Gabriella Rodriguez remembers the moment she first heard there was a tech internship opportunity in New York. Details about how to apply were posted on the U.S. State Department’s Facebook page, but like the majority of Cubans, she didn’t have regular access to the Internet. Luckily the news spread by word of mouth in Santos Suárez, the small suburb of Havana where she lives. Her friend called and explained the process: All she needed to do was answer a set of 15 questions, do a little writing in Spanish or English, and find a way to submit her application via a Google doc.
A few days after she applied, Rodriguez got a call inviting her to join a monthlong program at the New York-based incubator Grand Central Tech.
“I literally jumped when I found out,” the 16-year-old told Yahoo News. “I screamed a little bit.”
Rodriguez is one of three Cuban interns who participated in the internship program, Innovadores, which ended Monday. Sponsored by angel investor Miles Spencer’s nonprofit company, the program aims to take advantage of America’s newly relaxed restrictions regarding Cuba. The self-described “explorer” began negotiating the exchange in May, and within 100 days — just after the U.S. and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations on July 20 — the interns arrived in, naturally, Brooklyn.
That Rodriguez and her colleagues were recruited to intern at a tech company was no accident. In its years of isolation from the U.S., the Cuban government has neglected to build an infrastructure for public Internet access. Only about 5 percent of the population has private online access, and for everyone else, an hour of local-area-network connection can cost between $6 and $10 at a government-run Internet café. To improvise, residents sometimes sit outside international hotel porches to grab a free connection or pass around online information via an external hard drive called a “Paquete Semanal” (weekly packet).
In conjunction with Cuba’s newfound relationship with the United States, the country has taken steps to make online access more widespread. Last month, almost three dozen government-run computer centers got Wi-Fi, cutting the price of Internet in half at those locations. In a statement released in January, Obama said that strengthening diplomatic ties to the country would allow American telecommunications companies to build the infrastructure necessary for widespread, affordable wireless access.
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