Illiteracy Knocking on Cuba’s Doors

Alfredo Fernandez 

Public "Joven Club" computer center. Photo: Ricardo C. Fernandez de C.

If it doesn’t allow free access to the Internet soon, Cuba will be a country of virtual illiterates in the next few years.

The New Technologies of Information and Communications (NTICs) have invaded contemporary society putting the Internet, computers and cellphones under the heading of indispensable.

The problem is that these technological creatures, by the force of kilobytes, are approaching us from the distance.  They are informing us in real time of any occurrence, at anytime, anywhere on the planet.

Yet the mere mention of the Internet in Cuba causes commotion.  Up to now, Cuban authorities have had reasons to justify the non-existence of free access to the “network of networks” in this country.  They have been able to point to “the US blockade” that has forced the island to rely on the narrow bandwidth of an expensive satellite connection.  The result in this case was that the blanket covered us so completely we could never even see a toe sticking out.

What should one hope for when one is waiting?  That question was the title of a fantastic piece of choreography by the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba troupe that I saw several years ago.  Today this is a question that stays constantly on my mind.  I can’t get it out of my head when I see the government’s stance toward the Internet contrasted to the real possibility of Cubans soon having unrestricted access to the Web.

The Internet will become available to all Cubans – I have no doubt about that.  What I want to know is when.  And what I worry about is the delay in taking advantage of the fiber optic cable that has linked the towns of Güaira Venezuela and Siboney Cuba since this past February.

Since the arrival of that long-awaited cable in Siboney, the government announced that by July it would be fully operational.  However, as far as I know no one has been able to consume a single kilobyte from this famous line.

Last month, Ministry of Communications Vice Minister Boris Moreno said, “In the next few months it will become operational.”  The cable, according to official spin, will have a connection speed that’s 3,000 times faster than the current one.  On the other hand, authorities had previously specified that the connection would prioritize “videoconferences and scientific centers” – not mass public access.

The little that I can expect from the “cable with a better connection” is that it will reduce the outrageous price of access to the Internet in Cuban hotels, where presently the rates are more than $5 USD an hour.

At this point, as a social scientist I’m unable to overlook this situation since it portends grave consequences.  The fact that people in Cuba don’t exercise their right to freely access the Internet is a circumstance that acts to deprive of people of all ages of their right to be informed, communicate and entertain themselves.

Added to my fears is that New Technologies of Information and Communications is making illiteracy a dynamic concept; that’s to say, a person might not be technologically illiterate today, but by being outside of the new uses of technologies they can end the year being a true illiterate as to questions related to NTIC.

If this country does not embrace this technology in the immediate future, availing itself of the wide possibilities of that reserve of knowledge that is the Internet, an increasingly real possibility exists that in a few years we will have an entire nation of illiterates here in Cuba.

4 thoughts on “Illiteracy Knocking on Cuba’s Doors

  • The option of internet usage should be apparent for people to make their own choice. You can’t ignore the technological advantages possible with the access of the internet but it doesn’t guarantee literacy and arithmetic.

    A bigger cause for concern is being left behind in the modern world where almost everything is process online or using an advanced form of technology.

  • Hi All,

    I agree with Diane. Everyone should have the free option of learning about and using the Internet. I don’t think that the average Cuban who is either already online or about to be (hopefully soon) will turn into one of our illiterates who can type like a madman but cannot spell to save his life. There IS quality entertainment available online. The choice of entertainment is obviously a personal one, so why can’t they have both, like most others in the world?
    Cubans are already educated in the traditional sense. Widespread use of the Internet will only add to and enhance their perspectives and experiences. They’re hardly in any danger of losing their quality entertainment or social interaction.

  • Hi Alfredo,
    Greetings from Massachusetts, USA.
    Firstly, I just discovered Havana Times and look forward to reading more of your stories. Bravo!
    I disagree with much of what Webb-Pullman says about the effect of the internet on social interactions. My daughter grew up online. She could type her name and change a font in Word before she could hold a pencil. Young adults seem glued to their laptops, but they are also highly social.
    Of course, the internet generation is far more connected to each other than previous generations. People stay in touch, though they may be scattered around the world. She is in Morocco, yet we videophone each other via Skype almost daily.
    Having free access to the internet can be nothing but good for Cuba. It’s not an “either/or” situation.
    Computer literacy today is just as important as literacy. One can hardly be a world citizen without the internet.
    I would love to read articles about Cuba’s evolving presence on the internet. Havana Times is a wonderful addition to cyberspace, particularly for those of us who love the country. (I have been to Cuba twice, and hope to visit again soon.)
    If I can be of any help, please let me know!
    Warm Regards,
    Diane Gordon

  • While the internet can be a very useful tool, it does not necessarily guarantee technological or any other kind of literacy, and it is certainly no substitute for the sort of quality entertainment Cubans take for granted. Regarding the first, rather than encourage profound thought, initiative and investigative skills, the internet encourages instant gratification – superficiality and a ‘google’ mentality where whatever you find on the first page of your google search results is what you settle for…even though it is usually unsubstantiated opinion eg Wikipedia – and did you know people PAY to get their results up front on google? so what you find is what someone wants to pay big bucks for you to find…anyone with an ounce of ‘literacy’ can figure the implications of that for what comes to be accepted as being ‘facts’ …how often have you even looked at page 7 of your search results, eg, let alone page 67? People are also usually too lazy to bother verifying what they discover on the internet, so are easily misled, misinformed, and manipulated, becoming not literate but worse – compliantly ignorant. Professional, academic and scientific publications, by contrast, have been through strict peer review and editorial processes, and you can be pretty certain that what you find in them is either factual, theoretically sound, or as near to it as can be achieved by humans. Re entertainment – sitting in front a computer rather than directly interacting with other human beings is fine in small doses, but does not promote either cultural literacy or promote social interaction, which ultimately is what entertainment should be about – artists interacting with audiences. The further apart they become, the less the human connection or response, the less immediacy, and ultimately, the less entertaining. What is more entertaining – listening to a CD of Charanga Habanera, or seeing them live? I know which one I prefer!! The grass might always look greener on the screen, but you can neither feel it springy beneath your feet, nor have a picnic on it with friends or family!

Comments are closed.