For over fifty years, the US and Cuba regarded each other through a lens of hostility and suspicion. With the reopening of diplomatic relations in 2016, a thaw is underway, and both countries are looking toward a future of expanded trade relations and economic development. But that future is limited by the island’s feeble communications infrastructure, which has isolated it from the global digital revolution. Now there is the potential for massive foreign investment to upgrade the system, from investors as diverse as the Chinese government, Google, and Scandinavian tech companies. This has led to tensions within the Cuban government, as the old guard from the Communist Party and the army denounce digital media as a “Trojan horse” to overthrow the revolution, and younger technocrats seek it as an essential tool for modernization. Cuba’s vibrant young hacker community is taking the initiative to create workarounds for offline media, giving the public unprecedented access to information. Saltzman Fellow Anne Nelson and SIPA graduate Mariela Machado will present the findings from a SIPA research project last spring that mapped Cuba’s current digital infrastructure, identified political cross-currents within the regime, and suggested paths to the future.



Anne Nelson is an internationally recognized author and educator who has published on a broad range of themes relating to international human rights, freedom of expression, and the role of media in society.  She began her career as a war correspondent in El Salvador and Guatemala, and served as the first staff member to cover the Americas at Human Rights Watch.  She later served as the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the director of the international program at the Columbia School of Journalism, where she instituted the first class on human rights reporting.   Since 2002 she has been teaching at SIPA, where she created the first course on digital media.  Nelson has written and consulted on international media topics for a broad range of organizations, including the Open Society Foundations, the Knight Foundation, BBC Media Action and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA).  Her articles and reports can be found at Nelson has also pursued a parallel career as author and playwright.  Her journalism on the Philippines won the Livingston Award for best international reporting.  She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in support of her 2009 book “Red Orchestra,” on the anti-Nazi resistance in Berlin.   Her post-9/11 play, “The Guys,” has been produced in 50 states and 15 countries, and was made into a feature film starring Sigourney Weaver.  She is currently writing a book about a network to rescue Jewish children in Occupied Paris.  Nelson is a graduate of Yale University, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mariela Machado (SIPA 2016) is a telecommunications engineer from Caracas, Venezuela. She spent five years as project manager for Telefonica before returning to school to receive a second masters degree in the MDP program, focusing on development practice.  In the spring of 2016 she was team leader for Anne Nelson's research seminar  ICT4Cuba, to survey Cuban digital infrastructure and user behavior.  She is currently Program Manager for Engineering for Change, a Tech4Dev NGO based in New York City.

Jack Snyder is the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations in the political science department and the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. His books include Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance (co-editorwith Alexander Cooley; Cambridge University Press, 2015); Power and Progress: International Politics in Transition (Routledge, 2012); Religion and International Relations Theory (Columbia, 2011); Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War (MIT Press, 2005), co-authored with Edward D. Mansfield; From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (Norton 2000); Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Cornell, 1991); and Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention, co-editor with Barbara Walter (Columbia, 1999). His articles on such topics as democratization and war, imperial overstretch, war crimes tribunals versus amnesties as strategies for preventing atrocities, and international relations theory after September 11 have appeared in The American Political Science Review, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Organization, International Security, and World Politics. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Snyder received a B.A. in government from Harvard University in 1973, a Certificate from Columbia’s Russian Institute in 1978, and a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia in 1981.