Washington, D.C. – Yesterday President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuban governments will reestablish diplomatic relations. The two countries will take steps to lift several trade sanctions that impact the Cuban public, including those that limit access to telecommunications connectivity and restrict the export of personal communications technologies that are critical to online expression.
Access welcomes this historic announcement.
“This announcement signals a new era of access to communications, commerce, and participation in the information society for the Cuban people,” said Access Policy Director Jochai Ben-Avie. “We applaud the Obama Administration for taking these important steps to empower Cubans to more freely exercise their rights online.”
Currently, U.S. sanctions prohibit the commercial export to Cuba of mobile phones, laptops, modems, software updates, mobile app stores, web hosting, and other personal communications technologies.
Recognizing that sanctions create counterproductive impediments to the free flow of information to the Cuban public, in 2009 and 2010 the administration took steps to permit donations of electronic devices and the availability of free personal communications services.
However, while the Department of Treasury continued to expand authorizations for the sale of information services, software, and hardware to Iran, its Cuba policy fell into neglect. Its efforts have begun to make a clear impact on promoting access to secure technologies in Iran, and we expect that similar efforts will provide new opportunities to combat Cuba’s digital isolation.
Access has long called for the lifting of sanctions on these technologies in Cuba and elsewhere, and while the Obama Administration has yet to release the details of what specific sanctions will be lifted and how, the fact sheet put out by the White House is promising.
“The availability of information technology is critical to promoting independent media, maintaining family relationships across borders, and promoting stifled public voices,” said Ben-Avie. “We believe — and hope — that these new commitments will support space for dialogue and debate within Cuba.”
Access encourages the Obama Administration to continue to take steps to protect the availability of information technologies to people within sanctioned countries – including Sudan, Syria, and North Korea – and to further coordinate efforts with private industry to promote secure access where its needed most.