Freedom of information in a wireless world.
Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — As you know, I had the unexpected fortune of being received in Miami by a generous host who, among other things, gave me the opportunity of visiting several of the city’s shopping centers. Though I was prepared for the enormity of the stores and was not hugely impressed by the range of products that would be unthinkable in Cuba, a simple fact made a deep impression on me: I was able to access Havana Times on-line using a tablet that was on sale at an electronics store.
The clerks were not in the least bit surprised or alarmed – they merely offered to help me find out anything specific about the items on sale. I walked by the different counters, using the laptops on sale to read articles published by Diario de Cuba, Café Fuerte and – yes, temptation can lead us far astray – even Marti News.
Days ago, after enjoying a beautiful sun rise from my 18th-floor balcony at the Hilton, a Cuban who came to Miami back in the “sixties” persuaded me to skip my succulent buffet breakfast at the hotel and to go with him on a tour of the city on the monorail, known there as the “Metromover.”
It is a simple, small streetcar that resembles a big toy. It hauls from one to three wagons and is fully automatic (there’s no conductor), designed to give people a tour of Miami’s first urban settlements, located along three interconnected circuits. The tour is free of charge because, as my occasional guide explained to me, the system contributes to decongesting the downtown area, plagued with excessive traffic and the bothersome (but obligatory) parking lots.
Most Cubans would be left speechless by those monumental buildings (we counted as many as 70 stories in some of them), and we weren’t even in New York. When I looked about me, however, I saw the passengers fully engaged with their smart phones, freely navigating the Internet before the sun had even begun to warm the city.
My guide told me – and I was able to corroborate this by reading several signs posted in the vehicles – that an unrestricted Wi-Fi connection is offered on all public transportation in the city (including buses and the metro-rail) free of charge. A subway system is not feasible in this large, seaside city.
In passing, I would like to clarify something: though several encyclopedias claim there are no more than half a million inhabitants in the city of Miami, most concur that its metropolitan area is home to more than 5 million people, placing it among the most important cities in the United States. I will not go into additional information dealing with the city’s economically important place within the US economy.
The generosity of my friend – I won’t mention his name, as it is not important – also allowed me to visit the most varied Internet sites from the comfort of his home. In and of itself, this is not news, but, for me, it was indeed impressive that, cooled by a fresh breeze on a balcony, part of a humble, two-bedroom apartment with a single bathroom, the kind of place a high school teacher could afford, I was able to take my recently-purchased tablet for a test run, checking my email account and replying to my friend Isidro and no less important Bobo de Abela.
This is the closest thing to a wireless world I’ve experienced, where Wi-Fi is everywhere. I was able to download 20 thousand books from a public on-line library. I still need to install the application needed to open the files available at the site, which include the sacred texts of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
Back in Havana, accessing a Wi-Fi connection involves paying a high sum in hard currency, a quota established by the State communications monopoly. One can skirt this regulation by illegally paying a considerably smaller sum, an option that large numbers of people, mostly young students, choose on a daily basis.
I cannot help but wonder why, in my country, where freedom of information is proclaimed as the people’s right, no resources are destined to giving citizens these facilities, inexpensive when compared to other enormous investments that today burden the State budget.
That would indeed be a true demonstration of socialist policy.
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]