Panel Debates on Cuba’s “Weekly Package”

Jimmy Roque Martínez

The weekly package.

HAVANA TIMES – The controversial “weekly package” – a compilation of TV series, music and a wide range of digital files put together every week and distributed in Cuba through hard disks and flash drives – was once again addressed at two panel discussions.

The panels were held at the venue of the Hermanos Saiz Association. In the last debate, essayist Victor Fowler, the vice-president of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) Omar Alazara and Elio, someone who puts together the music compilation for the package, participated as panelists.

Generally speaking, people spoke in favor of the existence of the package. Many were curious to know how so many materials can be obtained with Cuba’s limited internet access. Where the materials are downloaded, who downloads it, how so much information is put together and organized – these were questions that could not be answered.

An institutional initiative that hopes to compete with the package, the Mochila (“Backpack”) distributed by Cuba’s Computer Clubs, was mentioned.

The panel.

Victor Fowler called the weekly package one of the most important of cultural phenomena that the country has experienced in the last quarter of a century. In this connection, he said that “when we speak of the package, we’re speaking about two phenomena: the particular characteristics of the circulation of alternative audiovisual materials in Cuba today (or the alternative circulation of audiovisual materials) and the way in which the information revolution is having an impact on our country.”

The intellectual added that “the package speaks to us of desires, of alternative networks, of subjects with autonomy, of consumers, of a lack in what official media offers.”

According to Fowler, there appears to be a nationwide consensus that the package should exist, be used and consumed, and this consensus “is not in perfect harmony with the cultural policies of the post-1959 Cuban society.”

Elio, who has been selling packages for 8 years, pointed out that the package didn’t include “things having to do with politics”, for that wasn’t “logical” – “you can’t swim against the current. I don’t do anything against the country, I do things in favor of the country.”

The vice-president of the ICRT said he wasn’t taken by surprise by the package. That said, he said that “we cannot be blamed for not having a sensationalist press. We can’t spend what little we have on a sensationalist press, even if there’s an audience that enjoys such things. The package is filling the niche we can’t fill in defense of the country’s cultural policy. That is my opinion, as the representative of an institution and as a person.”

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The public official mentioned the existence of laws that protect intellectual property on the island. “We can’t do this recklessly. That won’t fix the problem. It is not up to me to do this. That’s what the Ministry of Justice is for. As an institution, I am the protective umbrella those artists have: we can’t simply give away materials.”

Despite these comments, the debate also touched on the little respect ICRT shows towards intellectual property, paying a laughable sum to artists and using audiovisual materials as it sees fit. The organizers of the event offered the works of the competition for inclusion in the package free of charge.

Generally speaking, participants emphasized the need for Cubans to have access to the Internet and commented that the package is not a substitute for it. People also concluded that access to the Internet would not mean the death of the package.

We need an answer suited to the 21st century, participants insisted, pointing out that there are currently no efficient mechanisms for communication among institutions and individuals that could elaborate cultural policies together.

Several participants pointed out that Cuba faces an institutional crisis, characterized by the lack horizontality in the development of nationwide projects.

No one knows whether the package will continue to be tolerated or what the institutional response to it will be, but it continues to be produced in the meantime.

The phenomenon continues to be addressed at several spaces for debate and artistic production in Havana. Cuban artists have included it in their works or used it as a medium, while analysts both at home and abroad attempt to comprehend this living process with so many dark strings attached.

3 thoughts on “Panel Debates on Cuba’s “Weekly Package”

  • Are Cubans especially fragile or something, that they cannot be trusted by their own government to engage in free and open communication?

  • My wife, after her last trip to Cuba, inadvertently brought back a DVD from the ‘package’ her parents in Guantanamo purchase every week. It included telenovelas, news programs and movies. Nothing special anywhere else in the world except Cuba. As a result of the package and magazines and the limited access to the internet that Cubans are allowed and can afford to have, most of what the rest of the world knows is also available to be known in Cuba. The difference is that while the package exposes Cubans to all the consumerism and technology that exists elsewhere, it leaves them wanting because it does not exist for them in Cuba.

  • How about making the weekly packages and local WiFi networks legal?

    The government seems to be ignoring the weekly packages — see:

    and selectively cracking down on the WiFi networks, see:

    Neither seems to be dealing with politically sensitive material and there is demand for both — why not legalize them as self-employed entrepreneurs — cuentapropistas?

    In my dreams, I can even imagine cuentapropistas selling satellite connectivity, see:

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