My Take on Mobile Phones in Cuba

Rosa Martínez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — I’ve been meaning to buy a cellular phone for some time now, but there’s always something more vital I need to spend my money on: if it’s not a pair of shoes for my kids, then it’s something around the house urgently needing repair, or common everyday expenses on things like groceries and toiletries, which make it impossible to save for anything else.

I have an Italian friend who’s always telling me I’ve given cell phones more importance than they deserve, but the truth is that I’ve never seen him come to Cuba without his two mobiles, which are more modern and sophisticated each time around.

“I want to throw these away, they’re always ringing, I don’t get a moment’s peace,” he says to me. “Be grateful you still don’t have one.”

I almost got to thinking my friend was right. Why insist on buying a mobile phone, when I don’t have enough money to buy a bag of croquettes sometimes? How would I pay the phone bills?

Then I remember how handy these phones can be in case of an emergency, like the one I had a few days ago. My younger brother had been in an accident in Holguin and, thanks to his mobile phone, we were able to know immediately that he hadn’t suffered any serious injuries and didn’t have to dash off to that province in desperation.

On April 3 this year, it had been 40 years since these phones were used for the very first time. It was Martin Cooper, an electrical engineer, who, in New York, made the first call from a mobile phone, a device which weighed nearly one and a half kilograms and had a battery which lasted only 20 minutes at the time.

Since then, this technology has changed a lot and has revolutionized the lives of millions of people around the world and the way in which they communicate.

Twenty years had to elapse before our country could know this piece of technology. Cuba began to offer mobile phone services in February of 1993, but only to foreign companies and a handful of State institutions.

These services were expanded little by little until they were made available to the general public on April 14, 2008, as most remember. After all, who could forget the price a phone and line cost at the time, or now, for that matter, when they continue to be beyond the possibilities of the average worker?

It’s been said that Cuba has over 1,600,000 cell phone users, and that there are in fact more mobile phones than landlines in the country. But the call rates continue to be far too expensive and the service, as Osmel commented in one of his diaries, has some unusual restrictions, like the fact you can only have one line to your name, or that you have to spend a minimum amount of money every month if you want to keep it.

Cellular phones have changed the lives of people around the world and the very workings of the world economy. Thanks to mobile phones, most people living in cities around the globe are always reachable. For many plumbers, electricians, mechanics and engineers, the mobile phone is like a portable office.

What’s more, the mobile phone has become the most common form of access to the Internet, a means of paying bills, watching movies, reading books, taking photographs and shooting videos. It also serves as a GPS and radio, among many other things.

The mobile phone took 20 years to find its way to Cuba, and an extra 25 to reach the common Cuban. Forty years have elapsed since its invention and Cubans still can’t enjoy most of its advantages because of our lack of access to the Internet. I will probably need 40 more years to be able to buy one, and maybe an additional 40 to be able to afford the price to maintain the service.

4 thoughts on “My Take on Mobile Phones in Cuba

  • a mobile phone is not a car nor a campfire. But to cook you rather need a campfire than a mobile phone, or?

  • I`m glads you worry so much baout Cuba all the time.. It´ll be the case sometimes.Maybe they`ll hav a president called Diaz one day. Just so you can keep worrying.

  • Friedrich, I bet you said the same thing when everyone around you was trading in their horse and buggy for an automobile. It’s called progress. You can go ahead and cook over a campfire and wash your clothes in the stream nearby if you want. I am hoping that Cubans can someday enjoy 100Mbps internet speeds, a supertrain between Havana and Santiago and a President not named Castro.

  • The need of a mobile phone is a fiction. There are public phones all over.But everybody got so addicted ( including myself), that one thinks he could not do without it. Than everybody all of a sudden feels the need, calling in the morning whether th coffe is warm or cold, the spoon to the left or to the right on the table or whether the bird had been eaten by the cat or not or the dog had peed in the corner. So it continues on the buses, subways, trams, in the cars, trains, on the boats, everybody staring into his stupid screen´or listening to a horrible quality music, so people start to fight on public transports about the noise. Watchin films, yeah get the idiotism pure, have yourself hypniotized completely by consuming and sprinkling your mind with any idiocy coming out of the magic box. Because one might be missing some of all those profound things.

    And at the end of the month you get the bill. In some cases, till strikter regulations came up, to the ruin of whole families, Bills of a 10.000 up to 20.000 euros a month!!!! Ore even more ( I know a case who managed over a 100.000!!!)

    You heard right. Ruthless business, nothing more. ( Its not possible anymore) Yeah, all the brain cleany cleany propaganda makes you believe that you don`t belong to the human race, if you do not have the last edition of this box, like the make you believe the same if you don`t use the newest car, have the newest brand of cloths or shoes or hairdoe, in short all those things which are so important in and for life.Capitalism needs profit. To make it it creates needs. But no one seems to notice, that they are just idiotic milkcows and consuming muppets of the big biz. Happy Cuba. Here yet not too much.

    A different story is ETECSA politics and its monopoly on the market, very often also critcized by organizations such as Juventud Rebelde. For sure something will have to change there. And I´m sure that all those who like to criticise Cuba and it`s government so much, will be very happy to see all the Cubans running around like little marionets as well , being in love and addicted to there handies nor talking to you nor to each others anymore. And ETECSA will be even happier.And the Cubans finally can feel like human beings.. Yeahyeah.Perfect harmony on all sides.

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