Díaz-Canel meets with CEOs of US high-tech companies

Cuban state media has described as ‘informative and fruitful’ a meeting held in New York between President Díaz-Canel and the heads of many of the US’ leading informatics and communications companies.

The meeting with Cuba’s President, who was in the city to attend the UN General Assembly, was co-ordinated by Eric Schmidt, the former Executive Director of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and Brett Perlmutter, who oversees Google projects in Cuba. Mr Schmidt is now Google’s technical adviser.

During the encounter at Google’s headquarters in New York, Díaz-Canel spoke about the possibilities that Cuba has for start-ups to utilise the skills of the large number of IT graduates that the country now has. He also discussed Cuba’s own advances in the IT field, and the priority the country is placing on developing an internet enabled society. Cuban reports additionally said that Cuba’s President spoke about the role the internet and informatics could play in helping advance developing countries, as well as the opportunities that are opening for informatics collaboration in Cuba’s advanced biotechnology research. El Nuevo Herald reported that participants discussed improving Cuban mobile access to the internet.

The meeting in New York followed a visit to Havana in June by Eric Schmidt to discuss, among other matters, the possibility of connecting Cuba to one or more offshore underwater communications cables that pass close to the island (Cuba Briefing 11 June 2018). Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who was also present, said that the two sides were close to an agreement.

Cuba’s telecommunications company ETECSA, recently carried out tests on mobile connectivity to the internet but encountered instability across large parts of its systems because of poor infrastructure (Cuba Briefing 24 September 2018).

Although Cuba has been moving slowly towards a deeper relationship with US informatics companies, it remains concerned about issues relating to national security. It is, however, trying to balance this with the efficiencies that could be gained from an internet enabled and connected society. It believes that there is commercial potential in developing ventures that utilise the services of the country’s highly trained IT graduates to provide offshore support to US or other international corporations. It hopes eventually to roll out training and support the creation of information societies, possibly through international partnerships, in the many developing countries where it currently offers health care and education programmes.

Those present at the meeting in New York included senior figures from Google, VaynerMedia, Connectify, Mapbox, McKinsey and Company, Virgin Group, AirBnB, Revolution, Twitter, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Udacity and Cresta, according to various media reports. Cuba’s President was accompanied to the meeting by Bruno Rodríguez, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Rodrigo Malmierca, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment; and Jorge Luis Perdomo, the Minister of Communications.

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