For more than 60 years, Cuba and the United States of America have had a strained relationship. Today, the two countries have an amicable alliance. Cuba has a communist government called the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). One benefit of this has been that Cuba has become the only country in the world to meet the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s conditions of sustainability based on the Human Development Index. However, because of the communist rule, nearly everything in the country, the economy, healthcare, education, and more, are under government control. Because of this Cuba has a virtually nascent private business sector, something that the United States is working towards strengthening.
With encouragement and guidance from the United States, in February of 2021, Cuba announced that employees in more than 2,000 economic sectors could apply to become private entrepreneurs rather than government controlled state employees. For a group of Cuban engineers and technicians developing drones, this was a huge win. Four years ago, 5 engineers and 3 technicians calling themselves Alasoluciones began building drones out of their garages and makeshift workshops. Working out of San Nicolas de Bari, about 43 miles southeast of Havana, the team wanted to develop a drone company that wasn’t reliant on outsourced technology.
Using whatever resources they could find, the Alasoluciones built a fixed wing drone that resembles a sparrowhawk. But because of government restrictions, finding those resources was not easy. According to the Civil Aviation Institute of Cuba, it is illegal to buy or sell a drone in the country, and flights are permitted only under special circumstances. The Alasoluciones had to scrounge for parts to build their drone. They used wood from trees that had fallen in a nearby park to construct the mold for the drone. The drone was built using collected scraps of metal and plastic. Only 20% of the handmade drone was built from parts that were ordered from abroad. The final result is a drone with a 4.3ft wingspan that not only looks like a sparrowhawk but emits the bird of prey’s distinctive screech, and can fly autonomously for upwards of 1 hour.
Alasoluciones have been contracted several times by the Cuban government, really the only way they could find work, to use their drone for a handful of projects. The drone has been used to monitor the installation of communication and electricity towers, inspect gas lines, and gather crop data for farmers. Most recently, Alasoluciones was approved to use the drone to scare away birds at the Camaguey International Airport. However, because of COVID-19, this last drone program has been put on hold for the time being.
Getting the supplies needed to build the drone, combined with having to overcome technical and governmental hurdles have slowed down progression for Alasoluciones. But now that the government is easing entrepreneurial restrictions, Alasoluciones’ 35 year old CEO, Erick Carmona, said they are ready to start moving forward rapidly. Cuba is slowly but surely making changes that will encourage economic and technological growth. In April of 2021, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero stated that the government was preparing to enact programs for small and medium sized private businesses to begin forming. Alasoluciones has even won a spot at the technology incubator that President Miguel Diaz-Canel started last year in Havana.
All of these economic reforms are being developed per the country’s communist practices. To have access to the technology incubator, Alasoluciones will have to pay the government 10% of their income. In return, Alasoluciones will have access to imported parts needed to perfect their drone technology. They will also be exempt from paying an import tax on these parts for up to 5 years. Companies like Alasoluciones are showing the Cuban government that there is a niche within the country where private industry are needed. Cuba is far behind when it comes to taking advantage of drone technology. By advancing drone use with Alasoluciones, Cuba will be able to boost its economy while still maintaining the impressive sustainability score bestowed upon them by the WWF.