Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 January 2016 — A ghost is haunting Cuba: the phantom of the Internet. All the forces of the old guard have joined in a holy crusade against that spectre: the Castros and Ramiro Valdes*, the censor, before ‘Furry’ Colomé Ibarra and now Fernández Gondín**, the radical communists and all the opportunistic cops … Thus begins the Manifesto of the Internet for the Cuban people, placed at a horizon so far away that it’s as elusive as everything else concerning connection to the outside world.
Walking through any park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, at every Metro stop, in many cafes and shops, in every mall, and at every corner, I find at each step an announcement of a free Wi-fi signal, and my thoughts fly to my closed little island.
Internet censorship in Cuba is a subject that has been brought up so many times it now stinks. The amply demonstrated reluctance of the Cuban Government to cede a bit of ground in its information monopoly has ended up putting our country at the bottom of the index of connectivity on the whole American continent, and in the select group of those who are behind globally.
I’m bringing up the trite question again on this page, before the news that the representatives of both governments of Cuba and the U.S. have sat down to talk about the subject in recent days, as part of the thaw fostered after 17 December 2014 by the Obama administration and accepted by Raúl Castro, but only because Venezuelan President Maduro’s boat is going under.
But I certainly heard nothing new. “The blockade prevents the financing of any United States project to enlarge the infrastructure; it would be precisely to democratize the administration of the global network; that if cyber-security, that if the solar storms or the rings of Saturn” — whatever excuse the censors could use to delay our right to unconditional access to the world highway.
Surely nothing was mentioned by the Cubans at this meeting about the three-quarters of the Venezuelan submarine cable that remained, deliberately, without exploiting its potential for almost a decade, and they dissimulated or evaded when any allusion was made to concrete proposals, on more than one occasion, by U.S. businesses to make investments in the island, which, in the short term, would make Internet service accessible for the average Cuban and would ostensibly improve telephone service.
Before every proposal by the U.S. or any other country on the matter, the Cubans have followed their usual strategy: find a problem for every solution. On this rough point the dictatorship has its eyes fixed on its only intent: maintaining, at all cost, until its last breath, the most absolutely possible iron control of information. Thus every U.S. proposal came up against this primordial interest, since the dictatorship knows that censorship is a vital matter.
When I walk through the streets of Guayaquil and see at every step announcements of a free Wi-fi signal offered by the city, and the posters from cyber cafes inviting you to use the Internet at a comfortable speed and without restrictions, for U.S.$1.00 for three hours of connection (!), and I see on every roof a parabolic antenna or a coaxial cable, I can’t help but contrast this reality with the Cuban government’s cynical policy and ETECSA’s*** monopoly on “free” Wi-fi service at selected points in drips and drabs.
They all have something in common: you pay $2.00 CUC (more than U.S. $2.00) for an hour with a very slow connection, in a country with an average monthly salary between U.S. $15 and $20. You get connected from a navigation room, outdoors in a park, or “accommodated” under the sun on a sidewalk, but never from your home, since such a service is available only for the Regime’s acolytes, and you always have to show your identification and personal data when you enter.
Furthermore, you should know that every click of the keyboard or every site you visit will be spied on, and you will find that all the sites that are inconvenient to the Government have been zealously censored.
For my part, beyond the fact that my blog, Citizen Zero, is not approved in Cuba — I didn’t have the occasion to try the “superb” Wi-fi service or ETECSA’s navigation room — I will never forgive the satraps of Havana who, by their cojones (balls), vetoed something as simple as a video-conference with my children. This is something that hurts and offends, and converts my conflict with the dictatorship into something personal.
As for their policy, however, there is inescapable evidence to take into account, which is the essential and last cause of the problem: the uncontainable and absolute terror of the Cuban dictatorship before the unsubmissive truths poured out on the Web, which it hides them from the Cuban people because the despots who dis-govern depend on this censorship to perpetuate their power. The Cuban dictatorship’s dilemma is as simple as that. This “menace” makes them lose sleep.
*He defended Internet restrictions, saying, “The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled.”
**The old and new Ministers of the Interior.
*** La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., Cuba’s one telecommunications company.
Translated by: Marlena (PL) and Regina Anavy