The Digital Revolution vs. the Cuban Revolution?

‘[…] since information wants to be free, then so do the people who have it – setting the stage for a titanic political struggle between the last Soviet-style dictatorship in the world and the first Internet insurgency. Call it the Digital Revolution versus the Cuban Revolution’.[1]

The Digital Revolution in Cuba is facing several difficulties, due to technical, economical and political factors. First of all, Cuba’s Internet connection ‘es super lenta’ (is extremely slow)[2]. Cuba uses a satellite connection with a 65 Mb/s upload bandwidth and a 124 MB/s download bandwidth for the users of entire island. American legislation, due to the US trade embargo, forbids US investment in Cuban telecommunications and the installation of a rapid fiber optic cable for reasonable Internet velocity[3].

Secondly, few people have access to the Internet. There is distinguishable information available about the possibility of buying/owning proper computers and I couldn’t discover whether it is allowed or not. But PCs are very expensive and actual connection to the Internet is limited. Internet is accessible in cybercafés and some hotels, but two Reporters Without Borders journalists experienced difficulties as registration by name and ID number is usually required[4] and their online behaviour strictly being watched by the cybercafés’ employees[5].

Furthermore, there are two types of Internet; the ‘national Internet’ and the ‘international Internet’. The first is a sort of intranet that, concluding from various contradicting sources[6] [7], provides solely email and some Internet pages (.cu) maintained by Cuban authorities. The second is the ‘international’ Internet as we know it.

Besides the extremely slow connection, the cost for accessing Internet is really high. Most Cubans are obligated to use the intranet because the tariffs for the international Internet are too expensive (about 4 Euros for one hour, which is about one third of the average monthly wage and just enough to lead 3 internet pages)[8].

For the people who can access/afford the cybercafés, the PCs are installed with some kind of software that triggers an alert message when it notices subversive keywords and consequently the application – word processor or browser – closes automatically[9].

Additionally, the government traces all email for dissident of subversive content.[10] This results in ‘self-censorship’, and discourages users from transferring political sensitive information. People are careful about what they write and which pages they visit, as harsh punishments are risked for spreading counter-revolutionary content[11] [12].

Contradictorily, the government doesn’t seem to be blocking much of the international Internet. According to the Reporters Without Borders research in 2006, big news sites such as BBC and lemunde.fr are normally accessible[13], and no huge numbers of Internet pages were found. Nevertheless, censorship also occurs for commercial ends[14], and some sites that promote non-state regulated commercial sites are not accessible for Cubans. Whether the sites are blocked by the government isn’t approved, ‘but Cuban authorities have in the past reportedly prohibited access to pages they consider “counter-revolutionary,” including blogs critical of the socialist system’[15].

Besides the lack of broad and open access to its citizens, Cubans also face reverse censorship by US. For instance, Cubans claim that Google blocks access to Cubans with no clear reason why[16]. Also, recently Microsoft seems to be blocking Cubans from using the MSN messenger[17] and Windows, as a consequence of the US trade embargo[18].

So, Cubans seem to have a hard time exploring the World Wide Web, due to high costs, extremely slow Internet and strict monitoring by the government.  According to the available sources, censorship consists of deliberately limiting Cubans from accessing the international Internet pages and monitoring subversive content on PCs and in email. But if that is the case – the fear of the masses connecting to the World Wide Web, how can we explain the government’s agreement with the first plans for providing the island with faster Internet connections being already made? Earlier this year Venezuela announced having plans to lay a sub-marine fiber optics cable to connect Cuba and Venezuela that is expected to be ready in 2010. Also, as a result of the eased long-standing restrictions on telecom links to Cuba by the Obama administration in April this year[19], the US also seem to be willing to connect the island by fiber optics.

This contradicts the aforementioned observations of the government deliberately denying access to the major part of the population. It is extremely difficult to get an objective view of the Cuban Internet situation, as information on the Internet from various sources is very contradictory and some of the (main) sources might be biased. Analysing and describing the current Cuban Internet behaviour was very complicated, as I doubted the reliability, due to the complicated relation between Cuba and the US, of the sources. Facts about the number of users, the tariffs in cybercafés, the websites accessible for citizens and the possibilities for having access and computers are not very consistent. For example, are Cubans at all interested in using the Internet as a political liberation tool[22]? We haven’t heard the opinion of the masses yet, as it is only a mere part of the Cuban population, able to pay the expensive price for Internet usage or with abroad connections to publish their blogpostings, we ‘hear’ online. News from either pro-Cuban, non-Cuban or Cuban but not pro is very contradictory, due to several complicated political, social and economical factors.


[1] Symmes, Patrick. ‘Che Is Dead’, Wired. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[2] Voeux, Claire. ‘I tested the Cuban Internet for you’, RSF Report 2006. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[3] ONI Report on Cuba, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/cuba

[4] Voeux, Claire. ‘I tested the Cuban Internet for you’, RSF Report 2006. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[5] Voeux, Claire. ‘Cuba’s Way Of Controlling The Internet’, RSF Report 2006. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[6] RSF Report 2006 about internet usage in Cuba. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[7] ONI Report on Cuba, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/cuba

[8] RSF Report 2006 about internet usage in Cuba. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[9] Voeux, Claire. ‘Cuba’s Way Of Controlling The Internet’, RSF Report 2006. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[10] RSF Report 2006 about internet usage in Cuba. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[11] RSF Report 2006 about internet usage in Cuba. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[12] ONI Report on Cuba, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/cuba

[13] Voeux, Claire. ‘Cuba’s Way Of Controlling The Internet’, RSF Report 2006. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[14] Faris, R. and Villeneuve, N. ‘Measuring Global Internet Filtering’ in R. Deibert et al. ‘Access denied: The practice and policy of global Internet filtering’. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (2008)

[15] Israel, Esteban. ‘Cubans say access to online market site is blocked’, International Business Times. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[16] Valle, Amaury E. del. ‘Does Google Censor Cuba?’, Juventudrebelde.co.cu, last viewed 2009/11/04

[17] Protalinski, Emil. ‘Microsoft Blocks Messenger in US Embargoed Countries’, Arstechnica.com. Last viewed 2009/11/04)

[18] Symmes, Patrick. ‘Che Is Dead’, Wired. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[19] Telegeography. ‘TeleCuba to lay first US-Cuba fibre-optic cable’. Last viewed 2009/11/04

[20] Lanrami, Salim. ‘Reporters without Borders remains silent about the journalist tortured in Guantánamo’, Globalresearch.ca. Last viewed, 2009/11/11

[21] Anderson, Tim. ‘Cuba and its ‘Independent Journalists’. Thegreenleft.org.au. Last viewed 2009/11/11

[22] Frank, Marc. ‘Cuba may allow for less state control of economy’, Havana Journal. Last viewed 2009/11/04

Advertisements

About this entry