Cuba’s professionals develop independent digital platforms amid U.S. sanctions


Xinhua News

16th March 2023 – (Havana) Cuba is bent on becoming technologically independent amid stepped-up U.S. sanctions that restrict its access to global applications and other digital platforms.

A group of developers, professors and students from the University of Computer Science (UCI), working in conjunction with Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (Etecsa), have developed several applications as part of the Z17 project launched in 2017.

Among them is a messaging app called toDus for users to share voice messages, files and images, and create broadcast channels, group chats and catalogs of products and services.

Haniel Caceres, head of the toDus project, told Xinhua it is essential for Cuba to design and develop digital platforms that adapt to the needs of Cubans.

“It is important for Cuba to manage its own data and support applications that other platforms have blocked the country from, for reasons such as the United States’ blockade against the island,” said the 35-year-old.

Cuban developers also created Picta, a streaming service for users both inside and outside Cuba that features movies, documentaries and live television shows.

“There are many international platforms where our films, for example, cannot be promoted due to the blockade in the United States. However, we already have the commercial model ready to do so,” said developer Leodanis Bernal, who works in Picta’s data architecture department.

Both toDus and Picta are available from Apklis, Cuba’s app store, for Android mobile phones.

The leader of the Apklis project, 31-year-old Yaiselis Ramirez told Xinhua they hope to make a significant leap in the coming years in terms of implementing new business models that favor both developers and the app store itself.

Traditional “app stores present some restrictions for Cuba for various reasons. Sometimes you have to use bank cards that are not issued by Cuban banks, which makes it impossible to distribute national apps,” Ramirez said.

In Cuba, more than 7.5 million people are connected to the Internet, and more than 80 percent of them connect via their mobile phones, according to data from Etecsa.

Etecsa’s director of digital services, Hector Luis Mora, said that as part of the company’s alliance with UCI and the Havana Science and Technology Park, it will continue to supply the infrastructure needs of the data center and connectivity for different projects.

“We want to achieve technological independence and contribute to the development of electronic government on the island,” said Mora.

“There will be no way to block Cuba’s digital development. We have our talents creating digital content for the country,” he added.