6 August, 2009 — Council on Hemispheric Affairs
- Microsoft terminates Cuban access to its instant messaging service, which, at first glance, suggests an act of compliance at the behest of the U.S. government
- The software behemoth chides Latin American leaders for undemocratic principles in an online smear campaign which might be better aimed at itself
Cutting Off an Isolated Island
During the last week of May 2009, Microsoft abruptly and inexplicably banned access to its Windows Live Messenger instant messaging service in Cuba. In response to several inquiries, the company defended its action by asserting that ‘Microsoft has discontinued providing Instant Messenger services in certain countries subject to United States sanctions. Details of these sanctions are available from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).’ In other words, the company claimed to be complying with the provisions of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), the federal statute first issued on July 6, 1963 which had the responsibility for regulating the now-anachronistic trade embargo with the Caribbean island. Specifically, Microsoft was referring to the section of the CACR delineating that ‘no foreign subsidiary or branch of a U.S. organization may export products, technology, or services to Cuba or to any Cuban national, wherever they may be located, or broker the sale of goods or commodities to or from Cuba or any Cuban national.’ The status of Windows Live as a downloadable software program categorizes it as transferable technology, thereby making it subject to the regulation.
Carrying Out Orders?
The lack of transparency shrouding this incident makes it difficult to ascertain the true motives behind Microsoft’s actions. At first glance, however, the abruptness of the termination by Microsoft raises suspicions of whether the company was pressured into doing so by OFAC, an agency within the U.S. Treasury Department that traditionally has overseen the enforcement of the embargo. Such an assertion is bolstered by the fact that both Google and AOL quite quickly followed suit by ceasing their own instant messaging services in Cuba later in the week. Furthermore, the fact that Windows Live had been utilized as a means of communication on the island for the past decade – in spite of the existence of the embargo – strongly suggests that some form of government intervention caused the surprising ban to all of a sudden kick in.