba -- might there be other exports? It turns out that the many of the jobs are providing local service -- small restaurant owner, nanny, barber etc. Others may produce small items which could be exported like ceramic pots or costume jewelry, but software was the only interesting exportable item I found.

But, the list is interesting in its own right, independent of tech or other exports. It is funny -- goofy. I got a kick out of reading it. On a more serious note, it says something about Cuban bureaucracy and the desire to micro-manage. It would have been fun to watch the process by which this list was defined.

We see frequent, optimistic reference to Cuba's desire to liberalize and move toward a market economy, but dealing with a government that would attempt to create such a list would be difficult.

For a little more insight into the frustration one experiences with bureaucracy in using the Internet in Havana, read this account by a visiting university student. It reminds me of the old Soviet Union saying "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." The Cuban Internet faces cultural as well as political and economic hurdles.

At any rate, although this is a little off-topic for this blog, here is the list of 201 jobs authorized for self-employment:*

Musical Instrument Tuning and Repair
Water Delivery
Construction Laborer
Animal Rental
Formal Wear Rental
Knife Grinder
Party Entertainer (clowns, magicians)
Mule Driver
Artisan (arts and crafts maker)
Mechanical Saw Operator (as in a sawmill)
Wagon or Pushcart Operator (to help move things)
Flower Bed Arranger
Mobile Hand Cart Hawker of Agricultural Products
Furniture Repairman
Collector and Payer of Bills
Operator of Children’s Fun Wagon Pulled by Pony or Goat
Buyer and Seller of Records (including CDs)
Used Book Seller
Builder/Seller/Installer of Radio and TV Antennas
Craftsman/Seller/Repairman of Wicker Furniture
Breeder/Seller of Pets
Window Glass Repair
Animal Caretaker
Public Bathroom Attendant
Caretaker of Elderly/Handicapped
Public Park Caretaker
Leather Tanner (except cows and horses)
Palm Tree Trimmer
Restaurant Owner (paladares)
Café Owner (cafetería)
Non-Alcoholic Beverage Seller (home delivery)
Café Owner (cafeteria, light snacks and beverages)
Street-based Seller of Food and Beverages
Charcoal Manufacturer/Seller
Wine Maker/Seller
Maker of Yokes, Harnesses and Rope for Oxen
Automobile Electrician
Building Superintendent
Book Binding
Electric Motor Rewiring
Animal Trainer
Flower Wreath Arranger
Button Coverer (wraps buttons in cloth, popular in the 50’s and 60’s)
Car washer/Oil Changer
Bus/Train/Taxi Stop Barker (calls out instructions to waiting passengers)
Engraver of Numbers
Blacksmith/Seller of Horseshoes and Nails
Trader of Scrap Metals
Driving Instructor
Sports Trainer (except martial arts and diving)
Clothes Washing/Ironing
Shining Shoes
Spark Plug Cleaner and Tester
Septic Tank Repairman and Cleaner
Make-up Artist
Refrigerator Mechanic
Typist and Copier
Miller of Grains
Audio Systems Installer/Operator
Tire Repair
Children’s Ride Operator
Parking Attendant (including for cars, bicycles)
Animal Groomer
Cleaning/Household Help
Car Painter
Furniture Painter and Polisher
House Painter
Sign Painter
Ornamental Fish Farmer
Plastic Covering Maker for IDs
Well Digger
Producer/Seller of Items Used in the Home (self-made or made by other selfemployed)
Producer/Seller of Rubber Accessories
Producer/Seller of Clay Goods (pots, planters, cookware)
Producer/Seller of Bricks and Tiles
Producer/Seller of Articles and Animals for Religious Use
Producer/Seller of Harnesses, Blankets, and Saddles
Producer/Seller of Costume Jewelry
Shoemaker/Shoe Salesman
Producer/Seller of Brooms and Brushes
Producer/Seller of Plaster Figurines
Grower/Seller of Ornamental Plants
Piñata Maker/Seller
Grower/Seller of Plants for Animal Feed and Medicinal Purposes
Music/Art Instructor
Shorthand, Typing, and Language Instructor
Computer Programmer
Metal Polisher
Collector/Seller of Natural Resources (i.e. sea shells)
Collector/Seller of Recyclables
Watch Repair
Leather Repair
Jewelry Repair
Bedframe Repair
Automobile Battery Repair
Bicycle Repair
Costume Jewelry Repair
Fence and Walkway Repair
Stove/Range Repair
Mattress Repair
Small Household Goods Repair
Office Equipment Repair
Electronic Equipment Repair
Mechanical and Combustion Equipment Repair
Eyeglass Repair
Sewing Machine Repair
Saddle and Harness Repair
Umbrella and Parasol Repair
Disposable Lighter Repair and Refill
Tutor (currently employed teachers not eligible)
Doll and Toy Repair
Art Restorer
Night Watchman or Building Doorman
Leather Craftsman
Accountant/Tax Preparation
Textile Dyer
Roaster (i.e. of peanuts, coffee)
Part-time Farm Laborer
Document Translator
Shearer (as in sheep)
Vegetable/Fruit Street Vendor (from fixed venues)
Shoe Repair
Contracted Employee of a Self-Employed
Event Planner (weddings, etc
Real Estate Broker
Repair of Measurement Instruments
Food Wholesaler
Food Retailer (in kiosks and farmers’ markets)
Room/Home Rental
Postal Agent
Telecommunications Agent (retail)
Building Construction Services
Car Body Remolding
Maker/Seller of Marble Objects
Maker/Seller of Soaps, Dyes
Iron Worker (grating for doors, windows)
Welder/Flamecutter (cutting with gas)
Maker/Seller of Aluminum Products
Maker/Seller of Non-Ferrous Metals
Floor Polisher
Repairer of Water Pumps
Space Rentals in One’s Home to Selfemployed
Insurance Agent
Maker/Seller of Food and Beverages in “China Town”
Private Construction Contractor (in the Havana “Old Town”)
Horse and Carriage Rides
Antique Dealer
Habaneras (women posing in colorful colonial attire)
Fortune Tellers
Folkloric Dancers
Mambises-style Musical Groups (traditional Cuban music)
Artificial Flowers Seller
Painters (who sell pictures in the street)
Dandy (man dressed in Colonial garb)
Hair Braider
Fresh Fruit Peeler
Dance Duo “Amor” (traditional Cuban dances)
Benny Moré Dance Team
Trained Dog Exhibitor
Musical Duo “Los Amigos” (popular music)
Extras (people in period dress)
Traditional Barber
Truck Driver
Station Wagon Driver
Small-Truck Driver
Bus Driver
Mini-Bus Driver
Taxi Driver
Handcar Operator (on rails)
Jeep Driver
Passenger Boat Operator
Motorcycle Driver
Three-Wheeled Pedal Taxi Driver
Cart Operator
Horse-Drawn Carriage Operator
Pedal Taxi Driver

* This list was taken from an appendix in a very interesting report -- "Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes" by Richard Feinberg. The list is dated September 26, 2013 and may have changed subsequently.

Update 3/11/2015

Cuban self employment is rising, but, as we have seen, the job categories are mostly domestic service jobs.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Can we now do a satellite access pilot in Cuba?

I have suggested short and long-run steps the government of Cuba could take if, as they claim, they wish to improve Internet access. One of my short-term suggestions was to allow private entrepreneurs to sell satellite Internet connectivity. (Retail telecommunications agent is one of the 201 jobs authorized for self employment).

The United States has now cleared the way for satellite Internet providers to serve Cuba and it has been reported that Vice Minister Gonzales Vidal said that the importation of the satellite equipment Alan Gross brought into the country is no longer prohibited.

If there is a school, clinic, Joven Club, etc. willing to try a satellite pilot, contact me -- I'm willing to seek a satellite provider in the US and will pay for the first years connectivity.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The US will allow imports from Cuba's nascent private sector -- will Cuba allow software exports?

Will Cuban programmers be allowed to sell software and do offshore programming and localization in the US and online?

Many people have asked me whether I expect the Cuban Internet to thrive after rapproachment with the US, and I tell them that is up to the Cubans -- the ball is in their court.

President Obama passed them another ball yesterday -- Cubans can now be paid for many goods and services exported to the US. (There is a list of exceptions to this broad policy).

My first reaction was a big grin -- I am more interested in what Cuba can sell in the US than I am in what US and other companies can sell in Cuba -- and I imagined Cuban companies and professionals offering high margin goods and services in the US.

But, Obama's offer is limited to "independent Cuban entrepreneurs" -- who are those entrepreneurs and what do they do? This report by Richard E. Feinberg lists the 201 self-employment job categories that were open to Cubans as of September 26, 2013 and it is a goofy list with jobs like three-wheeled pedal taxi driver (not to be confused with pedal taxi driver or horse-drawn cart operator). I'd advise you to check the list for laughs and also a glimpse into the Cuban bureaucratic mind.

Well, that was discouraging, but then I looked more closely at Feinberg's table grouping the 201 jobs into eight categories and one jumped off the page -- computer programmers were included in the "other" category along with clowns and magicians!

How did programmers get on this goofy list? Was it an oversight or an intended loophole for would-be app developers, Web site designers and developers, offshore programmers, software localizers, etc.?

There were 476,000 self-employed Cubans in December 2014 -- I wonder how many were computer programmers and how many more would apply for a self-employment license if software and software service export is actually allowed.

If any readers know any of these self-employed programmers, I would love to hear from them -- to hear what they are currently doing and what they would do if allowed to export to the US.

Programmers are close to my heart, but the Cuban economy can export much more than software. If Cuba is to take advantage of the offer President Obama has made, they must drop what Ted Hencken and Arch Ritter call the "internal Cuban embargo." The Cubans would be wise to adopt the economic and Internet reforms suggested by Hencken and Ritter if they hope to export more than artisan crafts, pottery and religious articles.

Update 2/19/2015

Official daily Juventud Rebelde said participants in the forum stressed the need to "promote exports of computer services and products, establish business models among telecommunications operators and providers, and foment the creation and development of state companies in harmony with non-state forms of management."

Update 2/20/2015

If Americans can now purchase goods and services from Cuba, can Cubans crowd-fund projects in the US? Cuban drummer YISSY raised €5,000 on Verkami, a Spanish crowd-funding site. Why not Cuban software projects (and everything else) on kickstarter?

Update 2/25/2015

I've posted the complete list of jobs eligible for self-employment -- it is goofy and funny, but it also says something about Cuban micro-management and bureaucracy.

Update 2/27/2015

Two excellent articles on the:

Update 4/29/2015

Cuban software exports will come from the nascent developer/startup community. I will have more to say on this in a future post, but for now, check out this Meetup group. The meetup is being organized by several former members of the Merchise software group and they are interested in software development, entrepreneurship, networking, venture capital, etc. etc. -- the sort of thing you would expect.

Latin American Freeware Festival 2015