Is the Internet Cuba’s Weakest Flank?

By Fernando Ravsberg

Cubans at one of the pay-for Wifi hot spots. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — The US is creating a Task Force (which sounds so warlike) in order to “help” Cubans access the Internet. Lacking all of Obama’s political imagination, Trump is remaking the movie that several US presidents have already produced before him.

Washington’s policy with regard to the Cuban people’s access to information has always been contradictory. Millions were spent smuggling in satellite connection equipment and they paid a high political price with the arrest of Alan Gross.

When that happened, the US Department of the Treasury demanded that satellite internet companies selling their services cut their service with any antennas that existed in Cuba, many of which were in the hands of individuals and had entered the country illegally.

The avalanche that came after the explosion of this policy dragged the director of USAID down, saw the remaining Cuban 5 agents released from their life sentences in the US and caused the surprising rapprochement process between presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

Now, the US is coming back with a Task Force to “promote the free flow of information” and “to increase internet access” in Cuba. The Cuban government’s opposing reaction shouldn’t surprise anyone, when Trump and Rubio are the ones behind this initiative.

It’s hard to believe that the Internet Task Force created by Trump will be an act of “disinterested help” for the Cuban people.

In 2012, Senator Marco Rubio revealed the real intentions: “Cuba’s authoritarian government could collapse, if every Cuban had free access to the Internet, as Cuba would meet the same fate as those countries which experienced the Arab Spring.”

Havana said “no, thank you” to Google, when the company offered to provide free internet. Many people were surprised but, what government would put their communications in the hands of the country that waged an economic war against their country over the past half a century?

Plus, it seems quite contradictory to want to promote the free flow of information when you can access newspapers from all over the world here in Cuba, including Miami’s Nuevo Herald, a media platform that has a public anti-Castro editorial policy.

If the Task Force’s objective is to increase the Cuban people’s access to the Internet, they don’t need to draw up strategies, all they need to do is spend USAID’s budget for Cuba in buying internet access cards and giving them out to people across the island.

Who believes that Trump’s concerns for the Cuban people’s freedom to information doesn’t have a hidden agenda? Washington knows that information is the Cuban government’s Achilles heel and it is targeting where it can make the most damage.

The Internet is making slow progress in Cuba but the access of its people is growing, prices are falling every year and there are more services. Connectivity continues to be less and slower than it is in the rest of the world but progress is undeniable when Cuba looks at itself in the mirror.

While those with online access grows, those who control the Cuban media continue to live in the past, as if nothing is going on, trying to rescue their monopoly on information which died the same day they decided to open up the internet to its citizens.

Now, silences in official press have become a boomerang. The most recent example was Olga Salanueva’s letter on Facebook which created a debate on social media about the exclusion of 3 of the Cuban 5 from Parliament.

Cuba’s media policy is one of the Cuban government’s greatest weaknesses in the Internet era.

Plus, you have to add an endogenous factor in Cuba to Internet access, Radio Bemba (word of mouth) and its amplifying capacity. Together, these are a combination that can do away with any kind of censorship, no matter how controlled national media is.

Cuba’s information policy is outdated, but it stands fast in the face of the changes that are taking place all over the world and even with regard to the changes that are taking place in Cuba. Politically-speaking, it’s the weakest point in Cuban society and that’s why Trump is sending his Task Force to attack there.

The Vice-Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, ensured me that Washington’s hostile actions won’t stop internet connectivity from growing on the island. With things as they are, the only way forward seems to be to close the gap that exists between official information and the Cuban people’s everyday lives.

Professor Juan Antonio Garcia sums this up: “Now that Trump has just announced his late-night strategy for influencing the country’s national order with the Internet, it exposes a great danger: our incapacity to respond to such interventionism in a creative way.”

2 thoughts on “Is the Internet Cuba’s Weakest Flank?

  • Very good and important points Fernando. Cuba will get good internet eventually and it will be owned by Cubans, for Cubans, and no other nation will be able to “pull the plug.” Change is actually happening very fast. I prefer to wait a little longer for better internet, rather than welcoming a Trojan Horse onto the island that could shut down our connections internally, and connections with the rest of the world.

  • Very well written article. Fernando makes perfect sense when he wonders why Cuba would put their hands in a country that has wages economic war against them for the past 50 plus years. The True[ Administration has nothing but evil intentions toward Cuba and Americans that take part in unauthorized activities inside Cuba deserve to get jailed just like Alan Gross. They will have to wait for a new administration to negotiate their release.

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