jueves, 27 de octubre de 2016

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Cuba: Mi Casa Es Su Casa
ANNE HOBSON
October 25, 2016, 12:10 am

Technology companies, soft power, and the fight to liberalize Cuba.

There is a truism, fashionable in American foreign policy circles, that
the liberalization of trade will, over time, soften the contours of
authoritarian regimes as the oppressed become acquainted with the
wonders of Western goods and services. This, evidently, is President
Obama's view. And American technology companies are following suit,
disrupting Cuba's outdated economic model with mobile apps and sharing
economy platforms.

Airbnb, a "peer to peer online marketplace and homestay network,"
entered Cuba after Obama eased trade restrictions in December 2014. To
date, Airbnb has facilitated the stays of 13,000 U.S. travelers in Cuban
"casa particulares" (private homes), and this in a country where hotels
are often booked months in advance. With the number of international
visitors projected to rise from 3 million to 4.75 million by 2024,
Airbnb's services may turn out to be just the kind of development that
catalyzes the social and economic liberalization of Cubans.

Maybe.

But here is a point worth considering. American interaction with Cuban
host families expose the latter — in a visceral manner unmatched by,
say, Voice of America — to our culture of freedom and equality. This
exportation of domestic values, culture, and policies is a force for
political change that constitutes American "soft power." Political
scientist Joseph Nye defines soft power as "the ability to get what you
want through attraction rather than coercion." As Obama and others
argue, instead of relying on the hard threat of sanctions or military
force, the U.S. is now using its economic strength and cultural
influence to incentivize liberalization.

And Cuba has been responsive. This year, Raúl Castro removed the limit
on the number of rooms Cubans could offer for rent and legalized small
and medium businesses in certain sectors. There is still, however, too
much red tape. For example, renters have to report passport information
and length of stay for their visitors to the government in a timely
manner, and the Cuban government can tax renters as high as $300 per
month irrespective of whether or not they have house guests.

Despite this regulatory burden, 4,000 Cubans listed their homes for rent
within the first year of market entry. This makes Cuba the fastest
growing Airbnb market in the world. The average earnings per booking are
$250, a substantial amount in comparison to the average monthly wage in
Cuba which hovers around $27. Airbnb is thus supplying a livelihood to
Cubans in a way the Castro regime cannot.

And Airbnb is not the only American technology company to reach out to
the potential 11 million customers just 90 miles of the coast of
Florida. Google, Priceline, Paypal, Stripe, and Netflix add to the
growing crowd of high-visibility firms making efforts to engage the
Cuban market.

However, tech companies are quickly discovering just how difficult the
going can get. Cuba is one of the worst countries for internet
connectivity. According to Freedom House, under 5 percent of Cubans have
access to unrestricted global internet. Try streaming Netflix — or
hosting your Airbnb profile — with a dialup connection of 52 kilobits
per second. To put this in perspective, current consumer grade internet
connections have download speeds at approximately 14,000 kilobits per
second.

Critics of economic engagement with Cuba like Senator Marco Rubio argue
trade liberalization will prop up a Cuban regime complicit in human
rights violations against dissidents. Though Rubio and others advocate
maintaining sanctions on trade and travel, opponents argue sanctions
have been demonstrated to disproportionately hurt the Cuban people and
50 years of sanctions policy has not moved the needle on regime change.
Moreover, it seems hard to improve freedom of expression in Cuba without
allowing exposure to American ideals. Perhaps it is high time to try a
new strategy.

As Raúl ages, it is decisively important that American companies, backed
by the strength of the U.S. government, take advantage of opportunities
to engage with Cuba. In 2014, the White House amended regulations to
allow the commercial export of telecommunications products such as
phones, computers, internet infrastructure, software and related
services. In March, Obama traveled with 11 CEOs, including Airbnb's
founder Brian Chesky and Paypal's CEO Daniel Schulman, to secure deals
with officials. It is also incumbent on the private sector — especially
if the next president lacks backbone — to advocate for a freer Cuba by
sharing success stories as Airbnb has done.

The bottom line is this: American tech engagement with Cuba should be
seen as a positive force for economic and social liberation. Empowering
Cuban entrepreneurs and facilitating free market principles, while not
ends in themselves, are certainly propaedeutic to a free and healthy
Cuba. For 56 years, we've tried the alternative and it has not worked.

Source: Cuba: Mi Casa Es Su Casa | The American Spectator -
http://spectator.org/cuba-mi-casa-es-su-casa/

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