Cuba: The Ideal Place to Kick Back and…Unplug

Alfredo Fernandez 

The Havana malecon seawall.

I greatly doubt that any other country in the western hemisphere has such ideal conditions for someone to “unplug” as does Cuba.  It turns out that on the largest island in the Caribbean — at almost twenty years since the Internet has become the indispensable medium for human communications —this network of networks remains on the margin here.

It’s simply impossible for the average citizen in Cuba to connect to the Web from their home.  To do so they have to turn to a hotel, where an hour of connection time can cost almost half the minimum monthly wage.  This obviously leaves a good part of the population sidelined from accessing this vital service.

Similarly, the high cost of cellphone service makes a mobile phone more like a GPS than a facilitator of communication.  Running at about $.50 USD per minute, phone services don’t allow much time to fall in love.  After a cellphone rings, it’s common to hear: “Yeah Ok bye.”

I thought about all of this when I found out two months ago that a friend who lives in Spain was sending his 14 year-old daughter to Cuba on vacation; his plan was to use the island as an excuse for disconnecting the fixated girl from both the phone and the Internet.

What automatically occurred to me was that this could present itself as a juicy business opportunity for the Cuban government, which could outstrip the world health tourism market with an attractive tropical alternative for patients addicted to the Internet and mobile devices.

Two possible slogans for the campaign that I liked were: 

– “Cuba: Feel far from the West when you’re right in the middle of it.”

– “Cuba: Where those who are happily disconnected welcome you to join them.”

These contemporary patients could save on the expensive treatments of European and US clinics.  Here it’s enough to sit on the Malecon seawall, make friends and by the end of the week be like any other Cuban – unaware of the burdens of those who are obsessed with constantly being connected and ignorant of the suffering of those who are compelled to use their phones like offices.

I think that the government — now with its new policies that seek to promote truly profit-making businesses — should take advantage of these fabulous conditions to grow a new industry from the ground up: that of “disconnection therapy.”

I believe that Cuba, like no other country on the planet, has been presented with a great opportunity to become the leading market supplier in this field.



Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

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3 thoughts on “Cuba: The Ideal Place to Kick Back and…Unplug

  • Viola, That should be a choice that each of the citizens of Cuba should make for themselves. A government should not decide for them if they can have internet or not or if they can have phones or not or if they want to play games or do text messaging.

    That should be an individual decision for each an every citizen.

    They have been making such kinds personal decisions of decisions for the cuban citizens for 50 years.
    Decisions that include who can state in a hotel,who can travel abroad and so on. who gets what doctor . etc

    I think Alfredo meant his article with sarcasm. I do not think he actually likes the fact that internet is not available to a majority of Cubans neither that they have no access to other things.

  • I like this idea. I am deeply ambivalent about internet and globalized “connectivity.” On one level it may not be right for Cuba’s people to remain “unplugged” in this way, because “everyone else is doing it.” On another level, the fact that everyone else is plugged in may be instructive. The internet has undeniably opened many possibilities for learning and cross-cultural communication. It has also opened a huge window for crime, commerciality, extremisms and perversions of all kinds, time-wasting and laziness. Perhaps it would indeed be best for Cuba to remain an island of off-line tranquility.

    Perhaps I am just old (51) and cranky, but the epidemic of telephone use is another matter. I can see the value in mobile phones for use in emergencies, road accidents etc.. Here in the United States, at least, the level of “texting,” email-checking, game-playing, and frivolous calling has become disgusting. A few years, ago when suddenly everyone seemed to have one of these multi-use telephones, I was riding on the sutreetcar in my city. I saw the many earnest young people peering deeply into their “hand-helds, ” and gently tapping the screens. I thought they were catching up on some of their work, and I admired them for this. Then I realized that nearly all were only playing games. Now, no-one reads books anymore on the streetcar. They play idiotic computer games, and “text” each other about meaningless nonsense. Terrible. It would be good for Cuba to avoid this frivolity.

  • Hmm! Alfredo, I already see another competitor who could possible wreck your monopoly on this service: the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea! Now THAT is a truly disconneted nation! Still, Cuba seems to have embraced some of The Great Leader Kim Il Sung’s philosophy of Juche!

    On the other hand, Cuba could cash in on the desire for quick weight loss amongst the Americans, Canadians and Western Europeans by offering month-long stays in which the medical tourist would be required to exist only upon what could be obtained through a libretta. There was even an article about this in an issue of Harper’s Magazine last year. The writer lost 18 lbs. in one month (but he cheated a bit by “working on the left” and accepting a few restraunt meals from a couple of his compatriots)! Meanwhile in my own state of Vermont there are programs which charge thousands of U.S. dollars per week for attempting the same outcome. Cuba could surely undercut these!

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