Brett Perlmutter, head of Google in Cuba (right), poses for a selfie with Cuban sculptor Kcho (Associated Press)
Silicon Valley has officially invaded Cuba. Cuban sculptor Alexis Leiva Machado, better known as Kcho, has helped Google open a small “technology center” in Havana that offers free internet via Chromebooks, complete with those goofy cardboard VR headsets.
The opening is a small but vitally important victory for both Google and the US State Department, both of whom would love to see US tech firms provide internet services on the island nation.
Brett Perlmutter, head of Google’s Cuban operations, has been courting the country along with other Google execs since at least June of 2014. Notably that was months before President Obama’s surprise announcement (a surprise to the American public, at least) in December of 2014 that the US would begin to normalize relations with the country.
The new technology center is opened to the press for a media event on March 21, 2016 (Associated Press)
As the Associated Press notes, the connection at the new Google “technology center” is provided by Cuba’s national telecom company. It wasn’t clear who financed the new high-speed fibre connection, though Kcho told the AP he paid for it himself without providing specifics.
Curiously, the new Google technology center also dons the logos of companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Instagram, and Apple’s Safari browser.
The exterior of Kcho’s studio, which as been converted into a Google “technology center” (Associated Press)
Previously the US ran covert tech operations in Cuba, introducing “Cuban Twitter” from 2009 until 2012 with the aim of stirring a revolution. The messaging service, known as ZunZuneo (Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet), was secretly financed by the US Agency of International Development and only became public after an investigation by the Associated Press.
But the State Department and Silicon Valley no longer need to force their way into the relatively isolated communist country. They have been let in the front door, thanks to the slow but significant normalization of relations with Cuba.
Google is still standing in the foyer, but they will no doubt be invited into Cuba’s dining room, basement, and bedroom in short order.
Google’s small technology center in Havana (Associated Press)