GLOBAL ECONOMY

Google Opens Up Chrome Web Browser To The Cuban Market

People line up at a post office as they wait to use the Internet service in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

People line up at a post office as they wait to use the Internet service in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, May 28, 2013.  (AP2013)

Google announced this week that after many delays its web browser Chrome will finally be available in Cuba, allowing Cubans for the first time to have to clear their cookies every day in an effort to access their social media accounts.

The web giant made the announcement on Wednesday and said that the delay was primarily caused by U.S. export controls and sanctions against the communist country.

"These trade restrictions are always evolving, and over time, we’ve been working to figure out how to make more tools available in sanctioned countries," wrote Pedro Less Andrade, Google's director of government affairs and public policy for Latin America, according to Mashable.

Google placing the blame on U.S. sanctions, however, did not sit well with some in the U.S. government and the pro-Cuban democracy movement, especially considering the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) authorized U.S. companies to export some free Internet services, including web browsing software, to Cuba in 2010.

"The only reason Chrome was not currently accessible in Cuba was because of Google's own internal decision," Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of the pro-human rights and democracy organization Cuba Democracy Advocates, wrote in a blog post reacting to Google's announcement.  "Why it took Google four years to discover this general license? God knows."

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Maybe Google was just confused about the U.S. law as CEO Eric Schmidt and three other Google executives traveled to Cuba earlier this summer "to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet," dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez said in a post on her site, 14ymedio.

Cuba is "one of the few countries in the world that cannot access a good part of the services" offered by Google because the California-based company is bound by the "unjust laws" of the U.S. economic embargo, Granma said.

Very few Cubans have Web access from their homes – the Cuban government claims 25 percent, but independent studies suggest its closer to five percent - and the only option for most people is going to a government-run Internet cafe or to a hotel serving tourists.

Connection charges are steep for a country where the average monthly wage is $20.

While Cuba's Internet links improved substantially with the arrival in 2011 of an underwater fiber-optic cable connecting the island with Venezuela, the government says it will take years to upgrade telecommunications infrastructure to the point where widespread home Web access will be possible.

Efe contributed to this report.

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