Transfer of Technology and Knowledge to Development in Cuba

Este artículo forma parte del dossier: 

In an article published in Temas in 2012, we pointed out at least two of the main problems of the Cuban technological policy. One of them was the dramatic backwardness of both our information technologies and their deployment in society with respect to the rest of the world. Such a delay certainly brings with it considerable underdevelopment at the level of not only our entire economy and the universalization of knowledge, but also of our very social and personal well-being. This has to do with something as essential to the human condition as the exchange of information between individuals and with society as a whole. The other problem was the absence of economic mechanisms and procedures that make it possible for scientific and technological advance to be implemented and bear the expected economic returns in the context of an all-embracing and highly centralized state management system.

Since these issues have been the object of debate in Party and government meetings, we have today progressive policies underway on both agendas.

In the former case, the first vice president of the Council of State remarked in a speech delivered in February 2015 that “[the] Internet is a tool at the service of our national identity and culture and of the Cuban people’s sovereign and universal integration, including our technological self-sufficiency”. And he added further on:

“The development and universalization of the access to and the use of the Internet must be part of the national cultural development process in its broadest sense and go hand in hand with the advance of our cultural production, the promotion of its values and its extensive dissemination at national and international level. It is part of the basic infrastructure to develop the country’s capacity for economic and corporate activity and an economic activity with a high potential for growth. [1]

Even if the situation by the end of 2017 is better as compared to that of 2012, we are still very far from matching any of the world standards in this field. The strides made by present-day computer science anywhere in the world are far greater than ours and, as a result, we are faced with a systemic—and growing—delay. Compared to the rest of the world, things get worse with each passing day.

By way of example we can mention the acknowledgment in a recent report about the situation of the country’s network of automatic teller machines that still lack those basic devices of economic management even today, well into the 21st century. This technology was first marketed in London in 1967 by the Briton, John Shepherd-Barron. A similar thing happens with the home Internet service: it is scheduled to become available during 2017, but only in very few zones of the country, with bandwidths many times lower than the world’s current standards and, to top it all off, with limited hourly rates totally out of proportion with the average salary of the Cubans. Still and all, the said service is advertised as a great step forward, taken after lengthy trials of questionable benefit these days.

By the late 2017, the smart mobile telephones had already become a technological instrument of undeniable value to any form of economic or social progress that all citizens of a country should no doubt avail themselves of it. However, Cuba is still “experimenting” with already obsolete 3G technologies which do not even cover a desirable part of the areas that they are supposed to service. After some ten years of exploitation everywhere else in the world, the smart phones in Cuba are still unable to access data or the Internet. When it comes to many of their applications, all of this puts the most advanced of these devices on a par with its turn-of-the-century precursors.

The economic and social cost of such an endemic IT holdup is noiseless, but it keeps growing with every passing second. And it is probably very high as well to our social-economic management and productivity.

As to the promotion of science and technology in the Cuban socialist state enterprises, great progress was equally made on a conceptual level. Guideline 14 of the Communist Party of Cuba, related to this topic, says: “Give priority to and keep moving toward the achievement of the full production cycle by means of commodity chains among organizations engaged in production and service activities, science, technology and innovation, including the universities, capable of guaranteeing the swift and effective development of new goods and services of adequate quality standards which incorporate the results of scientific research and technological innovation and combine internal and external marketing management”. [2] This well-defined principle is by far, and for the better, different from the traditional statements that we mentioned above, which simply instructed science and the scientists to introduce their results into social practice.

Progress has been made as well with the country’s regulatory and managerial situation. Nowadays a state production entity can invest a part of its profits in technology and innovation. Nevertheless, there is every indication that the profit margin allocated to such purposes has to be somehow shared with the workers’ direct incentive funds. If such is the case, we are dealing with a mechanism bound to have devastating effects on any technological progress as well as on the income made by those in the enterprise that make its operation possible. It is hard to believe that, given the serious purchasing power gaps between the state workers and the private sector in Cuba, many employers will sacrifice [workers’ bonuses] in favor of the necessary occasional costs that any technological innovation process entails, regardless of its expectable benefits.

Challenges to be tackled in 2018

In statements made in the late 2017 [3] the highest party and government authorities make it clear that they are aware of the need to undertake profound changes in the structure of the Cuban socialist economy, still clinging to the demonstrably failed standards followed by the USSR and Eastern Europe. As the major figures of any economic system, the workers suffer significant distortions regarding the fruits of their labor. The principles behind the necessary reforms are already extensively and clearly outlined in the country’s programmatic policies for the next four years. [4]

Therefore, it is essential to redesign and restructure as soon as possible the whole science, technology and innovation (STI) management system in such a way that we can right the current serious wrongs and prevent their recurrence in the future. This task should be as cross-sectional as its management.

Through the truly and admittedly indispensable transformations of our appraisal of money and labor, we must face up to and overcome the challenge of starting to change all the many things that should be changed about today’s outdated and sectored STI management model.

Probable steps forward, continuities and/or steps backward to be expected in 2018.

The current state of affairs cannot fall behind any further in 2018 lest the very survival of the revolutionary process be in jeopardy. The vast majority of our knowledge production centers is either threatened or seriously wounded by the constant loss of highly qualified human resources, their vital component.

Accordingly, it is imperative that action to alleviate or resolve this problem be taken. In the near future, the efforts that the Cubans should make to develop their country’s ability to produce new knowledge and boost technological innovation should be fairly valued in relation to other professions and activities. We cannot possibly continue to see a scientist or a technologist in any field whose standard of living is lower than that of a parking space attendant.

Information technology developers must take a leap forward in order to set themselves and reach goals which allow our country an acceptable and competitive technological status in 2018. And that is possible with a few indispensable investments, but above all else with real and effective willingness on the part of the organizations in charge of these policies and tasks. There is no room here for the deceptive gratification of having multiplied the number of users and services in recent times.

Any degree of progress multiplies the incredibly low figures of computerization that we had before February 2015, hence our dissatisfaction at the frequent triumphalist announcements in this field. However you look at it, any truly substantial progress in this case is the sine qua non of development anywhere else, almost as necessary as the abovementioned reappraisal of labor.

What seems to bode well for optimistic projections for 2018 is, first of all, our awareness of the aforesaid situation, noticeable both in the statements made by Cuba’s top decision-makers and in a seemingly widespread public opinion about the matter. The all-encompassing human potential developed by the Cuban Revolution is an enormously expensive sixty-year-old-plus investment that should be realized in the creation of material and spiritual values. Should this awareness be put into practice this year, we may expect a concrete change likely to improve the well-being of today’s and tomorrow’s Cubans, those who play the leading roles.


[Traduccion: Jesús Bran; Edición: Rafael Betancourt].



[1] Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, M. (2015) “El derecho de todos a Internet supone deberes en relación con su uso adecuado”, Cubadebate, February 21. (Consulted on March 17, 2017)

[2] Revision of the Guidelines of the economic and social policy of the Party and the Revolution for 2016-2021, approved by the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (April 2016) and the National Assembly of the People’s Power (July 2016).

[3] Castro Ruz, R. (2017) Raúl in the National Assembly: “La Revolución cubana ha resistido los embates de 11 administraciones de EE.UU.”, Cubadebate, December 22. (Consulted on January 7, 2018)

[4] Documents of the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba approved by the III Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Party on May 18, 2017 and endorsed by the National Assembly of the People’s Power on June 1, 2017.

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