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Cuban Tech News: Silicon Valley Hopes for Tech Revolution in Communist Island

First Posted: May 11, 2015 04:54 PM EDT

Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are hoping to quickly take advantage of the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba and take their technology to "the island's Internet-hungry populace," the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt went to Havana last summer to call for an end to the U.S. embargo against the Cuban regime and urged President Raúl Castro to "empower the citizens with smartphones." 

Airbnb and Netflix, for their part, are already benefitting from the Obama administration's relaxation of trade restrictions and are doing business on the Caribbean island.

Even Apple has said that it can now sell some consumer products to Cubans, though the world's largest company by market capitalization declined to identify which devices would be sold.

Speaking at a recent Latin American summit, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, noted that expanding the social network to Cuba "definitely fits within our mission." His company also hosted a private "Code for Cuba" hackathon at its California headquarters late last month, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The event was attended by attended several dozen programmers, including Horacio Núñez, a 26-year-old Cuban software engineer.

"Cuba is a huge, huge market," said Núñez, who graduated from Cuba's computer science university and now lives in San Francisco, where he works for a technology startup. "They have 11 million people, and they are crazy about iPhones, even though they don't have connections to the Internet," the young immigrant explained.

But for the time being, the Communist nation is still in a " technological dark age," wrote Ramphis Castro, founder of Mindchemy, on Re/code

"Its communication systems, in particular, are almost as ancient as the Packards and Hudsons that putter around Havana," he explained. 

Owning a computer was illegal until eight years ago and the Castro regime continues to censor the country's Internet. The island's mobile phone penetration is the lowest in Latin America, Castro also added.

"Internet in Cuba is like the Internet you had when Netscape was battling Internet Explorer," Núñez agreed as he referenced the slow, dial-up era of the 1990s. "You can't use Skype. There's no cloud. I used to carry a hard drive with all the books I could find," he added.

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