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 the rapprochement 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.

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:

More examples here

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

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