By Fernando Ravsberg, BBC Mundo
September 11, 2009
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Universities have computer rooms and some have internet access.
Cuban authorities approved legal internet use for all citizens, given in a resolution signed by Commandante of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés, Computer Science and Communications Minister.
This resolution implies a change in government policy, which up to now had limited the net to social use, allowing access only to institutions, companies, and to a small group of little more than 100.000 people, mainly intellectuals and scientists.
For some weeks Cubans had been authorized access to “Cybercafés” in hotels, where they can connect to the internet, using the wireless system or WIFI, from their own computers or from those provided by the hotel.
However, it was in fact a measure that could change without notice. On the other hand, a ministerial resolution has legal force; it was even published in the Official Gazette of Cuba.
It is the end of the State’s information monopoly.
In post offices
Some post offices will have internet navigating rooms.
The Minister resolved “authorizing the Cuban Post Office Company, as Access to Internet Service Supplier for the Public. It will provide this service to all people inside our national territory using its internet areas.”
They will use post offices to install computers so that any Cuban can navigate the net. Up to now a similar structure existed, but it only gave access to an intranet, with websites selected by the government.
Brenda and Daimi, workers of a post office in Vedado, in Havana, confirmed to BBC World that 3 days ago they closed to create an internet room. However, it was reopened without finishing the installation.
Apparently, not all post offices will be used during the first phase, workers of the Computer Science’s Ministry to BBC Mundo workers. “One will be selected by municipality” and this service can be enlarged as necessary.
During this last decade, computer classes have been taught throughout the entire country.
With this measure, the prohibition is eliminated. But, the government continues with its proposal of “social use” of the Internet, meaning it won’t be possible to access the net from home. This is because the country doesn’t have enough bandwidth for this.
According to the Cuban authorities, the United States has prevented internet companies from negotiating a larger internet access with Cuba. What’s more, all communications are more expensive since they have to be made via satellite because Washington doesn’t allow the use of the submarine cable.
Shortly all this could change. American President, Barack Obama, authorized telecommunications companies to negotiate with Havana and next year the installation of a telephone cable between Cuba and Venezuela will be finished.
These new technological possibilities could reduce service prices, which today are extremely high. A one hour card in a hotel costs US$7 and full access from homes costs US$150 a month.
End of the monopoly
In this post office, work began but they wasn’t finished.
For decades, the Cuban government maintained an information monopoly. However, in the last years, the propagation of satellite antennas and the sale of internet accesses, both of them illegal yet increasingly extended have diminished it.
Regarding internet access, there are tens of thousands of illegal accounts, directly negotiated between server workers and clients. They cost around US $50 a month and give full access. It’s the same service legal subscribers receive.
Nobody can really know how many people have access to the net. But, it could be more than a million if we count those with authorized accounts, those with illegal ones and those who navigate – without permission – using institution accounts.
Anyway, the Cuban government maintains filters to prevent access to the most radical anti-Castro pages, while allowing access to the whole world press, including the biggest Cuban American newspaper in Miami.
BRIEF UPDATE, September 2015 Next week I’ll be returning to Cuba. This has been my longest time away since 1999 when I began regular visits. It’s been a year and a half. So much has changed since then! The Five are free and home. Diplomatic relations, broken by Washington in 1961, have been restored, and the process Cubans call “updating their economic model” has been continuing, as Raul Castro described it, “sin prisa, pero sin pausa”, which means “without rushing, but without stopping”. There’s so much to be learned and said about the process, which even the most attentive observer from abroad can barely begin to grasp. So now I’m looking forward with great anticipation to being able to catch up with friends and colleagues there, and to share with readers what I can see, hear and begin to try to understand. Below a link to my first extended commentary on Cuba, written after my second visit, fifteen years ago. Some remains valid, some has long since been resolved. Well, enough for now.
Los Angeles, California
September 8, 2015.
TWO MONTHS IN CUBA
Notes of a visiting Cuba solidarity activist
by Walter Lippmann
These are some notes on my visit to Cuba from November, 2000 to January, 2001. Some things in Cuba are very similar to the US, but many others are very, very different.
This essay doesn’t pretend to be a full-scale analysis of Cuba. That would be beyond its scope. These are my own observations, reflections and comments on things I myself personally saw, heard and did. Before and after visiting Cuba, I spent some time visiting Mexico, to get some perspective and to make a few comparisons. I hope you’ll find it useful.
On the final page of this essay, you’ll see links to some other pictures I took, and a page of references for useful English-language sources on Cuba so you can research Cuba further on your own.
WHY CUBA? WHY ME?
My interest in Cuba has deep family roots. My father and his parents lived there from 1939 to 1942. As Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, they were unable to enter either Great Britain or the United States, despite having close relatives in each. The Roosevelt administration strictly enforced a restrictive quota on Jewish immigration. My father and his parents had to wait in Cuba until 1943 before obtaining permission to enter the US. I was born in New York City in 1944. (A good history of the Jewish experience in Cuba is Robert M. Levine’s 1993 Tropical Diaspora (ISBN:0-8130-1218-X). There’s also a novel which eloquently evokes the time when my father lived in Cuba, Passing Through Havana, by Felicia Rosshandler (ISBN: 0-312-59779-7).
My father took me to Cuba in August, 1956. We visited his old residence and met some of his old friends. I don’t remember much about it except that Cuba was a very hot and sticky place. (I was only 12 at the time.) We stayed briefly at the Hotel Nacional, and after that we moved to a smaller hotel. We traveled to Pinar del Rio with one old friend, John Gundrum, also a German immigrant, but one who’d never left Cuba.
In November, 2000 I made my second visit to Cuba as an adult. I’d spent three weeks there in late 1999, on a delegation of yoga teachers and students meeting and practicing with our Cuban counterparts. I knew more than most in the US about this Caribbean nation. I’ve read a lot of Cuban history, and followed Cuban affairs closely. Now I wanted to take a much closer look.
How do Cubans actually live, day-to-day? I wanted to get a sense of how they work, their likes, dislikes and so on. It’s one thing to hear and read about a place, in the media (Cuba is terrible place! People are dying to leave!) or, on the other hand, uncritically favorable accounts among the few left media sympathetic to Cuba.
My Spanish is limited, so I often had to depend on bilingual friends and acquaintances for answers and directions. During my 31-year career as a social worker for Los Angeles County, I learned some simple “street Spanish,” but not enough to carry on a complex conversation. I met many who speak, and wanted to practice, English, so I was able to get answers to my many questions.
In Havana I stayed with a Cuban family I’d met in 1999. One family member had recently quit the public sector job he’d had for 13 years, and entered self-employment. He translates Cuban TV scripts from Spanish into English as an independent contractor. Cuba hopes to sell these to providers like the Discovery Channel. He also translates for visiting journalists and filmmakers. Weeks before my arrival he’d worked with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple, filming the Washington, D.C. ballet’s visit to the country. His mother is an engineer working for a government ministry. She belongs to the Cuban Communist Party. I didn’t pay rent, but bought the food and other items for the family. I often shopped and sometimes cooked for the family. I don’t think they’ve eaten so much garlic in their lives! (Fortunately, they like garlic…)
CUBA’S HISTORIC GOALS:
INDEPENDENCE AND A JUST SOCIETY
Essential to understanding today’s Cuba is the bitter history of US-Cuban relations. The two nations have had a long, close and tense connection. Nineteenth century US politicians discussed annexing the island. They tried to derail its independence, or thwart its efforts to forge a just society where the interests of Cubans was put first. Even now, most US politicians still act and speak as if they have the right to tell Cubans how to run Cuba. The revolution led by Fidel Castro and his compañeros is the most successful of Cuba’s efforts.
Backers of the overthrown Batista dictatorship were welcomed to the US. Washington opposed Cuban efforts to take control over national resources from foreign (mostly US) companies. It has opposed, and tried to turn back, the revolution at every turn. Washington and its supporters call this policy “the embargo.” Cuba calls it “the blockade.” This is because Washington relentlessly tries to bulldoze all other countries into supporting its anti-Cuban activities.
SINCE THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION
During Cuba’s alliance with the USSR and the states of Eastern Europe, the island received long-term contracts for its commodities at stable, and sometimes well-above world market prices. This provided the economic and military foundation for Cuba to survive Washington’s decades-long effort to starve it out. Washington had to think twice about military intervention. The island’s politics and economics were heavily influenced by the Soviet model.