Google Chairman Eric Schmidt doesn't stay put for long. After visiting North Korea and Myanmar last year to advocate for increased internet and mobile connectivity in those countries, Schmidt visited Cuba this week. As Cuban blog 14ymedio reported, Schmidt and a delegation of other former Googlers and open internet advocates (including Jared Cohen, co-author of a book with Schmidt), contacted them on Friday night and toured Cuba's University of Information Sciences in Havana yesterday. A Google spokesperson confirmed the visit with The Verge, saying Schmidt traveled with others to Cuba to promote a free and open internet, but declined to provide further details of the visit.
"No one took out their cellphones to check the web — it's not possible in Cuba."
It's unclear just how Schmidt and his delegation traveled to the island and through what legal channels. American citizens have been technically banned from spending money on the Communist island nation since the Cold War tensions of the 1960s, making travel there for Americans often prohibitively difficult. But there are a variety of ways around the restrictions, and the Obama Administration has sought to make it even easier for Americans to visit in recent years.
It's also unclear precisely what Schmidt and his colleagues did on their visit. According to Yoani Sanchez, a blogger who resides on the island and helped found 14ymedio, Schmidt and his fellow travelers visited her organization's offices and they mostly asked questions about life in Cuba. "No one took out their cellphones to check the web — it's not possible in Cuba — and it didn't occur to anyone to show us the latest doodle, nor to tell us in figures the scale of the company in which they work," Sanchez wrote in The Huffington Post, describing the visit.
But Schmidt has been public about his desire to visit Cuba since last year, and it would make sense for him to go as part of his and Google's broader mission to show the utility of the internet to repressive regimes and ideally, get more people online. Only 3 percent of Cuba's population uses the internet, according to government statistics. The Cuban government has recently made attempts to increase local internet access, activating fiber optic cables from Cuba to Jamaica and Venezuela, and opening over 100 new internet cafes. Still, internet access remains prohibitively expensive for most people in the country.