By Larry Press
Laura Quintana, Cisco Vice President of Corporate Affairs, launching Cisco networking training at the Universidad de Ciencias InformáticasIs the recently announced Cisco Networking Academy at the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas a belated drop in the bucket or the first step in a significant opening?
Cisco dominated the infrastructure equipment market in Cuba and elsewhere during the early days of the Internet, but Huawei replaced them in Cuba — here is a timeline:
- President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and blocked nearly all trade with the US in 1960 (timeline).
- President Kennedy’s administration imposed a complete economic embargo in 1962.
- In spite of that, the US National Science Foundation provided Cuba’s first link to the global internet in 1996 using Cisco equipment that was probably acquired through other nations.
- The 1996 Helms-Burton Act added penalties for foreign nations doing business with Cuba and said the embargo could not be lifted while the Castros were in power.
- In 1997, Cisco began offering Cisco Networking Academy (CNA) training.
- In 2000, Huawei entered the Cuban market and won a contract to build a fiber backbone.
- In 2000 Huawei began replacing Cisco routers.
- In 2015, Doug Madory discovered what may be the last Cisco router in Cuba.
- In 2016, President Obama announced that Cisco would be offering their Cisco Networking Academy (CNA) training at the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas (UCI).
- The CNA program was inaugurated last week and is expected to train over 100 engineers per year.
What does this mean?
It might be a belated drop in the bucket. UCI has only 19 trained CNA instructors while the CNA curriculum is being taught by over 20,000 instructors at over 10,000 institutions.
On the other hand, this might be the first step in a significant opening. The Castros are no longer in power — might the US allow Cisco to sell equipment to Cuba and might the Cubans consider Cisco as a competitor to Huawei, SES, and other connectivity providers?
The Trump administration has cracked down on individual travel but has not curtailed the sales of communication equipment to Cuba. Trump would doubtless like to claim credit for any Cuban sales by Cisco and for Raúl Castro stepping down and he is indifferent to human rights violation, so my guess is that the US would allow Cisco to sell to Cuba.
Similarly, competition from Cisco would enhance Cuba’s bargaining position with Huawei and, while much of their SNA material is generic, some is Cisco-specific, giving them an advantage. I don’t know if Cisco is charging for their training or equipment, but they may be donating it as a marketing and international public-relations expense. (In the mainframe days, IBM gave significant discounts and subsidies to universities so students would be trained on their equipment. They even built the building to house the computers at the UCLA Western Data Processing Center where I was a student).
It’s too soon to know if this is an important first step and it will be interesting to see how events unfold. A good start would be for the US to allow Cubans access to Cisco’s online CNA courses and for UCI to expand their initial internal offering and to train CNA instructors at schools and organizations like the Unión de Informáticos, ETECSA, networks like Infomed, and the Joven Clubs.
President Obama announced the Cisco-UCI SNA plan over two years ago. Two years from now, we will know whether it is significant for either Cisco or Cuba.