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.