When he visits next month, President Barack Obama will be the first sitting president in 90 years to visit Cuba. You can quickly use Google to double-check that fact, unless, that is, you live in Cuba, a country where internet access has been buffering since the ‘90s. Here’s how Obama’s trip might help change that.
In September, Obama eased up on telecom restrictions making it possible for internet providers to get a meaningful web infrastructure in Cuba for the very first time. But Cuba has been reticent, and the country continues to have one of the lowest connectivity rates in the world. At most, only 25 percent of Cubans have access to the internet in any form and what connections they do have are luxuries on the average $20 per month salaries. That scarcity fuels a thriving black market where USB drives loaded with middling television dramas are purchased in the secrecy of a media dealer’s dank apartment. One advantage, as Connect Cuba’s Jose Luis Martinez told Inverse in September, is Cuba is one of the last great blank slates with no old infrastructure to tear down to make way for the great leap forward.
But still Cuba is dragging its feet, either over concern for what its citizens will be exposed to or just misunderstanding. After meeting twice with Cuban officials in Havana, Daniel Sepúlveda, the U.S. point man working to get telecom into the country, told The Miami Herald that “at this point, the biggest thing that is missing is trust.”
Depending on who takes over Obama’s job on January 20, 2017, Cuba’s gridlock could put its people in the position of hoping Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or, yes let’s face it, Donald Trump, will be able to open relations. You have to believe that’s a job Obama would rather finish himself.