The Role of the Police at Havana’s Wi-Fi Hot Spots

By Luis Rondon Paz

Connected to the Wi-Fi on the Rampa in Havana.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Connected to the Wi-Fi on the Rampa in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Last Thursday, I spent the last hour I had on the Internet. It’s been a few days now since I’ve been able to find a well paid job in the IT field, and therefore I haven’t had a way of getting more hours.

To top it off, at the park where there is WIFI near my house, they’re selling Internet cards for more than the prohibitive price established by the Cuban Government (2 CUC) at 3 CUC (3.50 USD) and the 2 CUC top-up cards have completely disappeared. It must be because there is such a high level of demand on part of the Cuban people (and re-sellers) and the incompetence of Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly ETECSA.

So I asked myself: Why don’t I go to Vedado and get in touch with one of those guys who sell Etecsa WIFI connections illegally at 1 CUC per hour? I said that to myself. And as I really needed to connect to the web for work-related matters, I didn’t think twice about it and decided to go.

At about 7 PM, I traveled from the outlying Santiago de Las Vegas where I live in an articulated bus along the P16 route until I got to La Rampa in Vedado. “Well it’s better to pay half the price than triple for what I need the internet today,” I thought.

I reached my destination at approximately 8:45 PM. I realized that there were a lot of people crowded in public spaces which I had identified to try and get a cheaper connection. I found two, but there were too many people. So I walked on a little down La Rampa until I found a place where there weren’t so people connected up, because if there are more than 7, the connection speed becomes slower, as we only have 1MB/second of broadband divided by this number of people.

Almost reaching the Malecon, I identified a young man who had connected me up for 1 CUC to the internet through WIFI, on other occasions. I asked him if he had a connection and he told me he did, but he warned me to be discreet because the police were circling the place and were confiscating devices from people who they caught setting up internet connections.

That’s exactly what I did and within 5 minutes, for 1 CUC, I connected up to the network at quite an acceptable speed. Half an hour had almost gone by when I noticed two police officers escorting the young man who had connected me up. I thought about transmitting what was going on live on the Internet, but I didn’t have enough speed to do it.

“What a shame,” I commented to another young man who also dedicates himself to connecting people up and who watched the dialogue that the two policemen had with the Internet man alongside me.

Ten minutes later, the policemen decided to leave and not take the young man in question to the police station, so I approached him and asked what had happened.

“One of them threatened to confiscate all my equipment and take me to the police station located on Zapata and C Streets, in Vedado. So I spoke to him hoping that I could reason with them.”

“So what happened?”

“He took note of my personal details but he didn’t arrest me, however he told me that I would have to help him out.”

“This country is really screwed up,” said the other young man.

“It’s not the country that’s crazy, it’s the system,” replied the Internet guy. “I studied at the CUJAE university, and you know what every young person who studies there wants to do after they graduate?”

“I can guess, but I’d like my hypothesis to be proven right,” I responded.

“Leave the country, because there’s no way of changing it and no way of putting up with it,” he asserted.

I told him to look at ways of protecting himself legally and that if they did confiscate everything, that he demands a certificate where every one of his belongings is documented and signed for, which he replied to me saying that he would disappear for a while. I told him how sorry and disgraced I was at the policeman’s behavior, and the bad taste it left behind after having witnessed this ordeal.

Because at the end of the day, these people are a very important link which contributes to the Cuban government’s public image and that of the country on the whole.

4 thoughts on “The Role of the Police at Havana’s Wi-Fi Hot Spots

  • But bjmack, how long will Cubans have to wait for ‘change’ and how will it occur?

  • The system is broke but not for long. Young Cuban’s are much more aware as to what’s facing them today vs. those over 30 and who have mindlessly accepted this way of life. Change is inevitable, in my opinion.

  • I also graduated from the CUJAE, I reached the same conclusion and left 22 years ago.

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