Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) has opened its first technology center in West Havana, Cuba, open five days a week and closing at midnight. While Cuba does have around sixty internet access points across the island, the Google center is a marked improvement in speed and technology quality. Stocked with Chromebooks and Google Cardboard virtual reality systems, the center currently houses up to 40 people but the hope is that more will open across Cuba as well as expand the current one in West Havana. With the thaw in American-Cuban relations creating new norms in the country, a technological expansion, with US companies in the center of it, is imminent.
Before the embargo was lifted, bringing newer technology from the United States posed unique challenges to the Cuban nation. As the import of American goods was impossible, many Cubans relied on the shoddy internet access provided by the roughly 60 internet hotspots around the island. However, for a nation of 11 million, this has proven both unwieldy and time consuming. In a world where access is as simple as unlocking your phone, the access to information the rest of the world takes for granted is rare in Cuba. The Google center will hopefully change all of that.
However, with the freedom of information comes the freedom to rebel. The Cuban government has loosened restrictions in some years but the power of the internet has often provided the tools for insubordination. During President Obama’s visit to the country, protests against the undemocratic regime of the Castro family were suppressed, but with newer access to the web this may change. The lifting of the embargo will bring about fundamental change to Cuba, of this there is no doubt. The question is whether that change will come about from the streets or in the corners of someone’s home, all with the push of a button.