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Cuba: “Could Cuba become the next Egypt?”

Throughout February, popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa had members of the Cuban blogosphere wondering: could Cuba become “the next Egypt”? Reports and footage from Cairo inspired many posts devoted to this question, but few bloggers were optimistic that a similar movement could take hold in Cuba today.

Ernesto Morales Licea wrote that while he saw many parallels between Cuba and Egypt, Cuban broadcast and telecommunications policies would make it difficult to build a movement. “[The] control of information in my tranquilized country is,” he wrote, “aberrantly, more fierce than in countries such as those that have just exploded.” He continued:

[T]his massive revolt in Egypt was planned and organized through communication via Twitter and Facebook…[This] is the reason why there is no freely accessible internet in Cuba. And the reason why the brand new fiber optic cable…rather than liberate Cubans, rather than connect them to the world, will suffocate communication. As of now I bet on it. And I would be delighted to lose. […] This is why in Cuba [there is much] worrying [that] telephones are tapped and…conversations recorded. The reason international television is exuberantly blockaded…They know what’s at stake: The survival of the system.

Regina Coyula commented on this comparison on La Mala Letra. Like Morales, she felt that Egyptians’ access to information and ICTs marked an important distinction between the two places, but noted other important factors as well.

I find notable coincidences between Egypt and Cuba, [but] there are also profound differences. Egypt was governed by a dictator, but it was not a totalitarian state; opposition parties and civil society found themselves structured and inside the limits of legality. The officer corps in the Army seems to be professionally trained, many graduated from institutions in the West, and when posed with the dilemma of supporting the government or the people, opted for the second…Egyptians find themselves familiar with communications technologies…and through [these] they found themselves structured by affinities beforehand with the call of Wael Ghonim from Facebook.

Bloggers also had much to say about the Facebook group “Por un levantamiento popular en Cuba [In support of a popular uprising in Cuba],” [es] which, according to multiple bloggers, was organized by Cubans in Miami. The group became a space not only for those calling for a social uprising, but also for mourners of the deceased Cuban prisoner of conscience and hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The group page listed a number of rallies set to be held at Cuban embassies in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Mexico, to honor the one-year anniversary of Zapata’s death, but also scheduled protest events that were to take place in Havana during the week of February 21. It seems that these events did not turn out as group members hoped they would: most didn't happen at all.

Cuba's Capitol Building in Havana/By stephendl CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It is difficult to ascertain whether Cubans on the island responded to these calls to action. Several bloggers in Cuba criticized the effort, writing that it was naive of group members to do this while sitting comfortably at their computers in other parts of the world.

On Sin Evasión, Miriam Celaya criticized the Facebook group, pointing out that Cuba is simply not wired enough for a revolution to develop through “virtual channels.” She wrote:

Let’s discreetly review how questionable it is to call for civil demonstrations in Cuba from abroad, given that the masterminds (or “cyber-messiahs,” as befits the information age) have not given us their confirmation that they will land in Cuba to place themselves at the head of the imaginary uprising….Readers who have placed their faith in this new “now’s the time!” that has arrived from afar, forgive me, but if the matter were not this serious, it would even be laughable. Just look at a few small details, like the fact that there is virtually no Internet access in Cuba or that not too many Cubans have access to social networks. This makes it almost impossible for the democratic liberation to start via the virtual channels, through the use of computers — or perhaps simply through cell phones — by…experienced cyber-leaders of [today].

Regina Coyula also called the effort ill-conceived, because of the lack of Internet access in Cuba, and the lack of public knowledge about opposition movements on the island. She wrote of an informal experiment she conducted to test the validity of her assertion:

Since last Monday, I have approached a considerable group of youths with different interests — some I know, others I don’t, and I have asked them three questions. The first, if they have a Facebook account — which surprised me, everybody (!) responded yes. The second, if they knew of the initiative launched from abroad for the anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata, to which everyone answered no. The majority had gone days without being able to log on to their accounts. The others hadn’t received anything (I don’t exclude that some had indeed received it and hadn’t wanted to give themselves away)…I don’t know about those who read this, but that says something to me.

Claudia Cadelo, a leading blogger for Voces Cubanas, wrote of her emotional response to the news from Egypt. She expressed little faith in an eminent change in Cuba, but spoke to the unique power of experience that she has found through her life in virtual space.

I want to know what’s happening in Egypt but on Cuban television they manipulate everything. I look out the window again and remember the photos of the Green Revolution in Iran. I feel nostalgic. It’s ridiculous to feel nostalgia for something I didn’t even experience. I remember November sixth and everyone on the sidewalk at G and 27th staring, mouths agape, eyes stupid, as a group of men in plain clothes forced three young women into a car. I laugh. I can’t imagine the streets of Vedado* flooded with young people demanding democracy.

I’m not going to get pessimistic: I always have the Web. When I connect to the Internet the bad taste in my mouth fades. There’s a sensation that the world is changing and I’m on another planet…Again I feel that it’s possible, that one day change will come, that the freedom of my life on the Web will one day be matched by my life on the street. It doesn’t matter how much we lack. I will know to hope.

* Vedado is the neighborhood where the University of Havana is located.

2 comments

  • Marcos Quiros

    I am a Cuban who left the country looking for political, social and economic freedom. As part of my daily routine, before starting to work, I always browse for Cuban news, that is how I ran into your post.

    I do not think an Egyptian-like revolution could happen in Cuba now nor in the near-term future. Telecommunications play a key role in enabling unity and organization. Freedom of movement also plays a key role. Making those 3 aspects unreachable is Castro’s masterpiece. Once he got into power, he erased all the paths he took to make the Revolution. Those paths were press, freedom of expression, privacy, and the ability to travel outside the country.

    In the other side, I also think Cubans are tasting technology and telecommunications of the 21st century. And they like it! Tecnology and communications are unstoppable, they enable globalization, therefore is it just a matter of time before the Cuban government cannot stop Cubans from knowing the truth about how successful societies work and behave.

    Before finishing, I would like to inform you that I was banned from the Facebook group “Por un levantamiento popular en Cuba” because of a comment I posted not aggreing with minimizing the money that Cubans living outside the island send to their families. Their idea was that by stop sending money to families Castro’s economy would collapse. I only said that Castro’s economy feed from other sources besides family remitances such as Doctor’s working in 3rd world countries as contractors, and tourism. That reducing money sent to families would only hurt those families, Castro will still be able to eat properly.

    This conflict is not black or white, no conflict is. Oppossition outside Cuba also feeds from the frustration of Cubans who emmigrated as well as the Cuban government uses Miami as a justification for one of the most terrible economic and social failures in history. The need the conflict in order to exist.

    Thank you for posting and for interesting in my beautiful country.

    Have you ever been to Cuba?

  • Lucia Valentin

    I am cuban myself and i found this article quite misinforming about Cuba and a bit dodgy. Most cubans have no access to internet because the USA dont let Cuba to have easy connections or good internet servers services. Also many cubans are aware of the health risks that implies to have a telephones portable or a Wifis ( Electromagnetic pollution and so on )..Despite this, many cubans have access to internet because i talk daily with my cubans friends and family within Cuba and they are all from different backgrounds and professions. We most not forget that around the world ONLY one person out of a hundred have have to internet or a computer so i dont think Cuba and our people are that behind in communications and technology. It is just part of the USA endless arrogance vis a vis Cuba, like when youtube banned Cubadebate from its site.

    I would like to clarifie to those who are not cubans and to those cubans who are selling out our beautiful country to the imperialists taken by gods, that Cuba NEVER will be like Egypt because MOST Cubans love Fidel and the revolution. The so called ” Cuban dissidence ” is just a bounch of uneducated angry reactionaries and almost no one like or listen them inside Cuba..Why ? Coz their discurse dont respect the national soveranity neither the will of the majority of the cubans !! Yoanis Sanchez is one of the most intelectually lazy bone i ever read !! She is just another puppet in the virtual world, like Wikileaks, Zeitgeist, the Venus Proyect and so on. The list of shills is huge !

    ” Levantamiento popular en Cuba”- jajajaja.., yes maybe, an upsring against the right wing gusanos ( worms ), and i will be the first to be back home to defend my country from those sell out souls. Obama dont lift the blockade coz he knows that cubans wont give up !! Also, the cuban mafia in Miami is the first one who make money selling and recreating the whole conflit between the two nations. If the blockade end, thousands of “mafiosos” cubans will loose their jobs and TV channels in Miami. There is whole industry around it in USA.

    Please do not forget that thousands of cubans overseas are not in Miami or USA, and many like myself support the revolution. Life in the capitalist world is very miserable. Water here is polluted, food is full of trash, pollution and violence is everywhere. I was poorer materially when in Cuba but happier when living there.My children are not cubans, they were born overseas, thats why i live here but if my country is threatened, i will be the first to get on the plane to fight against of whoever try to destroy the revolution !! We are many, within and outside Cuba !

    ” Whoever try to get hold of Cuba, only will pick up the dust of its soil full of cuban blood if dont die in the intent ” ( a known expression among cubans ) !

    I dont know who u are Global Voices but this article is one of the most non sense things i have ever read about my country ! Please, if u want to be called Global Voices, dont promote this kind of aberration in your site !

    I wont waste my time discussing with unaware of the reality of my country, cubans or not cubans so dont insult me as Yoanis’s friends in my youtube channel.Thank u !!

    Viva mi Cuba revolucionaria !! Viva Fidel !!

    Lucia

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