What People in Cuba Ought to Know About Miami (Part 2)
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]
8 thoughts on “What People in Cuba Ought to Know About Miami (Part 2)”
If it were only the speed of wifi or wifi itself that were the problem, but that is not the case. The core issue is “unfettered access to information” The issue is the internal news blockade against the Cuban citizen. The ultimate test of an idea is how it holds up to criticism and that is something the Cuban government does not want. At certain points during the reign of Castro the 1st even certain works by Jose Marti were not to be found in Cuba! Talk about paranoia!
Your imagination about what is possible in Cuba under the Castro Ruz family “Socialismo” regime exceeds my own. Yes, I recognize that Habana receives priority, but even there, there are still ‘camels’ and antique converted trucks being used as “People Movers”. The concept of a monorail system running from say Marianoa to say Habana Vieja or to some imaginery private mall has its attractions – except that the residents of Marianoa can barely scrape together the 3 pesos to travel on one of those converted trucks let alone have money to visit a shopping mall as we know them. China has already a considerable investment in transportation in Cuba with the Yutong buses supplied on credit to Astro, Viazul, Transtur and Gaviota SA.
I think it more likely that the Castro Ruz family regime would give priority to completion of the Autopista which abruptly ended in a field when the USSR imploded, but which would if completed permit rapid movement of the military when required.
The Chinese model is based upon endeavoring to exploit the assets of capitalism whilst retaining overall one party government control. “Capitalismo” has been held by Fidel Castro Ruz to be all that is evil for fifty five years and although not followed with such venom by Raul, is still ingrained in the mentality of the regime. Overcoming that ingrained mentality will in my view – which you may consider pessimistic, take many years. In the meantime the rest of the world – including China, moves on.
But, If you travel to Korea and many other countries you will find that in fact the WiFi system in the USA is slow compared to those countries where it is five times as fast. You can get WiFi in theairport free and many arts of Seoul. Not in the US where most ariports you need to pay. As to Cuba, fiber optic cables and that equipment needed to make it more available are part of the equipment that because of the blockade are much more expensive that it needs to be. Even poorer countries in Africa, because there is no blockade have access to Android phone and faster Wifi access than in Cuba. It’s not primarily about security its about cost. You can send email in the slow system, but the problem is the US with its ZunZuneo eefforts to subvert Cuban society makes the government paranoid (not without cause.) Is US ends the blockade and stops subverting Cuba will make life easier for every Cuban….except for dissidents who make a living out of their activities…Yoani would go broke…
“Of course this requires capital” …Capital invested in a country who’s government press still denounces the evils of Capitalism. Oh the irony!
But seriously, you miss the whole point of his article which is a yearning for unfettered access to information…something your glorious revolution is loath to do (China as well, although they aren’t quite as bad) ….definitely not grim-graks and tchotchkes!
The experiences of your wife remind me of those of the first Chinese grad. students, who arrived @ U.Mass/Amherst in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. They were truly amazed at the vast variety of products and services available at the campus store, and even with their limited funds went wild purchasing grim-graks, tchotchkes and trinkets. Now their country makes most of these things–plus the tablets and other electronics! Since it looks like Cuba will take significant sections from the Chinese model (plus, I hope, grafting it on to their own experiences, plus any others they find useful), my hope is that this same scene will be repeated. I hope Cuba–and specifically Habana–will be able to afford constructing a monorail system (as that in So. Florida, which runs from W.Palm Beach to the Dadeland Mall), in addition to the People Mover, in the not to distant future. Of course this requires capital; but it looks like such capital will be invested in Cuba from China and elsewhere.
When your access to information has been restricted by state control of all media all your life, the sudden and complete access to every form of information is even more astonishing than the open display of virtually everything seen in North American and European stores.
Regarding the latter, my wife’s first overseas visit was to the UK and her first visit to a store was to Marks and Spencer in Canterbury. We left the multi storey car park over a small bridge to enter the store at an upper level – the ladies shoe department – where she insisted that I take a photograph of a long hanging row of ladies knee length boots. Such selection was almost unbelievable to her and she wanted record to show to her family and friends.
Yes, upon descending to ground level in the same store she was surprised not only by the volume of potatoes on sale, but by the different varieties. A subsequent visit to a cafe with 12 different varieties of ice cream and lovely cakes and torte made the selection of which to consume with her coffee difficult.
Later being in one of seven lanes of traffic awaiting to cross the Thames was another shock – more vehicles in sight than one would see on the autopista in a day.
Yet another shock was when she realised that in over three weeks she had not seen a single political poster! The sense and understanding of our level of freedom takes time to occur and understand.
At the end of a second overseas visit, this time to Canada for two months and witnessing the economic thrust and drive, she concluded that Cuba needs to introduce ‘Capitalismo’ as demonstrated by China.
Cubans live in a bubble created by the Castro family regime. Cuba is an island with no immediate neighbours, it has been a one party state controlled by one family for fifty five years. But, the thirst for knowledge is unquenched!
It’s all relative I suppose. In Cuba, there is plenty of “food, basic supplies and soap and water”. At times there are shortages of one type of food or another, but it would be incorrect to say that Cuba lacks any of these items. Granted, there is nowhere near the variety of choice that exists in Miami but there is always a pot of congris cooking in Cuba. On the other hand, Vicente is well to be “amazed” by the access to and speed of wireless internet if you consider the prehistoric age dial-up internet that exists in Cuba at ridiculously high prices and filtered through a paranoid State Security apparatus. While I don’t know what kind of life Vicente leads in Cuba, I perfectly understand the sentiments he expressed in his post. Nearly all Cubans would share his amazement on their first trip outside of Cuba.
Whilst internet access and its ease of access is amazing for any ‘normal’ Cuban, I an astounded that this and not freedom, food, basic supplies and soap and water were not paramount in your thoughts! You must have an easy life in Cuba!
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