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Cuba and the Internet

There has been a lot of talk lately in the Cuban blogosphere about Cuba's attitude towards the Internet. The reactions appear to be as diverse as the myriad persons concerned with this rather heated issue. Some of this discussion was provoked by a recent report by Reporters without Borders about restrictions and censorship for Cubans accessing the World Wide Web.

Connection to the Internet in Cuba is slow, and Cuban nationals cannot normally ask for the service to be installed at home, with some rare exceptions given usually for work reasons, in which case the employer pays for the service for its employee. Only companies and foreign visitors or residents can hire the service and pay for it, as prices are awfully high, and the quality of the connection is still not good. Yet many average people get access to the World Wide Web at work, mostly IT staff of connected companies, or people subscribed (also for work reasons) to the health network and ISP Infomed, which gives access mainly to many specific web sites such as Wikipedia, free software resources and health-related pages.

On the one hand, apologists for Cuba's policies defend the government's position, attributing all the responsibility for the poor bandwidth of Cuba's link to the Internet to the US government, which is said to be blocking all attempts in the island to connect to high-speed links. The general argument is that, as the overall connection speed of Cuba is not sufficient to serve the entire country, the government has to control this scarce resource in order to use it optimally for the benefit of everyone, albeit indirectly.

On the web site of the Party for Socialism and Liberation there's an English version of an article by Jose R. Vidal, a professor of at the University of Havana, who writes that

This is how scarce financial and technological resources are directed towards the essential interests of the country and the possibilities offered by the internet, in general, and how information and communication technologies favors the entire population and not only those that are connected to the internet.

The blog Proposiciones (ES) reprints an interesting article from the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde. The author of the article argues that

Since the first days of the Internet, the US has interfered the access of Cuba to it, and at the same time has unleashed a ferocious campaign against the revolution, accusing it of not giving freedom of connection to the global network.

What really happens is that, because of the laws of the blockade, the country is unable to connect to the international fiber optics channels that pass near its coasts, thus having to connect through satellite links which are more expensive and it limits considerably this resource.

On the other side, the most extreme critics of Cuba's policies state that such control is an excuse of the Cuban government to grant access only to those people they consider are “ideologically secure”. They also report that acquiring computer equipment in the island is not affordable for many, and even if people had the means to do so, it is not as simple as going to a store.

Another interesting argument from these critics is that the claims that the US government blocks Cuba from connecting to high-speed links are not true, and they base this assertion on a debate that occurred recently in a UN summit in Athens, Greece, between a Cuban government official in charge of electronic commerce in the island and an independent researcher and networking engineer, who asserted that “the Cuban government's problems stem from its own telecommunications monopoly and its official censorship policies”. (For more information on the Internet Governance Forum in which this debate occurred, see Jose Murilo Junior's Global Voices article.)

El Güinero talks (ES) with some irony about these issues:

Lately, the “grandma” [a play on words referring to the Communist Party daily, Granma] has been doing its best to deal with the fuss about a report that criticized the limits of accessing the internet on the island. They have come up with a logic of “you tell me what I will tell you.” Fantastic! And as part of the offensive, “La China” – or maybe it was Ramiro who is in charge of computing now – unleashed UN representative Juan Fernandez to declare war.

Also, some of the posts reflecting these and other opinions have already been cited recently here on Global Voices, a few of them from the blog Child of the Cuban Revolution, which has a series of articles about Internet in Cuba (No Internet for you, Castro's Internet I, II and III).

It’s been a lot of fun watching the Castro regime and its apologists trying to explain over the past few days why the vast majority of Cubans are effectively barred from accessing the Internet.

As you'd expect, it’s the fault of those evil Americans – the “criminal” commercial embargo stops Cuba from linking to fast fiber optic cables, etc, etc.

And finally, there are also some blog posts in the middle like the one by El cubano de la isla on his blog Mi isla al mediodía (My island at noon). In an article entitled Hipocresía (ES), he refers to his government's position as an hypocritical one, and at the same time criticizes the US for its policies for a “Free Cuba”, also considered by him as hypocritical as well.

The blogger Left-handed on his web site Por la izquierda (On the left) also assumes an intermediate position by arguing that both sides of the controversy are to blame (ES). He goes as far as to say that The biggest damage that [the US] has made to this island is to maintain a blockade that serves more like a pretext and justification to cover all that has been done wrong….

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