Venezuela, Cuba outfox U.S. with fiber optic cable

Tue Jan 18, 2011 2:36pm EST
 
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HAVANA (Reuters) - Venezuela will connect Cuba to a high-speed fiber optic cable next month undermining U.S. sanctions prohibiting Cuba's access to nearby underwater lines, the head of the project said on Tuesday.

A French ship will begin laying the 995-mile submarine cable on Saturday and it is expected to reach eastern Cuba by February 8, Wilfredo Morales, president of Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe, the Venezuelan-Cuban joint venture that owns the line, said.

"This is a project that we consider of high strategic importance in the region ... It will be operated by technicians from our countries and we are not going to be dependent on any economic or other interest of another state or the empire," Morales said in an interview with state-run Radio Rebelde.

Venezuela and Cuba are close allies and share a common enmity toward Washington. They have formed some 50 joint ventures. The oil rich South American country provides Cuba with oil in exchange for medical and other technical assistance.

Venezuela has financed various projects to gain "telecommunications sovereignty" in the region, such as Telesur, a regional television channel, and software for industrial uses. Plans call for extending the cable to Jamaica and other countries.

Cuba is one of the least connected societies in the Latin American region, with Internet access limited to officials, companies, academics and some other professionals.

Cuba charges that U.S. sanctions prohibit use of the many underwater cables in the area, forcing it to use a costly and slow satellite connection to the Internet.

The $70 million cable project, expected to be fully operational by July, will give Cuba a data transmission speed of 640 gigabytes, 3,000 times more than the actual one.

Nevertheless, officials have said financial and technological problems will not allow for the extension of Internet use in the short term, and residents will have to continue to rely on local computer clubs, work places and schools.

A Chinese subsidiary of French company Alcatel-Lucent is supplying the cable. French vessel Ile de Batz will lay the line which contains less than 10 percent U.S. product, thereby meeting U.S. embargo specifications. However, under the embargo the ship will not be able to dock in the United States for six months after putting up in Cuba.

(Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)