Internet in Cuba and Needs of the Population

Dariela Aquique


HAVANA TIMES — I couldn’t help but be amused by an article I came across in the website Cubadebate, originally published in the blog La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba) under the title of Internet in Cuba: Good News and Bad News, where the young authors of the piece attempted to downplay the importance of certain developments – and exaggerate the significance of others – to suit their particular interests.

The post begins thus: “We were first given the news about changes to customs regulations which facilitate bringing electrical appliances purchased abroad into the country and today we were greeted with the good news that we are now able to access the Internet across the country. According to its detractors, Cuba stagnates in its resistance to change, but the truth is that these measures, and others yet to be taken, are being implemented in response to the needs expressed by the people (…)”

Further on, the article develops some rather interesting ideas. As the wording is important, I quote them in their entirety:

“Some will say that, through access to the Internet has now been authorized, service rates are extremely high. This is true, but, what of hotels, mobile phones and passports? These too have high prices that are above what a broad sector of the population can afford, but they’re there. They are no longer made inaccessible by the absurd prohibitions we had to deal with, some of which have not yet been eliminated. Using the Internet may still be a luxury for most, but email services, for instance, are more affordable and will help bring Cuban families closer together (…)”

Let us briefly focus on this issue of “luxury”, as the authors call it. Some weeks ago, La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) announced that it would open 118 public Internet access points across the country, and that these, open Monday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., would offer Internet, email and intranet services to the public.

More of the same. Who are they trying to fool with this whole, hackneyed business of “customer services”, services charged in the hard currency that Cuban workers are not paid in, bought at an extremely unfavorable exchange rate?

The rates: for intranet (Cuban websites), will be 0.60 CUC the hour; access to an international email provider and these same intranet services will cost 1.50 CUC an hour. Internet access, plus all the above services, will cost 4.50 CUC an hour.  (1 USD = 0.87 CUC)

By paying for these services directly at the cybercafé or purchasing a “Nauta” card at an ETECSA sales point (for use at specific locations), users will be able to access temporary accounts, valid for 30 calendar days as of the date of the first session. They will also be able to open a permanent account, complete with username, password and email address, if they so request and pay for the service.

More of the same. Who are they trying to fool with this whole, hackneyed business of “customer services”, services charged in the hard currency that Cuban workers are not paid in, bought at an extremely unfavorable exchange rate?

They continue to take us for suckers. Yes, now you are entitled to stay at a hotel, but, how is a Cuban family expected to be able to afford a weekend at the Playa Pesquero Hotel, which charges 99 CUC the night, for adults, and 56 CUC for children? Or at the Tuxpan de Varadero, part of the Cubanacan chain, charging 159 and 111 CUC for two nights, for adults and children, respectively?

How is a Cuban expected to obtain a tourist visa at any embassy or consulate, when they have to offer proof of financial solvency, backed by an account that, many a time, must have a minimum balance of 2,000 U.S. dollars? How is any Cuban expected to do this, when paying the 100 CUC that a passport costs is often next to prohibitive?

The post is one contradiction after the other, as demonstrated by the paragraph that follows: “(…) When I go a day without accessing the Internet, I feel uncomfortable, it’s like an addiction. But, the truth is that the Internet is not essential to our everyday lives, nor do we need it to be free, as some would have us believe [who would have them believe this, their inner voices?] (…) I have friends and relatives who’ve never heard of the Internet and lead happy lives. For them, the most important things in life are other things. Of course, the decision to turn the Internet into something essential, or not, must be made by the individual, on the basis of the freedom to access it.”

How is a Cuban expected to obtain a tourist visa at any embassy or consulate, when they have to offer proof of financial solvency, backed by an account that, many a time, must have a minimum balance of 2,000 U.S. dollars?

Then, the post deviates into the usual “philosophical digressions”, claiming that “(…) hundreds of thousands of young Cubans have free Internet access at university. There are also numerous professors, researchers, athletes and workers from other sectors who can access the Internet, many of them from their own homes.” Admittedly, many pages are blocked and there are set times when one can access certain others, including Facebook (after 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and anytime on Sunday).

The required mention of the “mercenary” online press and blogs follows, as does the mandatory reference to the arrogant posture of the US government (and to what people on both shores are saying about all this).

The funniest thing for me, however, was this: “(…) Recently, La Joven Cuba published a survey which put the following question to the population: Which of the following news would you want to see headlined in tomorrow’s papers? 1. A new inmigration law reform. 2. Public Internet access. 3. The elimination of the two-currency system. The results could not have been more revealing. In total, over 770 people voted and only 29 % chose Internet access.”

Incidentally, they never did mention which option people voted for the most. It goes without saying that, right now, Internet access cannot be the top priority for the average Cuban, who has to work miracles to get to the end of the month with food on the table. How could anyone be expected to pay 4.50 CUC to use the Internet for an hour, when they don’t even have oil to cook with or enough food to eat at home? Hence, the question I close with: what needs does Internet access in Cuba respond to?

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.

4 thoughts on “Internet in Cuba and Needs of the Population

  • You are 100% right that Cuba needs access to the internet – not just the intranet which is redundant and just an excuse for repression – to improve economic performance. all the examples you give make sense.

    Even more: Cuban education would be greatly enhanced by access to the internet for all.
    But then there is the social aspect: nearly all Cubans have relatives abroad. Staying in contact (e-mail, VOIP, Skype, …) is also very important to them.
    As far as the the infrastructure in Cuba goes: dilapidated as it is in lots of places you would be surprised what is there already. Nearly 10,000 miles of fiber optics (at least) to which by the way all 118 new cyber cafes are connected. Digital phone exchanges in most cities. ASDL high speed connections can be created easily in many towns and cities. The backbone that runs from Santiago (Siboney) to Havana and onward is adequate enough to take on lots of more traffic.

  • I think most miss the point that Cuba needs internet / intranet connectivity to increase productivity of the economy, not for social purposes.

    Connectivity would increase economic productivity by things such as:
    * scheduling / optimization of transporting agricultural products from the fields to market.
    * balancing electrical distribution between the power generation stations and users.
    * allowing students to attend some classes on line rather than physically going to the university. also allowing academic research on line rather than being limited to what is hard copy in the library.

    * allowing residents to connect on line from their homes at times that are convenient for them (evenings) rather than physically going to a cafe during business hours.
    * allowing people to determine if there is an available seat on a cross country bus without going to the station when the bus is leaving.
    * the list goes on and on.

    The key is to improve economic productivity by using technology, not simply lowering the cost of the internet for social purposes.

    Unfortunately, this progress requires a financial investment in infrastructure. And Cuba has no finances because the current low productivity requires all financial resources be used to buy food overseas so everyone does not starve tomorrow. There may be no option but accept an international partner.

  • Like all of Raul’s reforms, expanded internet access is simply an exercise to appease a certain sector of the Cuban population and to polish an ever-tarnishing image internationally. It has nothing to do with ‘real’ reform. Everything Raul has done since 2006 when he inherited the throne from Fidel and everything he likely will do for the remaining five years of his dictatorship (sorry for the mixed metaphors) is designed to consolidate and maintain power within the military-elite who currently run the country.


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