Cuba and Computer Technology
By Manuel E. Yepe
Exclusive for the daily POR ESTO! of Merida, Mexico.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
After several years of U.S. military occupation, Cuba lived a period as a pseudo-independent republic under U.S. tutelage. The island served as a model semi-colony that would attract former Spanish possessions already independent and new acquisitions to be captured for that status.
During that period, until the triumph of the liberating revolution in 1959, Cuba experienced technological advances propitiated by North American companies. They used the introduction of infrastructural and technological advances for their own expansion and for experimental and advertising purposes. That was why Cuba became the leader in Latin America in terms of the introduction and diffusion of new technologies in the mass media and telecommunications.
One of the first objectives of the revolutionary process begun in 1959 in Cuba had to be the extension of public services throughout the country. Sectors such as electricity and the mass media received a high priority in order to extend their coverage to almost the entire population of the island.
This was not the case with telephone service, which was not identified as a priority sector in the same way as radio, television and the print media, considered to be of greater social significance. It is estimated that until the early 1990s, around 40% of telephone installations were manufactured in North America before 1960. Its infrastructure became obsolete and without authentic spare parts because of the blockade imposed by the United States and showed problems of compatibility with the technology of countries that could dodge it to trade with the Island.
From 1959 to 1994, telecommunications in Cuba fell below the level of the other Latin American countries. National security and defense issues had to be given high priority in the face of constant aggressiveness by Washington and its agencies of terrorist subversion and domination.
Paradoxically, the situation changed substantially when the U.S. Congress passed the Torricelli Act (“Cuban Democracy Act”) in 1992. It reinforced the policy of trade sanctions against the island in “Track One” but, in “Track Two”, supposedly favored the democratization of Cuba through an active policy of promoting communications and contacts with the island. It explicitly included the lifting of sanctions on telephone and postal communications.
Cuba had denounced this “Track Two” as a weapon of ideological subversion in Washington’s war against the island. But the Cuban government did not put obstacles in the way of the re-establishment of telephone communications between the two countries.
Finally, in October 1994, the US Federal Communications Commission gave the green light for the agreements that Cuba had negotiated with a number of U.S. telephone companies on the distribution of revenue from calls. On November 25, 1994, direct telephone communication between the two countries was officially reopened.
Due to the imperative of its reintegration into the capitalist world economy, Cuba had to carry out a restructuring of its productive apparatus including a greater opening to foreign investment. Cuba had to modernize its telecommunications, an enormous task given the existing infrastructure backlog and, above all, the tight economic and financial blockade that it still suffers to this day.
The Cuban government, placed great hopes in information technology since 1964, when Che Guevara, Minister of Industry, inaugurated an automation department. In 1969, the Center for Digital Research was founded. In 1970, the Center built the first Cuban computer, the so-called “CID-201”.
As a result of bilateral agreements of 1973 and 1976, the USSR committed itself to supporting Cuba in the creation of a computer industry, and in 1978 the first computer assembly plant on the island came into service. In 1980, the Second Congress of the Communist Party stressed the need to encourage the development of information technologies, and in 1982 an automated national and international data exchange centre was created.
In 1983, the first international satellite connection was established, giving Cuba access to some 50 Soviet data banks. In August 1994, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. (ETECSA) was created as a monopoly for fixed telephony, with the character of a public limited company and a mixed company.
Cuba’s official adhesion to the Internet took place in October 1996. In 1999, the National Information Policy was formulated. It took up Strategic Guidelines and the Program for the Informatization of Society, announcing their technological convergence in the same Ministry of Electronics, Informatics and Telecommunications.
September 17, 2018.