Cyber-indigence in Cuba

Alfredo Fernandez


HAVANA TIMES — “Please, when you write to Zenaida, tell her not to forget to send the shoes for Carlitos’ graduation, the eye drops for Claudia and the cooking yeast. And please, please, remember to also remind her that the power supply of the computer isn’t going to hold up much longer. Oh, and tell her that if she has a cell phone that she’s not using, not to even think about throwing it out – Danae needs one urgently here.”

I heard such overbearing requests the other day on a bus.

At the moment, unwittingly, I couldn’t help thinking about those times — almost daily — when I use e-mail for similar purposes for myself, my friends and my family.

On numerous occasions I too have sent out such online S.O.S.’s to friends and acquaintances.

In a previous post, I gave a name to the infrequent users of new technologies in Cuba such as that woman or myself, I called them “indirect users,” since that’s pretty much what we are.

People who commonly turn to this now seasoned service of emailing have found a new setting for all kinds of catharsis and revelations. Here in Cuba, we’ve ended up substituting the confessional box of the Catholic Church for the inbox of an e-mail account, or we’ve replaced the priest with his vow of silence for the dubious silence of a friend or acquaintance who does us the favor of sending our message.

With so few Cubans being able to get online, we’re forced to engage in dysfunctional uses of that service so as not to lose touch with our loved ones. This has also turned some emigrants into good Samaritans as they constantly provide us their unselfish assistance.

It’s not uncommon in Cuba to see those people who have the enormous fortune of being able to access e-mail from their home or at work, sending emails in which they plead to people who they barely know or those with whom they’ve hardly dealt with in their lives.

Cyber-indigence in Cuba has a dual character: On the one hand, Internet access by Cubans is the lowest in the Western world; and secondly, the e-mails sent to loved ones abroad, are too often requests for medicines and all kinds of other goods that are always deficient on the island.

One thought on “Cyber-indigence in Cuba

  • My inlaws in Guantanamo are among the very fortunate few Cubans with State-approved internet access in their home. All legal internet is vigorously monitored by internal security so my inlaws are very careful to never send or open any email that contains anything that might be remotely considered counterrevolutionary. (i obviously don´t email my inlaws!) They received many of these requests as described in this post fro other Cubans to send messages to family or friends who live abroad. They keep quite secret the fact that they have this priviledge in their home yet nonetheless the word gets out. They never dare to charge anyone to send emails though many Cubans who have internet in their homes regularly charge a small fee per email or by the half hour. Because they must be careful with this access, they regularly send emails to my wife asking her to forward a message to someone else. These messages are innocuous requests for money or travel information or medicines, etc. It is common that someone in Havana will call my inlaws in Guantanamo asking them to send a message to a family member in Miami. My inlaws instead email their daughter in San Francisco so she can email that someone in Miami to ask for money for their family in Havana. Viva la revolution!

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