Google Makes Internet Freedom Visit to Cuba

By Tom Risen June 30, 2014 | 10:52 a.m. EDT

Google and its executive chairman Eric Schmidt are pushing the Cuban government to increase Internet freedom in the country.

Google and its executive chairman Eric Schmidt are pushing the Cuban government to increase Internet freedom in the country.

Only 2.6 million of 11.2 million living in Cuba have Internet access, with many of the access points run by the government or hotels for wealthy foreigners. Google wants to change that, so top executive Eric Schmidt is visiting Cuba with a team to pressure the Cuban government for a more open Internet, according to Cuban dissident blog The translated report of the story is found in Reuters.

The Google delegation in Havana met with students and was given a tour of Havana’s University of Information Sciences on Saturday, according to 14ymedio. Cuba’s government often seeks to repress and discredit critics of the Communist state, including 14ymedio, by labeling them foreign-paid propagandists.

Google has been a voice for greater Internet openness in nations with strict laws on digital speech, in part hoping for more Internet users to become customers of their online suites of products. Schmidt also visited Myanmar in 2013 to discuss Internet freedom after that nation enacted free speech reforms after decades of military dictatorship

The U.S. has an embargo in place with Cuba that restricts trade relations with the island nation except for humanitarian aid including food and medicine, which has been in place since 1963. That Cold War chill between Cuba and the U.S. has begun to thaw in recent years. A growing chorus of politicians, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are calling for an end to the embargo as a means to reboot relations with that country as the influence of the Communist nation’s founding leader Fidel Castro wanes along with his health.

Cuban-American voters are also evenly split on whether to end the embargo, according to a recent poll of 1, 000 people by Florida International University. Approximately 51 percent of registered Cuban-American voters want to keep the U.S. embargo, 49 percent are against it, and 71 percent reported that it does not accomplish American interests.

The embargo can only be completely lifted with approval of Congress but the Obama administration in 2009 used executive power to allow relaxed travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans to visit their families in the island nation. Cuban leader Raul Castro has also allowed broader use of cellphones in his country in 2008.