By Osmel Almaguer

YOUTH COMPUTER CLUB. Photo by Ricardo C. Fernandez de C., flickr.com

The use and application of computers in the most varied spheres over the last twenty years —even in the most unimagined activities— has had a tremendous impact on the lives of people around the world.  In Cuba, an underdeveloped socialist country, this process has had its own characteristics.

The two basic measures taken by the Cuban government to make up for the lack of computers have been:

1. Their massive purchase for use and training in schools.

2. The opening of Youth Computer Clubs (JCC), facilities that are specially constructed or set up and where anyone has the right and opportunity to use computers for a certain amount of time.

In an attempt to reflect the relationship between people and the JCCs, the following are experiences that go beyond news reports or the heartening slogan that the JCC is “the computer of the Cuban family.”

Pedro (44) doesn’t own a computer

If there were some things I’d suggest to the JCC, it would be that they do a little upgrading to the software they use.  They’re still using Windows 2000. Uh…and that they improve the capacities of the machines a little so that you can get more out of your time you have there.

Leslie (27) doesn’t own a computer

I had wanted to take a computer course, so I went with my brother to enroll. Since we knew nothing about computers, we asked to be included in the beginner’s class.

They should have placed us in the workers’ course, but it seems that the guy who signed us up misunderstood.  The first day we found ourselves among a bunch of elementary school kids, to whom we must have looked like parents.

Almost every day the electricity went off, and eventually we gave up trying to learn computers.

Ernesto (31) doesn’t own a computer

The sole opportunity I have to catch up on work that I’m behind on is the JCC.  On weekends I reserve time on the computers there because I’m not able to get everything done on the job – though sometimes, when no one’s looking, I might even watch a movie.

Camila (24 years) now owns a computer

After you discover all the things that can be done on a computer, you find that you need one for everything.  Near my house there’s a JCC, and let me tell you what happened there before I got my laptop.

I needed to do some work that I’d been assigned at school.

I had seen announcements on TV about how JCCs could work a thousand marvels, so I went to the one in my neighborhood.  I was met at the door by a guy who was about my age.  While I was trying to ask him to reserve time for me on a machine, he told me to come back later that evening, because the facility was full at that moment.  I didn’t know how to respond.  One would suppose that you’d have to formally reserve time.

YOUTH COMPUTER CLUB. Photo: Ricardo C. Fernandez de C., flickr.com

Over his shoulder I could see some teenagers busy on the computers there; they were playing games in network. I wanted to explain to him that I wasn’t trying to interrupt, but that I simply wanted to reserve a machine for later on, but he had already closed the door and didn’t hear me.

That evening I returned, no one opened the door for me and I’ve never gone back.

Felix (44 years) owns a computer

My wife and I were interested in taking a course in Windows administration.  We went to the JCC, where the person who attended to us told us that my partner had been accepted, but not me.

I have visual problems, which seems to have been an impediment in the eyes of the staff. The person on duty told us, however, that soon they would be getting some “fantastic programs for the handicapped,” and that I should wait.

I went to see a one of my wife’s relatives who manages another JCC. She in fact accepted me. It’s a shame that we have to go through relatives to solve problems that should be taken care of within the State-run companies.

I began the course. The only bad thing was that I had to catch bus, because it was in Guanabo, about six miles from where I live in Alamar.

I knuckled down and wound up being recognized as the most outstanding student in the whole municipality.

I’m not saying this to brag, but to show that sometimes we undervalue people.

The same person who had underestimated me was at the graduation. I imagine that he must have been surprised, assuming he even remembered me.

Miguel (72 years) owns a computer

When I was managing a JCC, we gave really good service. There was time on a computer for whoever reserved one, courses in various specialties and a connection to the national network.  On our payroll were seven teachers and two computer specialists who maintained the machines in good operating condition.  We didn’t allow the viewing of pornography or the illicit buying and selling of computer components.

Kendry (16) has his own computer

I rent all types of movies at the neighborhood JCC, and they might sell me a component to improve my computer. I don’t play there because I have my own computer, but my partners slide money to the computer techs to let them watch the MVP championships.

Lidis (28 years) doesn’t own a computer

Personally, I haven’t had any experience with a computer club.  However my neighbor, who has a disability, went through hell dealing with the director of the JCC where he worked.  Since she wasn’t able to fire him, she used some dirty methods of pressure him into resigning, which eventually he did.

Computers were his life, but after that he hasn’t worked. His family in the US maintains him.

Omar (67) doesn’t own a computer

All these people who complain so much have all these things thanks to the Revolution. The JCC is an initiative that’s almost insignificant if we compare it to the greater effort, which is the revolutionary process.

July Caesar (50) doesn’t own a computer

JCC?   What’s that?

Ahmed (22) doesn’t own a computer

My JCC isn’t like the ones on the news, but you can do a lot of things there.  They offer computer classes and give you machine time to take care of heaps of problems.

Andres (59) doesn’t own a computer

I’ve never had one of those devices and I believe that even now —at their height of popularity— I’ll never own one.  But a few years ago I got excited about how “you have to know computers and English,” so I went flying to the computer club in my municipality.

When I filled out the application they told me to return the coming week and to look for my name on a list that they would post.  If it didn’t appear, that meant I hadn’t been accepted.

The next week my name wasn’t on it, and no one gave me an explanation. There’s no way to know find out how they select or reject applicants.

Indira (37) owns a computer

Almost everything I understand about computers, I owe to the computer club.  I know people who have had less than ideal experiences with them, but that’s not the situation in my case.

2 thoughts on “The Computer of the Cuban Family

  • From these excerpts, it seems like the JCC’s have produced spotty results at best.. There needs to be much greater efforts to insure that EVERYONE has training for and access to computers. Just as literacy was a major goal during the early years of the Revolution, now COMPUTER litracy needs to be a major goal, and not just for young people, but for EVERYONE! Otherwise, the Revolution is just throwing away the potential for all those other folks. Can a society afford to do this? I don’t think so, not if it doesn’t want to get left in the dust!

  • Do the computers at these JCCs have internet connections?

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