Mobile Internet and the Right of Cubans to Social Networks

A group of Cuban high school students share audiovisual content through a cell phone. (14ymedio)

Elías Amor Bravo, 3 January 2018 — Cuba’s restrictions on internet access are an example of the types of controls the regime imposes on the population. On 28 December, however, it was announced that in 2018 the island’s inhabitants were expected to have access from their cell phones, something that thus far has not been the case. Good news, no doubt.

Many wonder how, in an era of telecommunications and social networks, it is possible to survive given such backwardness. But the reality is that in Cuba internet access is through satellite, which not only means not only higher service costs but also limitations on its effective development. Alternatives such as the undersea cable that exists around the island are not enough to increase capacity. In the end everything depends on policy decisions by the regime that would allow free use of the internet for all Cubans, a right that continues to be restricted. continue reading

Cubans have certainly shown a special interest in anything having to do with web communication and internet access. Authorities have provided figures on the use of social networks in Cuba and, as of July 2017, the regime claims a growth in social network usage of 346%, though obviously this is starting from very low levels that are not seen in other countries. These figures only make sense after taking into account the fact that almost two million Cubans live overseas and many maintain contact with their families on the island.

The state-owned Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA), which has a monopoly internet service on the island, is apparently still preparing to offer mobile internet service in 2018 though it has not provided exact dates or deadlines for service to begin. Commitment to customers: zero.

With respect to mobile telephone service on the island, official figures indicate that 600,000 new mobile lines were activated in 2017, serving 4.5 million Cubans out a total population of about eleven million. Despite these seemingly impressive figures, the reality is that Cuba has one of the lowest levels of connectivity in the world and is almost 10 years behind in its the use of mobile technologies.

As in many other areas of family finance, what explains this backwardness are actions of the regime, which is the only authorized provider, and limitations on accessing the internet at home. Access is currently limited to workplaces, state enterprises, universities and schools. Another factor to consider is the high price of the service, with home internet service costing between 15 and 70 convertible pesos (CUC) per month according to official ETECSA figures. This is a price too high for a country where the average salary is around $ 20 a month, with the CUC being at parity with the dollar

Therefore, given the inability to receive internet service at home, Cubans now gather outdoors to use the wireless internet access points in the parks and public thoroughfares, an image that has become emblematic of the population’s desire and need to communicate and obtain information. They have a right to complain.

The internet is undoubtedly one of the challenges facing the generation of Cubans, who hope to take over from the Castro regime after Raúl Castro gives up power next April. And many believe that, as in other undemocratic countries in the world, social protests may begin to emerge in Cuba through platforms such as social networks, mobile communications and home-based internet, which are outside the control of informers and state security of the state, which monitor everything.

The successful modernization of Cuban society — a vital but insufficient condition for the transition to democracy, freedom and the rule of law — may depend on the rise and consolidation of social networks. I do not doubt it. As a result, the regime has laid its cards on the table. It not only openly accepts Cuba’s inexplicable backwardness relative to other countries in the use of the internet, but it keeps costs very high, making it unavailable to a population that day after day struggles to gain access.

Another example of the backwardness of mobile communications in Cuba is the fact that ETECSA is taking advantage of the late arrival of the service to introduce the option of making payments using a mobile phone, an option widely available in many African countries with levels of development much lower than those in Cuba. Characterizing mobile banking as a spectacular step forward to pay for services such as telephone, electricity or water requires Cubans to use the banking system to handle current accounts which they use to deposit their paychecks and pay their bills. Does ETECSA know that the percentage of Cuban workers manage their economic affairs in this way? Let’s hope they find out. It will be a surprise.

Mogherini’s Real Interest in Havana

Federica Mogherini in Havana this month (Radio Cadena Agramonte)

Cubaeconomí, Elias Amor Bravo, 5 January 2018 – The Castro regime, in its urgent need to find external financing for the economy, has developed a strategy of approaching the European Union that has come to an end, at least for the moment, with the recent visit of Federica Mogherini to Havana. The agreement is a vague text, with language so general it can mean anything, but it does not deceive anyone in terms of its objectives.

Behind this propaganda scenario, Cuba wants to access the economic funds, certainly substantial, of the so-called Cotonou Agreement, the central axis of the collaboration between the European Union and its member states with another 79 countries belonging to three continents, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, abbreviated as the ACP countries, which had been, in their day, colonies of different states now in the Union. continue reading

The Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000, has as its main objective the reduction of poverty to contribute to its eradication, offering support to the sustainable economic, cultural and social development of its partner countries, and facilitating the progressive integration of their economies into the world economy. Its antecedents start from the founding text of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, with the cooperation later expanded by the two Conventions of Yaoundé and the four of Lomé.

The Agreement establishes a framework of close collaboration between the signatory countries, based on a series of fundamental principles:

  1. The Agreement partners are equal.
  2. The countries determine their own development policies.
  3. Cooperation is not only between governments; parliaments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector and the economic and social partners also play a role.
  4. The cooperation agreements and priorities vary according to some aspects such as the levels of development of the countries.

Since its entry into force, joint institutions have been created to support the implementation of the Agreement, such as the ACP Council of Ministers, which receives assistance from the Committee of Ambassadors and maintains political dialogues, adopts political guidelines and makes decisions for the implementation of the Agreement. This institution is responsible for presenting an annual progress report to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and as an advisory body it presents recommendations on the achievement of the objectives of the Agreement.

There is no doubt that the political dimension of the Cotonou Agreement is important since it includes, among other elements:

  1. A full political dialogue on national, regional and global issues,
  2. The promotion of human rights and democratic principles,
  3. The development of policies for the consolidation of peace and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and
  4. The handling of issues related to migration and security, including the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

To date, the Agreement has been based mainly on the promotion and development of cooperation activities whose objectives are: the economic development of the industrial, agricultural and tourist sectors of the ACP countries; social and human development to improve health, education and nutrition services, and regional integration and cooperation to encourage and develop trade between the ACP States.

All these activities are financed through the European Development Fund, which between 2014 and 2020 has a budget of 33.1 billion euros. However, it contains important clauses on trade in services, information and communication technologies, as well as capital movements.

Seen from this perspective, the interest of the Castro regime to accede to the Cotonou Agreement is more than evident, since it can act as a beneficiary, both receiving aid for internal development, as well as participating in the health, education and nutrition programs, which receive outstanding financing.

In addition, this Agreement depends on the representative of European foreign policy Federica Mogherini, hence the maximum attention she received in Havana and the displays of fondness and affection such as the visit to Old Havana with Eusebio Leal and the cardinal.

The regime, which agreed to generous plans for debt cancellation with the signatory countries of the Paris Club, and its subsequent conversion into development aid, now has an essential instrument in the Cotonou area to channel programs and give them a politically responsible format. All perfect.

But in addition, it may be known in Havana that the Cotonou Agreement will end in 2020, after the review carried out in 2010, which adapted the collaboration to focus more on issues such as climate change, food security, the fight against HIV/AIDS, the sustainability of fisheries, the strengthening of security in fragile regions, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (replaced in 2016 by 17 Sustainable Development Goals).

Through this gateway to the EU, Cuba is prepared to participate fully in the negotiations of the future Agreement that the Union can elaborate and, in due course, sign with the ACP countries.

To occupy an active position and to be integrated into the more than 100 countries that make up the Agreement can serve the regime to obtain the much needed financing to close its external accounts and avoid structural liquidity problems.

Having exhausted the resources from Venezuela, Havana turns its eyes to Brussels. Will it work?