Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chinese technology companies in Cuba -- what are they doing?

Jennifer Hernandez of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami has posted a note on her research on Chinese Technology Companies in Cuba.

She notes that "through bilateral trade agreements, China has been expanding its sphere of influence," and looks at the activities of two large Chinese telecommunication equipment companies, Huawei and ZTE. Much of her emphasis is on surveillance and she concludes that "China’s transfer of technology to Cuba does not necessarily benefit Cubans. Instead China seems to be equipping the island’s information technology infrastructure with systems that can potentially spy on Cubans."

Internet surveilance is pretty well taken for granted in Cuba and China, and it is deplorable, but I wonder about the up side. Are Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies also building Internet infrastructure in Cuba?

China was instrumental in installing the ALBA-1 undersea cable between Cuba and Venezuela, but what about infrastructure on the Island? We have spoken earlier of the mismatch between the speed of the undersea cable and the obsolete domestic Internet infrastructure -- the cable is strong link in a weak chain.

That fact had to be understood before work began on the cable, but it went forward regardless. It may be wishful thinking, but I hope Cuba will use the resources and expertise of Huawei and ZTE to strengthen that weak chain by, say, building a Cuban backbone or working to connect key sectors like education and healthcare -- even if they keep an eye on the users.
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