aNewDomain — Two days ago, on October 27, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution urging the United States to end its economic embargo of Cuba. The resolution condemning the embargo passed by a vote of 192-2, which is ten countries more than last year’s vote of 182-2 because no nations abstained this year. Only Israel and the U.S. voted “no.”
Since President Obama opposes the embargo, the U.S. asked for revisions to the draft resolution that would allow it to abstain from voting. Evidently the revisions offered were insufficient and the U.S. voted “no.” I looked at the section on telecommunication and, if the rest of the resolution was as far off base as that section, I understand the U.S. decision to vote against it.
After the vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez acknowledged Cuba’s new relationship with the U.S., but added that “the facts show crystal clear” that the embargo is still being “fully and completely implemented.”
Rodriguez’s claim is unfair. The Obama administration has removed meaningful restrictions that have already had an impact. But that sort of one-sided rhetoric is endemic in politics. So are the overstated telecommunications claims in the resolution, which I’ll dissect below.
Cuba’s Telecommunication Claims
Last June, Cuba issued a report that argued against the embargo, claiming that it has cost the Cuban people $833.7 billion — $57,122,900 of that in the sector of “communications and informatics, including telecommunications.”
I looked at the telecommunication claims. The first dealt with infrastructure:
In the area of telecommunications, the export of products and services to Cuba has been authorized as well as funding for the creation of infrastructure facilities. Its principal limitation is the requirement of paying in cash and in advance, even when foreign or U.S. banks based outside of the United States are now able to provide financing for these purchases. This is incongruous with international trade practices where this type of payment is not used and companies provide loans to the buyer in order to ensure the sale of their products and services. The possibility of carrying out these operations becomes more complicated because of the banks being worried about making transactions related to Cuba due to the policy of financial harassment applied under the government of President Obama.”
I’ll abstain from commenting on the financial regulations and customs, because I don’t know about them, but I will point out that the U.S. is not the only telecommunication infrastructure supplier in the world. Most notably, China has provided a lot of Cuban telecommunication infrastructure.
The second claim is that the embargo has violated Cuba’s right to development:
In the sector of communications and informatics, including telecommunications, there were adverse effects recorded in the period that totaled 57,122,900 dollars. Losses associated with revenues not earned and for the geographical relocation of business of the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA S.A. for its acronym in Spanish) add up to over 38 million dollars due to the impossibility of accessing leading, high quality brands and/or equipment on the telecommunications market distributed by US entities. For similar reasons, the Cuban firm Copextel, dedicated to supplying and repairing telecommunications equipment, suffered losses of 2.5 million dollars.
The blockade continues to be the principal obstacle to development of infrastructure in Cuba that would allow for improved access to the Internet. The US is the worldwide emporium for informatics technologies and it exercises hegemonic control over the network of networks. Because it is subject to the laws of the Federal Communications Commission and the US Department of State, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAN) that provides IP addresses and names to the rest of the world is limited in terms of the services it can provide to Cuba.
Despite visits to Cuba of senior Google executives and the marked interest in bringing their products and services into the Cuban market, the blockade still prevents the use of unrestricted services and applications such as Google Chrome, Google Analytics and Google Play Store.”
I have several problems with this:
- They say it is impossible to access “leading, high quality brands,” but they have done considerable business with Huawei and others. (Cisco will be happy to hear that Huawei is not a leading, high quality brand.)
- They seem to believe that the FCC and U.S. State Department have limited ICAN (sic) in providing services to Cuba. I’d like to know which services have been withheld and how removing the embargo would change ICAN’s policy.
- U.S. regulations allow Cuban mobile apps to be sold in the Google Play Store (and any other venue), but Google has not yet authorized that.
- Google will, however, list free Cuban apps in the Play Store. More importantly, the Google executives mentioned above offered (unspecified) free Internet infrastructure to Cuba and the offer was refused. I think it is safe to say that Google, like Huawei, is a world class Internet infrastructure company.
These are relatively specific points, but they are subsumed in the general statement that:
The blockade continues to be the principal obstacle to development of infrastructure in Cuba that would allow for improved access to the Internet.”
The embargo is only one obstacle faced by the Cuban Internet — the claim overlooks the impact of the Cuban economy and the government’s fear of information freedom. The impact of the embargo and the poor state of the Cuban economy on the Internet have diminished over time — I am not sure about government fear.
This will be the 24th annual vote on resolutions calling for the end of the embargo. Last year, only the U.S. and Israel voted no. And, even with President Obama in favor of ending the embargo, the U.S. voted no once again.
It’s not clear when the embargo will end, but at this moment it seems that Cuba will have to lay the groundwork for a more truthful claim, or provide harder evidence for its current claim.
Featured image: Screenshot courtesy UN Photo/Cia Pak, All Rights Reserved
Body image: Report by Cuba courtesy UN