Despite Internet access on the island of Cuba not being widespread, many of its citizens have interacted with international content for many years through the “el paquete semanal” (translation: “the weekly package”). This collection of news, magazines, music, series episodes, Brazilian soap operas, Japanese animations, and even advertisements, is delivered to the homes of its subscribers inside an external recording device for a price that can vary from 1 to 10 dollars. Once in possession of the files, buyers can in turn charge a reduced price to pass them on to neighbors and family or share the content for free, creating something like an offline Internet.
One of the countries with the lowest levels of connectivity in the world, a very small proportion of Cuba's population, estimated at 10%, has access to some form of Internet that on top of everything is censored by the government. Connections from residences are almost non-existent, and the average speed of access available is equivalent to that of Brazil in the 1990s. Only luxury hotels and high-cost access points have fast lines like those we imagine as defining the Internet in the twenty-first century.
With Obama's gradual approach to the country and the death of Fidel Castro, changes in certain areas of the island were expected, particularly in what concerns technology, and the first effects – ironically perhaps the last in case Trump changes drastically US foreign policy – are already starting to be felt. On December 12, 2016, Google entered into an agreement with the state telecommunications monopolist, Etecsa, and agreed to the installation of the company's servers in the country.
While the movement may initially seem of interest to Cuban citizens, there is no provision for expanding access to the network. These servers will serve to increase speed and decrease latency in that region for Google products such as Gmail or Youtube, but in general the state of the Internet should not be affected far beyond the possibility of better viewing a given video by a portion of the already privileged population with Internet access technology.
Certainly, this is not the limit of the company's ambitions in Cuban territory. We could understand this as a first foray, aiming to establish territory before the competition, so that as soon as the government signals interest in expanding its telecommunications infrastructure, Google is already in a good position to do the work.
Nor is it possible to discard that the government has good reason to fear the formal entry of the Internet into its territory in light of the global espionage project pursued by the United States and denounced by now-refugee Edward Snowden. It is hard to believe that the US would not take advantage of this increased infrastructure to monitor activities in Cuba intensively, and we can take it for granted that this factor weighs heavily on government calculations.
In any case, this is an expressive step in inter-American relations, and points to the idea that Obama's foreign policy is effectively achieving repercussions on the island with which the United States has had problems for decades. It remains to be seen whether Trump, a self-proclaimed "businessman", will know how to take advantage of this new perspective, in spite of the pressure he would suffer from his support base.