Cuba Internet Freedom Conference: Confusing the internet with freedom

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Cuba Internet Freedom: An audience member’s attempt in exercise, realism and fact

The internet is a tool and freedom is the right to act, speak, or think as one wants. Please try not to confuse the two.

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Today when attending the Cuba Internet Freedom Conference in Miami, a number of questions arose that could not be addressed following the presentations because there was no question and answer period. For example Professor Anne Nelson gave an interesting key note address Cuba’s Parallel Worlds: Digital Media Crosses the Divide that omitted some key facts that would have provided a better context on internet freedoms within the Cuban context. First and foremost failing to mention that in 2015 the Committee to Protect Journalists identified Cuba as the tenth most censored country in the world.  This is a regime that still burns books in the 21st century. This reality was both recognized while its significance downplayed.

For example Professor Nelson mentioned in her report that the Cuban government “legalized the private ownership of cellphones and personal computers in 2008,” but made no mention that the Castro regime had only declared the ownership of personal computers illegal in 2002. Here is what the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported at the time:

On January 16, 2002, a decree was approved by the Ministry of Domestic Commerce prohibiting the sale of personal computers to individuals.  According to an article published on March 25 in the digital periodical wired.com, Decree 383/2001 prohibits “the sale of computers, printers, duplicating machines, photocopiers, or any other instrument for large-scale printing” to any association, foundation, nonprofit civil organization, or individual.  In cases where the purchase of such equipment or related spare parts or accessories is considered indispensable, authorization must be requested from the Ministry of Domestic Commerce.

This runs counter to the postulates made by Dr. Nelson that “over time, history has demonstrated that more media necessarily means less controlled media,” and “the Communist regime remains, but Cuba is no longer frozen in time.”

First the consolidation of the regime in Cuba began within a country that boasted many media outlets in 1959 that were systematically restricted, controlled and over time shut down leaving only the existing communist monopoly. Secondly, the Castro regime has never been “frozen” but has been constantly adapting to circumstance in order to preserve power.

The paper also makes the assertion that U.S. – China policy has created greater access to information for the average Chinese. However studying the literature on the subject offers a more nuanced analysis that contradicts the professor. There is more information but it is censored, controlled and the Chinese inundated with it are not aware of the holes in their knowledge.

Worse yet, some American companies assisted in providing the technology to systematically censor the entire Chinese population and maintain them uninformed. Other American companies actually assisted the Chinese political police in hunting down Chinese dissidents some of which as a result were captured and tortured while others were killed. This resulted in companies being sued and as in the case of Yahoo having to shell out millions of dollars in lawsuits to pay for the damage done to innocent Chinese.

The pattern repeats itself now in Cuba and that is why at a gathering in Puerto Rico of Cuban activists on, and off the island the activists agreed to condemn Google and asked the company to live up to its corporate values in its final document.

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