Public and Private Information in Cuba

Jimmy Roque Martínez

Havana’s Miramar Trade Center.

HAVANA TIMES — Today, I would like to share with you what happened to me a few days ago, when I tried to find out how many Nauta locales (Internet access points) Cuba’s state phone company (ETECSA) had opened up around the country.

A friend, who was writing a piece on the Internet in Cuba, visited the company web-page. The site, which hadn’t been updated, only mentioned the number of locales that were initially opened, not the total number, after additional locales were opened.

He needed the information and I offered to find out for him. I thought it would be a very simple procedure: I would go to one of these locales and ask. I’ve been living in Cuba for thirty-four years and I’m still that naïve.

Luckily, I started my search at the Miramar Trade Center building, where, incidentally, ETECSA’s head offices are located. When I arrived at the Nauta located in this business center and asked the security guard to let me in to ask my question, he asked me why I wanted that information and who I was. I explained to him I was writing an article about Internet access in Cuba. He told me he would consult with his boss.

I overheard the higher-up ask the guard who I was, what article I was writing and to what end, somewhat surprised. Then she came up to me, with a serious look on her face, and kindly asked me these questions.

When I explained to her what I was doing, she told me I had to go to the fourth floor, as she didn’t have that information at her disposal. Something similar happened on the fourth floor of the building, where they sent me to another office, where the same scene was replayed. Finally, they referred me to the management of ETECSA – fourth floor, office 317.

A bust of Jose Marti, next to the Cuban flag (and company banner), watches over the entrance to the fourth floor. There were two closed doors down the all-white, spotless hallway, and a sign saying that the head management office was accessed through the third floor.

The “Nauta” internet cafe at the Miramar Trade Center.

I finally arrived at office 317. There, I told the secretary what I wanted to know and she replied with the same, fear-ridden questions: Who are you? Why do you want to know?

I took out my Cuban ID and placed it on the desk. I told her my full name, declared I was a Cuban citizen and that, as an ETECSA user, wanted to have this information.

Somewhat taken aback, she said it was not a problem, but that the boss was busy. The gentleman in question was right in front of me, speaking on the phone. When he had finished talking, I was able to ask him the dreaded question: how many Nauta locales are there in Cuba?

Just so you know, dear friends, in Cuba there are currently 133 Nauta locales, that is, 15 more than those initially opened.

I don’t know the name of the gentleman who told me this. I don’t know his exact position in the company. Nor do I know why their web-page hasn’t been updated. I could have asked him, but, by that point, I felt a caught between the wheels of power somewhat. I was inside his office, under constant questioning.

Though I have something of a critical and at times daring posture, I also suffer the consequences of years of fear, censorship and misgivings over what I think and do. It is something that will remain with us for many years.

Sometimes, these feelings betray us and we end up censoring ourselves. It’s what the system has worked to achieve.

Many a time the impulse to censor ourselves takes hold of public officials who fear making a mistake, as Raul Castro warned journalists during their last congress.

How do you know when you are wrong? Who decides this? It is not just a question of speaking at the right time and place. It is also about giving out the right information, thinking the right way, even showing the right kind of support.

That a stranger should ask these “strange” things about the Internet, that must strike officials as very suspicious.

7 thoughts on “Public and Private Information in Cuba

  • Well said john. Cuba is certainly not a socialist utopia, but to understand cuba, and this goes to the isolated cuba n’s within cuba, you must look at the issues systemically. To not do so will lead to simplistic analysis most common of the reactionary Miami community and it’s supporters.

  • That’s totally true. Nobody is used to be asked any type of questions regarding public statistics, now if you are walking in Havana City during the morning you (being cuban) might get stopped by police men asking you what you are doing just as it happened to me when I was 13 and went with school colleagues to Centro Habana (15 mins from where I’m from/lived Vedado) and we were detained even our school teacher (she was 25 university student and four more students) because we were talking to two swedish tourists (in english) after they asked us a question. Hahaha, what a piece of crap country I have, but oh well… it’s my country and I am looking forward for a change.

  • An existential attack is one which threatens the existence of that being attacked .
    Please stick to the subject matter and undergo the usual intellectual embarrassment .

  • Existential attack? Is that when you attack someone with questions about the meaning of life? Smoking blunts and trolling the internet do not mix.

  • In one sense, your experiences were Kafkaesque; however, they also reveal that real changes are in in the air. You don’t have to fear being harassed for asking legitimate questions about a company that is supposed to be serving you and other citizens. I think your open and frank approach is best; take it for granted that you have nothing to fear–even if you do!. For there to be progress, there has to be better internet access. The government must ovrcome its desire to have a monopoly on all information.

  • Countries under existential attack are often forced to seem paranoid .
    The U.S is fully aware of the warping effects its economic/existential war is having on Cuban society and its government .
    When the U.S is out to destroy a country there are few limits.
    In the case of Cuba , it is not paranoia.
    Things are as bad as they think they are as regards the lengths to which the U.S. government will go to reinstate capitalism in Cuba.and eliminate the threat a successful Cuban economy has always presented.
    It would be interesting to see just how the Cuban government and society would react and what would happen in that society in the very highly improbable case of the U.S calling off its 54 year old economic war .
    The U.S. and the wealthy in whose interests the economic war on a POSSIBLE democratic economy developing in Cuba have every reason to fear a successful Cuban economy that would represent a serious alternative for the rest of Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.
    They will not be given the chance to succeed or fail on their own and unmolested by the U.S. which certainly puts the lie to the thinking that even totalitarian state socialism such as exists in Cuba cannot work.
    At any rate, the Cuban people seem willing to grumble and complain yet keep what they have rather than have the will of the U.S wealthy imposed upon them .
    It must be remembered that there is no consensus among the vast
    majority of Cubans to revert to capitalism which is the SOLE criterion for the U.S ending its embargo .

  • When I first started dating my wife, she was a news anchor for the national morning news. Soon after we became an “item”, she was visited at work by a man who said he was from State Security although he never produced any ID and only gave his first name. He asked her what country I was from, why was I in Cuba, what places we had visited together and a few other weird questions. He finished the interview by saying he was a big fan of hers but could seldom get up early enough to see the morning news. This is the real Cuba.

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