HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 3 — Cuban authorities seem willing to embark on the path of social networks, but they’ll do so in their own style. They propose creating internal networks on the island that will enable them to maintain control over their operation and content, according to the explanation given in a workshop on the topic.
Rosa Miriam Elizalde, the editor of the largest Cuban website (Cubadebate), called for the “acceptance of technological challenge” and the taking into account of new areas. She added, “I have no doubt that if Jose Marti were alive today, he would be ‘facebooking’ and ‘twittering.’”
For the moment, a Cuban Facebook has been born, called “Redsocial,” managed by the Moa Metallurgical Institute. Apparently it will be similar to the Intranet, a Cuban network with limited content that substitutes for the Internet on the island.
Meanwhile the blog “Yohandry,” the most officialist and mysterious — no one knows its author — was announcing that soon there will be public access to the network and with more affordable prices. He highlighted that this will be because now the newly installed underwater cable between Cuba and Venezuela “has no problems.”
The Cuban government also plans to create affordable Internet cafes, according to the pro-government blogger.
Despite the efforts of Cuban cybernauts to convince authorities of the need to open up to cyberspace, mistrust persists. This was heard in the words of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
At this workshop he explained, “The euphoria around social networks coexists with the risk of regime change operations, which have increased, as well as the threat to peace. These hazardous conditions make it necessary and urgent that we appropriate these platforms.”
The diplomat criticized the “information control” exercised by “those who dominate the web.” In fact Cuba is blocked from access to some Internet services in search engines like Google, and the US government spends millions of dollars to create clandestine networks across the island.
A US citizen, Alan Gross, was sentenced this year to 15 years in prison for bringing illegal communications equipment into Cuba as part of a multi-million dollar project funded by a US government agency.
A limited step
In any case, the efforts of cybernauts have made a dent in official mistrust. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now has a Twitter page and was the entity that convened the workshop on “Alternative Media and Social Networks.”
Rosa Miriam Elizalde, one of the government’s most knowledgeable specialists in this field, said during the workshop that in a “cyberwar — in the social or military sense of the term, if you prefer — a cyber-defense can only be waged actively.”
In plain terms for those who govern Cuba, she added that it’s necessary to begin articulating a concept about the issue “with the certainty that the imperial model cannot be overcome in these new circumstances from a position of ignorance or prejudice.”
However, the official response still seems limited to attempting to create local alternatives to global social networks, a mechanism that has already been applied with little success in the creation of the island’s Intranet to substitute for the world wide web.
Finally, there’s a technical problem. Due to limitations imposed by the United States, Cuba has extremely limited and expensive Internet access. It was thought that this would be remedied by the installation of the underwater telephone cable between Cuba and Venezuela.
However “nothing has changed,” said young Cuban blogger Roberto Gonzalez. Speaking to BBC Mundo, he said, “Previously Cuba was linked [to the Internet] by a satellite connection, so I could understand why it was so slow, but now — six months after we’ve been linked by an underwater cable connection — it’s just as bad.”
The national press isn’t touching the issue. Only Yohandry’s pro-government blog indicated recently that there’s no problem with the cable – but without explaining why it still doesn’t work, why some senior-level project managers were arrested, or why others fled the country.