Cuba: A Census in ‘Sotto Voce’

Dariela Aquique

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — A Census is the official lists of the inhabitants or citizens of a state, as well as their assets or properties. A rather unusual census is being carried out in Cuba right now, one in sotto voce (a hushed voice).

It is one of the wildest things I’ve heard in recent times (keeping in mind that wild things are commonplace on our island when it comes to social issues). This census is seeking to survey the number of people who have computers and cellphones.

Of course State Security has ordered that this “task” to be carried out by the neighborhood Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), which will employ their usual strategies of gossiping and probing into the lives of others through seemingly naive questions such as:

“Neighbor…does Jane Blow own a home computer?”

To which the response might be: “Yeah, brother, and her daughter has a cellphone.”

So, as if they don’t want those things, they begin making lists or providing such information through the so-called “appropriate channels” (what a horrible phrase).

I think it might be easier to establish this control through the files of Cubacel (the nation’s only cellphone service provider), which has the names of every individual who has ever had a cellphone contract.

Perhaps control over those people with PCs will prove more difficult, given that most of them have acquired their machines on the black market. This is because the government supply, in addition to being woefully inadequate, is extremely expensive – considering the miserable wages paid in this country.

This type of census — though no official information have been given about it, and it’s shrouded in terms that are almost  subterranean — is a response to the panic being experienced by the government, which feels that the threat of inevitable collapse is hanging over its head.

The information revolution, cellphones and satellites are out of its bounds of control. The proliferation of information has shortened distances and accelerated analytical processes to speeds such that immediacy has become a key operational factor.

To quote Faisel Iglesias from his article “Por una nueva concepción de la Sociedad, el Estado y el Derecho cubanos (For a New Conception of Cuban Society, the State and Rights), published in the Hispanic cultural journal Otro Lunes (January 2010), he says:

“A movement known as “new epistemology” or “alternative epistemology” helped change the idea that until then was held by science and the mechanisms that shaped it. This transition from one epoch to another is also linked to a range of social, political and cultural factors that have helped shape the times: the struggles for civil rights, for the environment, etc.”

This is known by the Cuban leadership, which is why they are so afraid of technology and its use. This is why an explanation has never been given about what really happened with the famous fiber-optic cable linking Cuba to the world via Venezuela.

This is why most Cubans have no access to the Internet. And this is why they appeal to resources so ignoble as neighborhood gossip to carry out their underhanded census of those who do and don’t own cellphones or PCs


9 thoughts on “Cuba: A Census in ‘Sotto Voce’

  • Hello from NYC, NY! So here’s another entry I am going to save. If Cubacel does not share it’s information with the people who are announcing the census, then this is very much like what goes on here in the USA.

  • Thank you for providing me with a very helpful response. If indeed the Venezuelan cable simply lacks the infrastructure within Cuba to be fully implemented, then why don’t the official government sources say so? It seems to be a reasonable reason for delay. Granted, it is backasswards to build the international link first then wait now at least two years to build out the local infrastructure but ok, it is done. Yet somehow, Luis, I don’t think even you believe that is the real problem. Secondly, while it does appear inconsistent that the US would maintain relations with totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia and China while resisting Cuba, it really can be explained. Neither of these countries has a 2.3 million strong population living within the US that, to date, has been dedicated to regime change. I agree, the politics of the Cuban diaspora in the US is changing and hopefully their influence in Washington will reflect that change. Finally, being technologically backward is not the problem. In fact, the US views technologically backward countries as opportunities for investment (you may see that as exploitation). However, being technologically backward “on purpose” as a means to control the population is the problem. Should Cuba allow foreign companies to invest in upgrading Cuban infrastructure without the onerous controls and government bribes required, I am convinced the internal network could be built out quickly. But we know that ain’t gonna happen….

  • First of all, ignore my (if not all) parenthesis because I’d not been aware of Chinese appliance-maker Haier, it’s just that in my country there are no products of that company, even though everything else is made in China…

    Second, Ramón Linares, vice-president of the MIC, did give some kind of explanation that support my thesis of lack of network infrastructure described above: “el despliegue de la conectividad no se resuelve de un día para otro, porque cuesta mucho dinero y son necesarias otras inversiones”.

  • First of all, most (if not all) technology companies uses China merely as its industrial park following the global labor distribution. Second you virtually ignore the Helms-Button act as if it was ‘porous’. This is incorrect, as it clearly prejudices Cuban trade because no company in the world wouldn’t think twice to trade with Cuba if its trade with the US – the biggest consumer market in the world – could be prejudiced. Third, as an exercise of rhetoric, one must ask: why the US keeps good relations with many technological backward countries in Africa and not Cuba? If ‘freedom’ is a key element on international politics of the US, why does it keep good relations with Saudi Arabia and not Cuba? And finally, you’ll have to make me repeat myself for the second time:

    “The Guardian article ‘misses’ some information. As an electrical engineer, I find the lack of information offensive to the reader. The ALBA-1 was only a first step. In order for end-users to have the bandwidth it provides, a fiber-optic network needs to be implemented as a backbone through the whole island. Not to mention countless fiber/copper and fiber/cable converters to implement metropolitan networks. Does that exist in Cuba? AP didn’t care to do its homework and said nothing.”

    “I cannot answer for the corruption aspect of the cable installation, well Medardo Diaz Toledo was recently fired. But I’ll repeat: it seems to me that what’s lacking in Cuba is network infrastructure. You can blame the MIC for this, I don’t care. What do pisses me off is people thinking that the simply installation of the cable would ‘magically’ provide broadband access for end-users in Cuba.”

  • Testify before the Cuban parliament? Hahahahahahahahahaha!

  • Hello from NYC, NY. The above text sounds so negative. I’m trying to figure out why this census is necessary. Is there a way for people to testify before the Cuban Parliament about this?

  • Had Cuba chosen to remain technologically competitive with other third world countries through her relationship with China, she could have certainly done so, irrespective of the porous US embargo. To blame the US, yet again, for the dearth of technological awareneness and access on the island is incorrect. Linking international politics to Cuba’s fear of technology is a valid choice. In the 21st century, individual freedoms and access to information is largely a function of access to technology. Withholding access to this technology from the Cuban people is emblematic of the continued lack of freedoms for the Cuban people. If not from fear of information, how else would you explain the government’s silence on the access to the Venezuelan internet cable?

  • Now you have supposed that international politics must be linked with technological advance or backwardness. This is wrong to the core. And much of Cuba’s technological backwardness can be blamed on the US policy towards it.

  • Cuba is so pitiful. Why not just come right out and ask? Who can really take serious a country that is so fearful of something as basic as the computer or cellphone. Cuba’s dictators who began with so noble a cause have withered down to such a miserable state that it is almost too sad to imagine. Cuba has indicated its willingness to sit down at the table with the US to open talks so long as they are received as equals. Equal to what? While the world has advanced, Cuba is stuck counting cell phones.

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