The emerging FOSS revolution in Cuba

Cuba is the rough diamond of the western-southern hemisphere. Intentionally neutered by almost 50 years of U.S. foreign policy, Cuba has still been able to create one of the world's highest literacy rates, provide free health care to all its citizens, and exports more doctors than any other nation. Now Cuba stands on the precipice of a revolution in the use and development of free and open source software. This will not only likely have dramatic effects on the internal politics of the nation, but also lead to Cuba's next significant export -- free and open source software.

On Valentines Day (2007/2/14) Richard M. Stallman (RMS) visited Havana, Cuba to address an international conference on technology. As reported in Cuba Embraces Open-Source Software he warned against the traps of proprietary software (security concerns, high costs, legal restrictions, planned obsolescence) and extolled the virtues and benefits of FOSS. RMS's message was heard, and heartily received, by the highest officials of the Cuban government, which is already focusing increased people and academic resources into FOSS development. Yes, Cuba is about to embrace FOSS in a big way.

For Cuba, the security issues is very real. After all, the U.S. has an openly hostile foreign policy toward it, and lest people forget, the U.S. has invaded Cuba at least once (Bay of Pigs), has a military base on its land (Guantanamo Bay), and has made multiple assassination attempts against Castro. Also, while being subjected to a continuing U.S. economic embargo, Cuba has to make do with old computers and software, thus is required to get the most out of its physical infrastructure, a capability FOSS excels at.

Cuba is following the lead of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, who mandated the use of "Software Libre" in the government about 3 years ago, see here and here. But while Venezuela may have a headstart Cuba probably has the more literate, focused, and organized "brainpower" to become an open source juggernaut. In fact, its Cuba educational system that is in the process of allowing it to leapfrog every other country in Latin and South America. Cuba already offers free medical school education to people from all over the world (and specifically to African-Americans), and I can see it gradually offering free FOSS degrees too. Imagine Cuba not only being able to export doctors to the Caribbean, South/Central America, and Africa, but specialist in FOSS and IT too.

And this is where the Linux mantra of "world domination" may play itself out in political reality. As Chavez nationalizes Venezuela's resource infrastructure, it is the marrying of Cuban brainpower with Venezuela's oil power that could produce an IT (Intelligence Technology) economy that can become a base of economic development throughout the developing world. Throw in the access to Chinese/Taiwanese developed cheap computers, cheap memory/monitors from South Korea (Samsung) and Japan, emerging manufacturing capacity in Africa, and within a decade there may be a world where most of its people will never have used a Windows based computer. Now that would be a real World Revolution.

However, the use of FOSS will also invariably effect the daily social structure of Cuba, which is sure to cause tensions. The most prominent area of tension will be around the access, use, and control of the Internet. As a country under constant siege by the U.S., Cuba will have to go through the growing pains of allowing for the natural desire of its citizens to use what the Internet offers, while controlling its use based on national imperatives.

Ultimately though, I think the opening up of the Cuban people, and government, to the outside world, through the Internet and information technology, will be a net plus to Cuba. I think Cuba will figure out how to do it so as not to lose its political, cultural, and ideological identity, and can assimilate selective elements of global culture to use for its own benefit. In fact, I think Cuba has more to eventually give to the world than what it will receive from it.

Finally, hopefully in this decade, after the current U.S. administration is relegated to the history bin, a more enlightened and humanitarian policy will emerge from the U.S., which will allow Americans to share and benefit from Cuban software development. It will happen indirectly anyway, when Cuban software migrates into the international FOSS world. But when the creativity and ingenuity of the Cuban people is freely able to manifest itself via FOSS, the average Cuban's quality of life will only increase, as will their sense of freedom, and their connection to the global community.


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