Internet in Cuba: A review from Havana
From Iván's File Cabinet:
Internet in Cuba: A Success in Spite of Everything by Iván García
Eight in the morning. On the ground floor of the Focsa building – Cuba’s Empire State – on M between 17 and 19 Vedado, in a shop between the Guiñol theatre and a beaten-up bar at the entrance to the Scherezada club, a queue of about 15 people are waiting to enter the internet room.
It is one of 12 in Havana. They are few, and badly distributed for a city with more than two and a half million inhabitants. In El Vedado and Miramar there are four, two in each neighbourhood. Nevertheless, 10 de Octubre, the municipality with the most inhabitants in the island, doesn’t have any at all.
Poorer municipalities like San Miguel, Cotorro and Arroyo Naranjo (the metropolitan district with the greatest incidence of acts of violence in the country), don’t have anywhere to connect to the internet either.
On June 4, 2013, they opened 118 internet rooms for the whole island. According to an ETECSA (Telecommunications Company of Cuba) official, around 900,000 users have accessed the service. Not very impressive figures.
On average, each internet room has received 7,600 customers a month in the first 12 months. Some 250 internet users a day. 25 an hour: the internet premises are open 10 and a half hours every day of the week, from 8:30 am to 7 pm.
But remember that Cuba is the country with the lowest connectivity in Latin America. Some people continue to regard the internet as something exotic with hints of espionage or science fiction.
The murmurings of the NSA analyst Edward Snowden, accusing the Unted States Special Services of eavesdropping on half the world, added to the paranoia of the Castro regime, which compares the world wide web with a Trojan Horse designed by the CIA, along with the USAID’s trickery, trying to demolish the olive green autocracy with a blow from twitter, inhibits many ordinary Cubans from exploring the virtual world.
The oldest people get panicky when they sit at a machine – the way they do. Lourdes, 65-years-old, housewife, only knows the internet by references. “Seeing it in American films on the television on Saturdays. I have never sat down in front of a computer. That is something for the youngsters”
There are plenty of people who see a James Bond in every internet surfer. Norberto, president of a CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution) considers that “the internet is a Yankee military invention which is used to subvert and drive the youngsters crazy with frivolities. An instrument of virtual colonisation. Our organs of State Security have to meticulously regulate those of surf the web.”
And they do it. The Cuban Special Services have taken note of the way the social networks operate during the Middle East uprisings.
According to an ETECSA source, who prefers not to be named, there exists a formidable virtual policy police which controls all the access services to the internet in Cuba with a magnifying glass.
“From the spy programs and the army of information analysts to hack into dissidents’ accounts, up to following social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. All surfers are under suspicion. Before ETECSA opens a new internet service, the State Security surveillance tools are already working,” indicates the informant.
A technician tells me that, right now, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) has a fleet of vehicles equipped to detect illegal internet signals and cable satellite channels.
“Month in and month out there are MININT and ETECSA personnel working together to remove cabled games networks or illegal wifi which are connected up by kids where they live. They also pursue pirate internet connections, illegal international phone call connections, and cable television. A couple of years ago, in one of these investigations, even Amaury Pérez, a musician loyal to the government, had an illegal cable dish connected” recalls the technician.
In spite of everything, the internet is an unstoppable phenomenon for many Cubans, who don’t care about the absurd prices. Although you pay 4.50 CUC (112 pesos, a third of the average salary in the island) an hour, in internet rooms like the one in Focsa, there is always a queue.
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