IMO in Cuba: Shortening Distances Between Relatives

By Sayli Sosa  (On Cuba)

Idalmis pudo ver a su hermano y conversar con él después de cuatro años de ausencia. Foto: Eric Yanes
Idalmis pudo ver a su hermano y conversar con él después de cuatro años de ausencia. Foto: Eric Yanes

HAVANA TIMES — At 6:30 in the afternoon, the only time the breezes make the city a tad cooler, Idalmis takes out her Samsung phone and a pair of headphones and sits in the shade afforded by the 12-story building in Ciego de Avila.

At 50, it hasn’t been easy to learn to operate the devices that bring her these daily joys, two times a week, but the effort, she says, is more than worth it. Going through the logical steps, she activates the Wi-Fi in her cell phone, connects to the ETECSA network available and types her ID and password at the Nauta page.

At the park, someone installed an app in her phone that allows her to speak with and see the faces of her loved ones on the small screen of her mobile phone: IMO. The lines of binary code allow Idalmis to see the most beautiful wrinkles in the world: those of her 79-year-old mother, who lives in the United States.

“It’s only been a year since I last saw my mom, but I haven’t seen my brother in four. Though the service is still expensive, it’s been incredible to be able to talk to them and see them. Now they want me to bring my little girl, so they can see her. They tell me to visit more often. I spoke with my niece, who lives in the Dominican Republic, yesterday. I saw tears in her eyes, she was crying. This is something else.”

Foto: Eric Yanes

Sitting on the bench and reuniting with her family, Idalmis has also been witness to the stories of other people in Ciego de Avila who appear to be talking to themselves at the park, looking at the face of a girlfriend, a grandparent, a cousin, a parent or sibling on the screen of a cell phone. “I’ve seen elderly people who only now have been able to see and converse with their grandchildren, as though they were close.”

“I hope to see the day when I can connect from home, because there’s no privacy here. Everyone can hear what you’re saying,” she says as she hangs up. She’s used up the time for today and, today, she’s a little bit happier.

Ones and Ceros Shortening Distances

According to Antonio Aja, researcher at the University of Havana’s Center for Demographic Studies (CEDEM), one out of every three Cubans has a relative living abroad. The installation of Wi-Fi areas across Cuba (35 in total so far) therefore becomes doubly important.

On the one hand, it broadens Internet access on the island, even though the cost is still too high: two CUC ($2.25 USD) for an hour, charged a population whose average monthly salary is a little over 20 CUC.

Foto: Eric Yanes Tomado de: © OnCuba
Foto: Eric Yanes

On the other hand, it introduces new means for people to interact, through cell phone applications, tablets and laptops which are still novelties in most Cuban homes.

The small amount of space required to install the application and its functionality, even when using small bandwidths, has made IMO the preferred application of Cuban Internet users, beating others such as Skype (blocked in State connections).

It is a video-calling platform that can be downloaded free of charge and is very easy to operate. The majority of cell phone repair shops, private businesses where cell phones are repaired and unblocked and applications installed, also offer this service.

IMO only requires smart-phones with Android 2.3 or higher and at least 4.3 MB of space.

The users interviewed by OnCuba at Marti park in Ciego de Avila and commentators at a number of digital forums such as CiberCuba pointed out the possibilities offered by the application in terms of bringing Cuban families closer, wherever these families may be. “It hurts to be so far apart,” they insist.

They also share the concern that the application may be blocked in the future, as the math is very simple: calls are cheaper with IMO.

It Works, But It Could Be Better

Ever since the Wi-Fi network tests were conducted in Ciego de Avila on June 23, the Marti park has seen more people than usual. At night, the cityscape acquires an unusual aura, as the white light from the mobile phone displays bathes the faces of locals, most of them young.

Foto: Eric Yanes
Foto: Eric Yanes

Darline Perez Molinet, head of marketing for landline services at Cuba’s telecommunications company (ETECSA), recently told Cuba’s Granma newspaper that the service is operating adequately and that they were frankly surprised by the fact more people opted for temporary accounts.

That said, some users in Ciego de Avila told OnCuba that the connection is sometimes slow and that they have to connect and disconnect several times. The long lines of people at ETECSA Internet access points and the frequent problems people experience with their passwords for permanent Nauta accounts could have a say in the trend pointed out by the executive.

After Wi-Fi areas have been in operation at several Cuban cities for a month, a number of conclusions have already been reached. The most basic one is that it works, but could be better. Idalmis, the woman from Ciego de Avila who sits down every afternoon to look at her mother’s eyes through her cell phone, summarizes the experience humbly: “Internet helps bring people together.”

18 thoughts on “IMO in Cuba: Shortening Distances Between Relatives

  • Please educate yourself before making moronic statements

  • Allow me to enlightened you on how that us. His relative come to the US, seek wealth fare, and gov aid. Then sent that $ back to Cuba for those they left behind. Then start traveling back and forth and since the US $ can be stretched, they live like kings. Meanwhile, I’ve worked 2 jobs ,without med insurance and barely making it. I am cuban my self and have honestly made a living. Brought my family from there and all of us became US citizens. We struggle, but we are no Hippocrates

  • Cubans are a very creative and resourceful people. They have been doing some much with so little for so long. If the end of the embargo really brings changes then they will be unstoppable who ever their oppressors are. Information and a realisation of how others live will surely make change unstoppable. Their time is coming, let’s hope it is soon.

  • I’m very entertained by people who go to Cuba as tourists considering they are not Cubans themselves. I disagree with anyone besides the Cuban people that try to change a system that needs fixing not changing, and if change is truly needed then people would rise up and change it themselves like they did once before. My grandmother lived under Batista and honestly Fidel and his Cuba was a upgrade. People speak about oppression because it is what they see today and right now. I wish for people to come up with their own opinions. Any information given to you by a Cuban who left anytime before 2006 should be considered OUTDATED, especially those that came in the 60’s due to the regime taking the property and kicking out many at the time. Did anyone ask why? Maybe I should inform you that a vast majority of the older activists today that came in the 60’s who had their wealth and land taken by the Castro regime had gained that wealth through the explotation of the majority of the Cuban population since Cuba had been considered a foreigners paradise before the Castro government came and kicked out almost all foreigners and any who had supported these invaders. As of this moment 8/4/2015 Cuba isn’t having or has been having a economy problem.They are having a currency problem, people are paid in pesos cubanos but everything except food products is expected to be paid in CUC. Side note: if you ever go buy food in Cuba besides a hotel and they ask you to pay in CUC it’s because you are clearly a tourist who has no ideas of what goes on in the island or how the people actually live.

  • I’m just an observer but as a former Hawaiian resident, ten years, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica
    fan I’m fascinated with Cuba. My many business friends, who were children arriving in the
    states back in the sixties, would tell me great stories about the beauty and peoples of the island. The history and peoples makes this Island magical and one day a bit better than todays plight. Thanks for educating this outsider Holguinero. In Hawaii we say Aloha, hopefully I get this right, Saludar!

  • An accurate and touching description of the reality of life in Cuba. Where is the response from those like Dan, Dani, Goodrich et al. They feel no pain for the oppressed, no concern for the subjugated, no hope for the four year old child.

  • In life, nothing is perfect or ideal. That being written, I commented on this theme because, I feel that too many people on this forum are beating a dead horse by writing about socialism, communism or democracy. Ok, I get it. Enough is enough. Little is being written about the plight of the normal Cuban. By sticking commentators’ heads in the sand does not make the Cuba situation disappear.
    For many years, the Cuban people have worked – labored – and died under the yoke of oppression. Each day is seen as another day to survive. During my years of spending my winters in Cuba, I have heard many Cubans lament: No estamos viviendo. Estamos sobreviviendo, simplemente. (“We are not living; we are merely surviving.”). I really did not infer that these Cubans were interested in any political system, as they lived to survive each day. They only knew that their lot in life was to make it until the next day. This is what impels me to write about their plight.
    Do I see any positives in Cuba? Are there any positives in their lives? Yes, there are positives in their lives: free medical and free education to name two. Free medical. Does standing in a line and waiting hours to see a student doctor compensate for the no fee service? I have had friends who had an appointment to see a doctor wait 6 hours and then be told that the doctor was a no show. These were not isolated cases. (Sidebar: Because the service is free, there are people who take advantage of the service by standing in line for hours waiting to see a doctor for minor reasons.).
    Free Education.In theory, free education is seen as real boon in a society such as in Cuba. But, where does this education get the graduate? There are few jobs for graduates. In addition, after spending five years in university, what student wants to work for a paltry salary? Sure, there are idealistic students who want to better the life of their fellow Cubans. They become teachers, nurses, doctors . . . Unfortunately, however, their idealism is soon clouded by everyday reality.
    I enjoy taking bici taxis, not only because they are cheaper to take than other modes of transportation, but also because I can speak freely with the chofers. Many of the chofers with whom I conversed were university graduates with degrees in engineering, medicine, business . . .They were making more money driving their bici taxis than they would be making working for the government. If you, dear reader, want to see how far a free education gets one in Cuba, merely look at the number of people in the streets and in the central parks during the day. Many people of all ages wander aimlessly doing what they do best – wander. (Sidebar: Look in stores and watch people staring at items that they cannot possibly afford.)
    Do I have a solution to this situation? I will not presume that I am economist who has all the answers. From a layman’s perspective, one solution is obvious: to pay a worker a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. Give the Cuban a feeling of pride of being a Cuban – a working, functional and integral part of society. Amen.

  • Look up the word blockade. You pick the dictionary. Get back to me if you dare to show me where the US is hiding the naval vessels involved in the “blockade” you have imagined.

  • It is not not an embargo it is a blockade.

  • I have used IMO to video chat with my girlfriend in Holguin (I am in Canada.) on two
    occasions. I must admit, for $2 CUC an hour, the audio is excellent 10/10. The
    video, however, has a tendency to freeze. However, after a few minutes the
    video returns. Video 75./10. Internet cards, however, are becoming increasingly
    difficult to find. The reason? Some Cubans are buying many cards and selling/scalping them for $5 CUC.
    On a side note, last week (July 23rd – July 29th) there was a promotion by Cubacel to double a client’s time on his phone. Unlike past promotions starting at $20 (USD), now, for at least $15 (USD) a foreigner could recharge a Cuban phone plus the Cuban would receive a bonus of $25 CUC worth of calls. Total $40 CUC. Sounds good, right? The bonus of $25 CUC, however, was good only until August 31st. 2015. So, the Cuban had to spend $25 CUC worth of calls by this date or lose all or any part of the $25 CUC. Cuban forums were inundated by 100’s of complaints. Many saw this “promotion” merely has another scam by Cubacel to “steal” money.

  • John, I and many who occasionally oppose your views agree that the embargo should be lifted. It’s unreal how trading with the so called evil empire means so much to those
    who constantly rail against the US but want so badly to trade with us.

  • Moses, the embargo should be lifted and trade with the so called evil empire should
    be restored. Let’s stop allowing Cuba to cease from making this the major issue for
    its disastrous state run economy and see where the chips may fall. Venezuela shows
    clearly and in fact with its highest oil reserves in the world. why it really doesn’t matter.
    In my opinion this will make massive changes in Cuba for the better, especially for its

  • Just imagine how much better life in Cuba will be for all once the Castro regime calls off the State Security goons, when they call off the censorship of the media, when they call off the repression of dissidents, when they call off the restrictions of free speech, when the call off the state monopoly of business and labour?

    Just imagine how much better life in Cuba will be for all once liberty and human rights are finally achieved.

  • A good start.

  • The kid on the scooter along with his cell and clothes looks better than my kids! Is this real? Maybe times are changing!

  • John, the embargo has NOTHING to do with Cuba’s pathetic WiFi network.

  • Just imagine how much better life in Cuba will be for all once and …IF…the Empire calls off the embargo which, after all, was intended to make life miserable for all Cubans.

  • The wife has started to use this now, its good for her and her family to interact. Not super clear but probably will get better.

Comments are closed.