Some 90 miles off the southeastern coast of Florida, Cuba is a nation with an intriguing history, a patchwork of old and beautiful cities and towns, throwback American vehicles that date back to the 1950s, a proud and rugged population, and a long legacy of control, Communism and economic despair.
Now Cuban residents also can have access to Google's Chrome Web browser for the first time, on an island where Internet access can be difficult to find and afford, and where free communications is not something guaranteed by their government. Censorship on the Internet by the government is a fact of life in Cuba.
The availability of the Chrome browser was announced by Pedro Less Andrade, Google's director of government affairs and public policy for Latin America, in an Aug. 20 post on the Google Public Policy Blog.
"U.S. export controls and sanctions can sometimes limit the products available in certain countries," wrote Andrade. "But these trade restrictions are always evolving, and over time, we've been working to figure out how to make more tools available in sanctioned countries. In the past couple years we've made Chrome downloadable in Syria and Iran. We're happy to say that Internet users in Cuba can now use Chrome too, and browse the Web faster and more safely than they could before."
For Cuba, however, access to Chrome could be the slow start of some kind of progress for the Cuban people.
That is, of course, if it really is available to the island's residents. Some complained on a related Google+ post about the release of the browser in Cuba that it could not be downloaded and installed, instead displaying a message saying it was not available to local users.
"Thanks for your interest, but the product that you're trying to download is not available in your country," the message read, according to several people who posted on the Google+ page.
Hopefully that situation will soon be resolved to allow Chrome to flow to whoever wants to use it in Cuba.
Back in October 1992, this writer visited Cuba on a 10-day trip with a group of newspaper editors to see the country, meet some of its people, experience some of its history and explore its communities as part of a fellowship I was awarded when I worked as a reporter for The Lancaster (PA) New Era newspaper. Back then, as now, the Cuban government closely controlled the lives of the Cuban people, maintaining separate economies for native Cubans and for the tourist trade from around the world.
But the Cuban people are innovators and fighters, and they have always found ways to adapt to and often skirt whatever terrible conditions were placed on them by their government, the weather, the global and Cuban economies, and anything else that came their way. Those throwback vehicles that are found all over the island are mostly old 1950s American cars left over from their arrivals before the 1960 and 1962 Cuban embargoes by the United States. Because of their incredible innovation, Cuban drivers and mechanics keep those 60-year-old cars running using wire, gum and whatever else they can bring together to patch them up and keep them on the road.
My visit was before the Internet became a part of our everyday lives and before personal computers showed up in homes around the world. But my guess is that Cubans are often finding out what they need to learn as much as possible and finding ways around restrictions just as they have kept their old cars alive despite a lack of factory replacement parts.
I hope to get back to Cuba sometime soon to report live from the ground on this intriguing country, its people and their unbridled perseverance in acquiring and using modern technology that we all take for granted.
It's an interesting time as usual in Cuba, this time fueled by the release of Google's Chrome browser, which in August was bumped up to Version 37.
In September 2013, the Chrome browser celebrated its fifth birthday. Launched in 2008 as a desktop or laptop application, Chrome today is widely used as a mobile Web browser on many different devices.
Chrome has had quite a ride since its birth. In June 2012, it surpassed Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the world's most used browser for the first time, and it has added many useful features over the years to encourage even more users to adopt it.