Getting connected in Cuba

Getting connected | Comment is free

Cuba is the least technologically connected country in Latin America, falling way behind in mobile phone and internet penetration. The Castro regime
has blamed the long-standing US embargo for the communication
restrictions – and must utilise satellite technology as a result – but
the situation is far more complicated than the government likes to
publicly admit. For example, Cubans are required to obtain a permit to
buy a computer or subscribe to an ISP, therefore making regular contact
with the outside world a virtual impossibility for the vast majority of
citizens.

During a recent visit to the island, I discovered that although access to the internet has improved since a crackdown
in 2004, some Cubans are frustrated by their government’s unwillingness
to allow unfettered access to the web. Many young Cubans can use an
intranet with an email address and government-approved websites, but
this is hardly a replacement for the real thing. One student in Havana,
who was studying IT and the internet, told me that he and his friends
were increasingly angry that the authorities did not allow them to
experience the web in its unfiltered glory.

I met Felix at the Iranian embassy in Havana. He was in his 50s and
had spent most of his life teaching at a local university. He left a
few years ago because the pay was poor and he needed to better support
his family. Felix lamented the lack of a free press in his country and
the ways in which the internet – something he had seen a few times with
former university friends – was routinely blocked and restricted. “Life
for us is very tough”, he told me. He resented the ruling elite who
dictated policy to the masses while enjoying complete personal freedom
themselves.

The last 12 months have seen a tightening of control over the Cuban
population, partly due to Fidel’s sickness and a fear of American
meddling. Marc Frank, Reuters correspondent in Cuba, told me that, “the
two main security issues for the government are cell phones and the
internet”, as they allow citizens access to information away from
prying authorities. He rightly acknowledged that internet access wasn’t
a priority for most Cubans – more basic needs such as employment took
precedence – but it was a political ticking time-bomb. The rise of
hip-hop culture amongst the Cuban youth, and the appropriation of
US-style gangsta rap, is leading to an increased taste for what
globalisation has to offer. The internet is integral to these new
desires. Despite this, I could find no regular bloggers based in Cuba.

Fidel was undoubtedly respected by large swathes of the population,
but the mood for change is palpable. Neither US-style capitalism nor
Chavez-inspired socialism may be right, but the inevitable passing of
Fidel will probably see at least slight democratic openings.

Any nation that believes in the rule of law and democracy must
guarantee freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of
speech. Cuba is not currently that country. Decades of pointless US
interventions and an over-zealous Miami community have brought Cuba to
the point of economic ruin. None of these facts, however, excuse the
inability of the Castro regime to enter the ranks of modern, open
nations. Many governments are routinely filtering “subversive” websites in an attempt to protect their autocratic rule. They are fighting a battle that they can never win.

Advertisements