Ivan Garcia, 27 January 2017 — As soon as the sun warms this frigid tropical autumn, Cordoba Park, located at San Miguel, Revolucion, Lagueruela and Gelanert, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora, resembles a picnic and leisure area.
Young people sit on the lawn and some families spread large towels as if they were at a pool or on the shore. Others bring folding chairs or armchairs so that the elderly, through the IMO application, can converse comfortably with their relatives across the Straits of Florida.
Also the hustlers arrive, the ones that survive from what falls off the back of the trucks, with a special nose to detect when, in certain environments, theycan make money. This is the case of Ricardo, who on the side of the park’s main gazebo, blows up a red and blue inflatable and charges five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents US) per child.
“It’s only for children under ten or whose weight is less than sixty pounds,” he tells a heavy girl who wants to jump on the inflatable with two friends. But they insist and Ricardo tells them that the inflatable “is not made for young people or adults. And I have to take care of it, because it supports me, it’s how I feed my children. You will have to entertain yourselves with something else.”
In Córdoba Park, more than 1,300 feet across, there is one of the two Wi-Fi zones in the municipality of 10 de Octubre, which are a part of the 34 open zones in Havana and the 200 operating throughout the Island. Since the Wi-Fi zone opened, on March 30, 2016, the place has become an open air locutorium, where we learn about the lives and miracles of people.
But those who come daily, to connect to the Internet, do not know that the park was located in front of the house of Emilia de Cordoba y Rubio, born on 28 November 1853 in San Nicolás de Bari, the first woman mambisa (independence fighter), who had an extraordinary desire to serve Cuba.
When Emilia de Cordoba died, on 20 January 1920, neighbors and friends, including journalist and the patriot Juan Gualberto Gómez (1854-1933), asked that her memory be perpetuated. In addition to putting her surname to the park, on 20 May 1928, a marble statue by the Italian sculptor Ettore Salvatori was unveiled, considered the first monument in the capital of the Republic dedicated to a Cuban woman.
A young woman talking in Portuguese with a Brazilian friend knows nothing of this history as she shamelessly asks for “a hundred or two hundred dollars, or whatever you can, because we are at the gates of the end of the year and I’m broke, without a single cent.”
Nor does the family that is trying to crowd around the screen of a Smartphone, to see their relatives in Hialeah and ask them about hourly wages or rents in Miami, know who Emilia de Cordoba was, though they know what kind of car their family bought and whether or not they already bought the iPhone 7 they asked them for.
“Mi’jo, this place is a mess. After the death of you-know-who things look ugly. Look, see if when you get yourself settled you can send us more money and start working on getting us out of this shit,” asks the older woman.
It is common to see women and men kissing their lovers or wives by sticking their mouths on the screen of the tablet or cell phone. A slender mixed-race woman, who wears shorts that show more than they hide, runs the phone up and down her body with no timidity and, smiling, tells her presumed partner, “So you can see a sample.”
In a corner of the park, the one that borders Gelabert Street, a group of boys, at full volume, have mounted their particular recital of reggaeton, with two portable speakers that work through the Bluetooth of their phones.
Music is a good pretext for attracting customers. “Hey old man, Connectify a caña (one convertible peso or twenty five Cuban pesos)”. They promote the application that makes the internet connection cheap, but slows the speed in an unbearable way.
Others lurk around the park, and in a low voice they proclaim, “Wow, your card, three bars.” It is one of the most common businesses in public places with wifi. “The business is simple. You buy the internet cards in an ETECSA center at two chavitos (CUC) and then resell them for three. For each card I sell I earn 1 CUC. In one day I can earn 20 or 30 fulas (another slang term for CUCs),” confesses a kinky-haired white guy wearing a shirt with Luis Suarez, a forward for Barcelona.
On Monday, December 12, the good news was the announcement of an agreement between the multinational Google and ETECSA, the inefficient state telecommunications company, to improve the Internet connectivity of Cubans. According to Deborah, the company’s engineer, “this does not mean that the transmission speed will improve dramatically, but those using Google will have a noticeable improvement, like from the sky to the moon.”
Since 4 June 2013, when ETECSA opened the first 118 internet rooms throughout the country, and despite the high cost (one hour costs the equivalent of two days of salary of a professional), today about 250,000 people access the information highway in different provinces, either from an internet room or a Wi-Fi zone, every day.
Although most are not exactly searching for information. “Some 80 percent of those who connect use the Internet as a communications tool or to access social networks,” says an ETECSA engineer who works in a network traffic office.
For three and a half years now, the Internet has been an event in Cuba. You can use it to ask for money, find lovers or make friends. And those who want to inform themselves can do so on uncensored national or international sites. But as for websites considered “counterrevolutionary” by the regime, they cannot be accessed from the Greater Antilles. This is the case with Diario de Cuba, Cubanet, Cubaencuentro and Martí Noticias, among others.
Connecting to the internet on the Island has become all the rage. It is synonymous with modernity. Or a weekend getaway with the wife and children to a park with wireless connection, to talk with family and friends in Miami or Madrid.
It is the closest thing to what happened three decades ago, when people in their free time stood in long lines at Coppelia to have an ice cream, or walked along La Rampa or sat down to converse or to take in the fresh air along the wall of the Malecon.