A new ‘Google search’ is going on in Cuba

HAVANA — High executives and engineers of the U.S. Internet giant Google Inc. are in Havana and nearby cities.

Although apparently they’ve tried to keep a low profile, news of the presence of Scott Carpenter, director of Free Expression/Google Ideas; Brett Perlmutter, an executive of that division, and other company experts sampling the Cuban reality has spread here like wildfire.

Scott Carpenter, director of Free Expression/Google Ideas.
Scott Carpenter, director of Free Expression/Google Ideas.

Their visit adds a new chapter to the history that Google created in Cuba after its executive chairman, Eric E. Schmidt, visited the island in June 2014, accompanied by Perlmutter and others.

On that visit, a photograph made near the Almendares River revealed that the American executives toured state-run companies devoted to computer use, such as CITMATEL, which provides Internet service to the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.

The headquarters of CITMATEL, the company that assigns “.cu” (Cuba) domains, has a penthouse with a spectacular view, which Schmidt took advantage of to take a “selfie” that he later shared in his Google Plus profile.

Brett Perlmutter, Google executive.
Brett Perlmutter, Google executive.

Officials of CITMATEL recall that the Google representatives said they were amazed by the variety of services provided by the Cuban company despite its antiquated and insufficient technology. Although there was no talk about business, the mere idea of associating with the giant corporation set some Cubans dreaming. But the image so far has been a sigh — “could it happen?”

On this occasion, the panel of executives seems to be exploring other territory. Progreso Weekly learned that the Americans have met several times with private computer entrepreneurs, an emerging sector that has limited potential due to the tight regulation of entrepreneurship but has created remarkable applications for cell phones, such as Isladentro (a travel platform) and Alamesa (a gastronomy platform).

The focus of these meetings would be fully organic with the new policy toward Cuba begun by the Obama administration on Dec. 17, aimed at “empowering” the actors in civilian society.

It can’t be coincidence that the two highest Google leaders whose presence here has been confirmed are executives of Google Ideas, the branch that “explores how technology can enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict, instability or repression,” according to its mission statement.

A less-political scenario

Cuba has 11,000 TIC professionals (Computer Information Technology), a large number of whom are computer school graduates able to design and create information systems.

Although a considerable number of them have emigrated in the past two years to countries where they can better develop their careers — Ecuador, Canada, Paraguay or the United States — there remain in Cuba enough reserves of qualified human capital to participate with U.S. companies in the development of applications.

To demonstrate its good will, Google could permit Cuban programmers to access its code platform, a facility that’s available to most users worldwide.

According to professors at the University of Computer Sciences, access to that source would really help close the technological gap created in Cuba by the U.S. blockade/embargo.

If Google is really interested in Cuban entrepreneurs, it could lobby in Washington to unblock the access of freelancers to platforms that manage projects and facilitate payments to independent developers, who are currently barred from the IP’s installed in Cuba.

That is, if politics were no part of the current trip.

Google Ideas has the tools to facilitate freedom of expression, to improve the processes for the drafting of laws and constitutions, and also to interrupt illegal networks, among other tools.

Google is involved in major projects to provide broad-band satellite Internet service to poor countries — the so-called O3b (Other 3 billion) network, which will place 20 satellites on an equatorial orbit to cover all space from Nicaragua to New Zealand.

Clearly, Google is one of the most advanced candidates to open channels and position itself in a land where the United States wishes to promote change. Even if right now it’s just looking for ways.

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