Change in Action: Cuba, How a Nation Comes Online

Social Media Week

Social Media Week is a leading news platform and worldwide conference that curates and shares the best ideas and insights into social media and technology's impact on business, society, and culture.



A month ago, I had the pleasure to join a unique bilingual panel as part of Social Media Week Miami — one consisting of a Cuban-born journalist for Univision, a telecommunications analyst, a nonprofit leader trying to connect Cubans to the Internet, a blogger from Cuba, a sociologist and scholar on Cuban Internet use, and I, a U.S. government official — brought together to discuss how Cuba comes online.

That, in and of itself, is change.  It is progress.  The event was a forward-looking, informative, and respectful conversation filled with hope. Before President Obama’s change in policy toward Cuba this conversation would have been impossible.

The Univision reporter, Gloria Ordaz, is Cuban-born and an embodiment of the American dream, having migrated here and risen to a position of public and local prominence as a well-known and highly-respected member of the press.  She moderated the conversation in expert fashion, ensuring everyone had a chance to speak and that the dialogue stayed on topic.

Sean Goforth, a telecommunications analyst with a deep expertise in Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, detailed the poor state of connectivity on the island.  He explained that for Cuba to make headway toward the connectivity goals set by the Cuban government, it must enable and encourage a massive investment in its communications infrastructure.

Raul Moas, a nonprofit leader with Roots of Hope, is an advocate for connectivity of disenfranchised communities everywhere. He talked about the importance of connectivity to the average Cubans, whether for personal enrichment or to promote the success of a small business.

Carlos Alberto Perez, an independent blogger from Cuba, talked about how Cubans are creatively making the most of the access they have.  He talked about the complex system for distributing thumb drives on the island; these drives contain information downloaded from the internet as well as news and entertainment.  The access to this information is helping ordinary Cubans create a new economy.

Finally, Ted Henken, a scholar and expert on Cuba talked about the potential paths forward for Cuba, its government, and its people as it relates to access to the Internet.  Again, while noting that nothing is certain, he clearly laid out that there is reasonable room for hope.

A young man in the audience, Alejandro Gonzalez, a Cuban-born graduate of Georgetown University, closed our conversation. He is working out of Miami as an entrepreneur with the goal of helping to make 14ymedio, a media startup in Cuba, a viable enterprise and the news source of record on Cuba–related issues.  It is in his interest, our interest, and the island’s interest that he succeeds. The people and institutions that care about the future of the island and the potential for open discourse on it should help him and others like him succeed.

I grew up in Florida.  I fully respect, understand, and sympathize with the concerns and objections that some in our Cuban-American community hold relative to the restrictions on the exercise of fundamental human rights on the island.  But as the President has said, and the vast majority of Americans, Cubans, and regional leaders believe, a time for a change in policy was long overdue.  My personal experience since his announcement leaves me with the impression that our Cuban counterparts in the government are open to a dialogue. They want their island connected to the rest of the world through modern communications infrastructure; and are willing to engage in an exchange of views on how to ensure that access is achieved in a manner consistent with internationally agreed upon human rights.

While in Miami, I was asked if I was sure that this dialogue, change in policy, and effort would succeed.  I responded that I wasn’t positive, but I was hopeful.  We are already seeing real progress, and only through considered discourse and exchange can we examine our differences, identify potential common interests, and look toward the future instead of remaining mired in a stalemated past.

I am proud and honored to have been a part of the dialogue in Miami and look forward to working with all interested parties toward a Cuba that is fully brought online.

About the Author: Daniel Sepulveda is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.



Want to write for Social Media Week?

We're looking for individuals around the globe to contribute articles on marketing, media, technology, and more.