The Internet Revolution is Coming to Cuba Clandestinely

The Internet revolution is coming to Clandestine Cuba.

Source: AFP. (The picture is of a cyber cafe from the Cuban government that shows the current prices.)

Yoán was earning $25 a month as a computer tech in a state enterprise, but he put $500 in his pocket by selling Internet access, a service that many Cubans contract on the vast black market, circumventing government control over access to the network.

In his work, Yoán managed 10 accounts of  officials authorized to access e-mail and he rented access to their passwords to customers “in confidence” under two rules: “connect at night or early morning” and “no political pages.”

“I was in this business because my salary was not enough to live on. Recently there was an audit which tracked customer phone numbers and air time. They sacked me from work and I paid a 1,500 pesos ($ 60) fine,” the 31-year-old man told AFP.

Yoan, who still cannot practice his profession for four years, was a strand in the web that connects Cubans to the illegal web: For 10 to 15 dollars a month you get only email service, 50 lets you navigate the Internet, or one dollar lets you send or receive on message. A business that Raul Castro’s government pursues in its offensive against illegal activity.

“I need to keep in touch with the world.  For a Cuban everything is money.  But I need to be in contact with my friends and the world.  I can’t afford underground Internet so I only have email.  I connect at night like my clandestine provider asks,” says Aida, a 38-year-ol former waitress.

The accounts Yoan managed were just for email.  “There are problems of security on the official network and for a computer specialist it’s not hard to slip through the holes. I made a maze it so I could handle not 15 clients, but 50.  With ten clients I ‘resolved’ a lot in about a year,” he explains, using the common Cuban verb that means to overcome all the impossibilities of daily life.

The connection in Cuba is by satellite.  The U.S. embargo blocks access to the underground cables that pass near the coasts which, according to the government, makes service limited and expensive, so it should be prioritized for social uses: State enterprises and foreigners, research and academic centers, or professionals in their homes, like doctors.

But in Washington, dissidents and other critics of the communist government claim that Cuba, like China, restricts access to stifle freedom of information and control opinions contrary to the one-party regime. For this reason they block opposition sites and blogs like that of Yoani Sanchez, which they consider “subversive.”

Cubans have email service at state cybercafes at $1.50 an hour, and can access the world network in hotels that sell cards at $7 an hour, prohibitively expensive when the monthly salary averages about $20.

Technical Limits and Content

“No way!  I can’t afford that, so I have email “on the left” (illegally) to communicate with my dad who lived in Miami.  I never write anything political.  I don’t want to be seem as a worm (counterrevolutionary),” says Marilis, a 23-year-old law student.

Two years ago Raul Castro allowed the sale of computers, but the Internet continues to be limited.  For 11.2 million inhabitants, there are only 1.4 million with access to the network, and 630,000 computers, according to official figures.

“It has been some days that I haven’t been able to connect, I am sure my provider sells the same number to many people, so I get a busy signal when I dial in, the connection drops, and it is extremely slow,” complains Rita, who has clandestine email since buying a computer or $750 on the black market, when the sale of them was still prohibited.

The Vice Minister of Information, Ramon Linares, said recently that the connection speed is increased to a  209 megabits output and 379 input, as a minimum bandwith for all Cuban users, but it will continue to be slow and individual accounts are prohibited, even when the submarine cable from Venezuela operates beginning in 2011.

“Even if they resolve the technical aspects, we will not have free access.  It’s clear that the leaders of the country decide what information you can consult, what books you can read, and even where you can travel, that’s if they even manage in the end to do it,” complains Aida.

Beyond politics, many Cubans continue to communicate with their relatives outside, sniffing around the web, bringing themselves up to date, revising the horoscope, and even joining the boom of networks like Twitter and Facebook.

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