Information Technology in Cuba
IT Labor Market
Cuba has one of the best-educated workforces in the Caribbean and Latin America. However, with job opportunities dictated by the government, IT professionals frequently find few opportunities.
Literacy and Education
Education has been a source of national pride for the Cuban government. Per its Communist ideology, all Cuban citizens are provided with a free education, from elementary school through university training. Accordingly, Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the Caribbean and Latin American region. Using a definition of literacy as individuals over age 15 who can read and write, 95.7% of Cubans are literate (29).
Cuba has the most highly educated population in the Caribbean and Latin American region. Cuba has 47 universities, each with dedicated IT departments. Total university enrollment is approximately 112,000 citizens, significantly less than the 242,000 students enrolled in 1989-90. A major reason for this decline is the lack of incentives for university graduates, who are often unable to find jobs in the state sector and were previously prohibited from self-employment. (see below) (30).
The Cuban labor force has an economically active population of 4.5 million workers. The state sector dominates 76% of the Cuban economy, while private sector endeavors comprise only 24%. By occupation, the labor market is comprised of the following sectors: services and government, 30%; industry, 22%; agriculture, 20%; commerce, 11%; construction, 10%; and transportation and communications, 7%. (High-tech workers are included in the services and government category.) Approximately 170,000 Cubans are self-employed. Until 1995, the Cuban government forbade university graduates from self-employment, but removed this ban on July 1, 1995.
Despite highly publicized migration attempts, migration has not significantly impacted the Cuban economy. The current net migration rate is 1.52 migrant per 1,000 citizens. Therefore, "brain drain" of IT professionals have not been a significant problem.
Income and Purchasing Power
Monthly salaries in state-run positions range from 150-200 pesos for secretaries and laborers to 300-425 pesos for engineering and medical professionals. Government-sponsored pensions range from 120-190 pesos per month. Self-employed individuals earn between 300-1,200 pesos, on average. (Currently, 20 pesos equate to $1 USD.) Subsequently, entrepreneurial ventures are beginning to increase in number.
To give an indication of purchasing power, consider the following price listing at a Havana farmers market:
1 pound rice: 4 pesos
Most Cuban workers receive monthly food rations to supplement their incomes. However, monthly rations cover less than two weeks of minimum food requirements. Food and necessary consumer goods must be purchased in dollar shops or on the agricultural and black markets. Subsequently, private remittances from friends and families living abroad have become a significant element of the Cuban economy. Revenues from foreign remittances have skyrocketed to approximately 780 million pesos (33).
IT Labor Supply and Demand
Cuba's largest IT programs are at ISPAJE and the University of Havana, which are focusing on creating a larger IT graduate base to boost the Cuban economy. More than 13,000 students have graduated from computer science and computer engineering programs. However, industry estimates project that the Cuban high-tech industry currently employs only 5,000 workers (34).
The Cuban government's restrictive attitude towards information and lack of Internet access are a constraint. Currently, the Cuban government invests 1.17% of GDP to technological research and development. IT professionals are increasing, with a rate of 1.8 scientists and engineers per 1,000 citizens, 47 universities, and over 200 research and development centers. However, IT training is restricted by the technology currently in use. Much of Cuban connectivity is based on the X.25 protocol, which is outdated and poorly suited to IP traffic. Technological training will likely shift when more capital is available (35).
Limited access to hardware and information compounds these difficulties as well. IT professionals must contend with 2,400 bps data transfers and constant redialing to make connections. Cuban technicians cannot go online and download the latest version of software or hardware and very few have access to technical books or industry journals (36).
Since Cuba is not a nation engulfed in IT such as the United States or other higher-income nations, the focus of Cuban IT is still on programming and not on other areas such as training or hardware development. Cuban IT professionals continue to meet the country's technical needs, but with antiquated IT infrastructure and poor anti-piracy laws, few IT professionals are flocking to the software development industry.