Cuba: Hooked to the Cell Phone

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — With over 2 million mobile phone users, Cuba has around half a million more cell phones than landlines. A number of “competent” authorities often speak of this proudly, as though the reality behind this phenomenon weren’t shameful.

Thousands of landlines began to be installed around Cuba with the arrival of the joint venture phone company ETECSA nearly ten years ago. This process prioritized Havana over the rest of the country’s provinces because of its strategic importance as Cuba’s capital.

The sprawling suburb of Alamar was one of Havana’s prioritized areas and one of the first places where landlines began to be installed was in the part of the community where I live.

Needless to say, this process raised many hopes and awoke much passion among people, both positive and negative. This was to be expected from a people who, in their great majority, had never had a phone in their homes.

The plan had been conceived to have phone lines installed across the entire neighborhood in a matter of a few years. The work came to a halt, however, when it was only about 15 percent completed. At the time, ETECSA was still a joint venture company.

People wondered why the company stopped intalling landlines and no one ever gave any clear reason why. With time, people’s enthusiasm over these landlines waned and was replaced by the cell phone craze.

Having a mobile phone clipped to your belt became a status symbol. The mobile phone introduced a new culture into Cuba, a culture with its own behavioral codes and group dynamics. It also meant a triple investment for the average Cuban, forced to enter into an inflexible, lifetime phone line contract.

At first, owning a mobile phone was something of a luxury. Over time, with a gradual decrease in prices, ETECSA achieved its lofty aim: to satisfy the expectations of millions of users, “hooked” to this new toy which does little to make communication less precarious, other than afford users the minor benefit of being easy to locate.

The results of this process are the statistics which officials from the now fully Cuban State company refer to when they proudly proclaim: “In Cuba, there are more mobile phones than landlines”, as though such a ratio were a sign of development, and not sheer need.

What these officials fail to mention is that the installation of landlines across Cuba came to a halt without apparent reason, that mobile phone lines continue to be infinitely more expensive than landlines and prohibitive for most Cubans (though highly lucrative for this inefficient company).

As for me, I try and avoid thinking about this whole business, so as not to imagine the worst.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

7 thoughts on “Cuba: Hooked to the Cell Phone

  • Whether you agree with the criteria for lifting the embargo or not, these requirements are codified in Federal Law. BTW, there remains scores of political prisoners in Cuba. To their families this is an issue. Joke or not, the multi-party elections held in the US represent a broader spectrum of voters than the one-party elections in Cuba. Your comparison of the New York Times to Granma is ridiculous and not worth a response. Fidel may not direct policy in Cuba but even in his failing state, nothing changes in Cuba without his approval.

  • You unwittingly made one of the many cases against communist cuba. You see John, I CAN read all of Chomskys works if I so choose. How about trying to get access to the New York Times or Miami Herald in Cuba.

  • They released all the political prisoners twice now. They are not an issue.
    Multi-party elections are a sham . In the U.S. all parties are controlled by the oligarchy rendering your thought of multi-party elections as a way to democracy a joke.
    Likewise, the media in the U.S is no more free than is Granma or Juventad Rebelde. to print the truth.
    Try reading ” Manufacturing Consent” ( Chomsky and Herman) and “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies ” (Chomsky) to understand what I say.
    Fidel BTW, is about 86, failing mentally and physically and controls nothing in Cuba.
    Where did you get the idea he runs things ?

  • I am convinced things will get better for Cubans when the US embargo is lifted. Of course, this means that the Castros are no longer in control, a date has been set for open and free multiparty elections, all political prisoners have been released and an independent press is legal.

  • Maybe things will get better for the Cuban people if and when the U.S. ends its over 50 year-long economic war on them.

  • John, IN CUBA, cell phones are more expensive to use than land lines. I believe that you misunderstood. Here in San Francisco, my household uses the landline as the failsafe for the house alarm. Otherwise, most of our calls come in on our cell phones. Younger people don’t even bother getting the landlines installed, especially if they live in apartments. Of course, here you can have UNLIMITED calling and texts for as little as $20 per month per phone. In Cuba, $20 won’t buy two 10 cuc phones cards and that’s less than one hour of calls or 150 text messages. My kids send 150 text messages per day. For Cubans, cell phone use is still a huge luxury.

  • Cell phones are the future. Landlines are the past .

    Telephone lines need poles wire and constant repair .

    I spent considerable time in Jamaica where it took 25 years to get a phone line by official reckoning.

    Now everyone who can afford a cheap cell phone has phone service and this happeneded practically overnight ..

    Not only that: A Masai warrior herding his cattle out on the African veldt now ,through his Smart phone, has access to the world and the knowledge of the world through the internet . No poles, no wires and immediate service .
    I do not believe cell phones are more expensive in the total cost of phone communications than are land lines . Where did you get your info on costs and can you print these cost comparisons?

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