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Photo by Tricia Johnson

Problem and opportunity

With the thawing of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, the opportunity is ripe for increased engagement in support of Cuba’s ongoing development. These opportunities will be accompanied by challenges, including the sensitivities of the Cuban government, ancient infrastructure, and a lack of coordination. There is a need to balance exploration of opportunities with concerns from the Cuban government to allay fears of cultural dilution. Experience has shown that digital technology has been one of the most promising means to advance the following sectors in other parts of the world, but Cuba’s unique history and recent isolation present special challenges. To that end, the ICT4Cuba research consists of a needs assessment and landscape analysis of the ways in which digital technology is being used and upgraded, as well as suggestions for next steps. The research is focused on three areas of particular importance in contemporary Cuba:

Arts and culture: Cuba has a rich and unique cultural heritage, shaped by its history and years of isolation. The ICT4Cuba Arts and Culture team focused on current uses in ICT as well as opportunities for ICT within the Cuban art world. They also explored the differences between the formal and informal art sectors. The research was gathered through interviews, site visits, and observations of various art spaces within Havana: theaters, museums, clubs, artist studios, galleries, workshops, and community art spaces. The research team conducted 25 formal interviews at 15 sites throughout Havana. Interviewees included PR teams, ballet dancers, visual and performing artists, musicians, and promoters, among others. Artists were asked about their work, the opportunities and challenges they face, and the use of ICT in the promotion and creation of their art.

Sustainable agriculture: The ICT4Cuba Agriculture team set out to analyze the current ICT landscape in the agriculture sector, focusing on small-scale production and agro-tourism. Farms were selected quasi-randomly based on defined selection criteria: their ability to and frequency with which they interact with foreigners. This interaction is assumed to provide them with an increased opportunity to access phones and information about the Internet. The team conducted 15 interviews at 10 field sites across western Cuba. Farmers were asked a series of questions about their crops, production process, relationship to the food system (and the State), and their use of information or communication technologies in daily life and in the production process. All information following was collected via an extensive literature review, expert interviews, and site visits.

Health: As Cuba’s economy opens and the embargo loosens, Cuba is sure to see an increase in technology in the public health space. The research on ICT for health focuses on the opportunities for technology to fill much-needed gaps within supply chain management and to help improve systematic efficiencies. The ICT4Cuba Health team also explored the risks of introducing this technology into a system that has been a driver of innovation and has thrived despite being largely been sheltered from external technology. The Cuban healthcare system is built around a pillar of doctor-patient relations that could be threatened by the introduction of technology that depersonalizes interactions. How will the Cuban healthcare system be shaped by technology? And will it be for better or for worse? The research was carried out through informal interviews with 8 health professionals and 10 site visits across Western Cuba.

Limitations

This research team spoke with a relatively small, specialized, non-random sample of Cuban citizens. The research provides an in-depth baseline analysis of ICT in three sectors. Rather than an end-product, this Wiki provides a starting point for further research. The ICT landscape in Cuba is rapidly changing, and this is a snapshot from the spring of 2016.