Rosa Maria Rodriguez, 10 September 2015 — Ever since WiFi service was activated in Vedado in the area of 23rd and L a few months ago, there have been rumors that it will be available in Monaco — a narrow swath of land in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora — starting in September of this year. Expectations are high among the locals. A few people have already signed contracts with ETECSA — with wireless transmitter included — in anticipation of this event. Is the information true or false? Where did it come from?
Rumors in Cuba are like an oral newspaper, circulating for decades and serving as a placebo of hope for its citizens. They also used by authorities to elicit and collect opinions. But sometimes they converge with social frustrations and desires, seasoned with a dose of fantasy, and begin to circulate among the inhabitants of countries with dictatorial regimes, where there is no freedom of information. Where can one turn for accurate news or to find a spokesperson or authorized entity? There are none!
The grotesque site of people sitting haphazardly or otherwise supporting themselves on sidewalks, low walls or outdoor tables near 23rd and L, their phones and laptops on the ground, in order to access an internet hotspot are embarrassing and leave much to be desired. It seems like a punishment the state has devised for people who want to enjoy freedom of information and communication. I ask myself what will happen in Monaco, where the streets and sidewalks are in such poor condition and where the police have declared the area to be one “of social danger.”
In Cuba, where the information and communication market is quite depressed — perhaps intentionally — and where the most coveted cell phones are smartphones — sold at state-owned stores for more than 200 CUC apiece — it is risky for people to display hi-tech equipment in public spaces or on the street.
Monaco is a shopping area three blocks from my house. It includes a shopping mall, produce market, movie theater, a small amusement park for children, buildings undergoing renovation, a bakery, an ice cream parlor, a garage, a branch of Western Union, a fishmonger, currency stores, restaurants, a park, a currency exchange office and a bank. It is so well-known that when people are taking a private taxi to get there, rather than state the name of the neighborhood, they ask the driver, “Do you go to Monaco?”
There are enthusiasts who say that, if a few blocks manage to get wifi access, there will be people who will rent out space in their homes so that others can surf the web comfortably and safely. Others optimistically believe that, if they live in the coverage area, they will be able to quietly review the day’s events and communicate with the outside world. Sitting in your home and surfing on your laptop? No. Society can only enjoy what “the Revolution” — the totalitarian state — “generously” grants them, even if it means humiliating themselves by groveling on the ground, soiling their clothes and their self-respect, in order to exercise their right.
I don’t know if the rumors will come true this month or this year. Even so, what other options do we have? Wifi in Monaco in September? I hope so!