U.S. Senator Flake, former Google CEO meet with new Cuban president

HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and the Trump administration’s top diplomat in Cuba met on Monday with new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the highest-level U.S. delegation to do so since he took office.

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“We had a good meeting with President Diaz-Canel. ... We are hopeful for the future if we can have more connectivity, more travel, more meetings with Cubans and vice versa,” Flake, a Republican, told a news conference in Havana before leaving for home.

Diaz-Canel became president in April, succeeding Raul Castro.

Flake and Schmidt, who is now a board member at Google parent Alphabet Inc, were on a 24-hour visit to discuss improving the island’s internet and also met with the foreign minister and Communications Ministry officials.

Joining them was Philip Goldberg, the senior U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

“We were talking specifically about connectivity, but also about the challenges that have come up. Obviously we have had some setbacks,” said Flake, who opposes the U.S. trade embargo and has been a frequent critic of Republican President Donald Trump.

Trump, who took office in January 2017, has rolled back former Democratic President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with the Communist-run island.

Google took advantage of the Obama-era detente, which included re-establishing diplomatic relations, to set up a small pilot display center and signed a deal in 2016 granting internet users quicker access to its branded content.

“We already have an agreement signed that allows easier access to data. We would like to do more,” Schmidt said.

Cuba is only now entering the digital age and has the lowest per-capita internet access in the hemisphere.

Trump has made it harder for U.S. businesses to invest in Cuba and for Americans to travel there.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Peter Cooney