14ymedio, Havana, 30 November 2020 — “Facebook isn’t working,” “Twitter can’t be opened,” and “WhatsApp messages aren’t going out,” Cuban Internet users denounced over the weekend. Since last Saturday the reports of “intermittent blocking” of social networks have been counted in the hundreds, in addition to interruptions of mobile data services as well as the State communications company’s home internet service, Nauta Hogar.
“I can only get into Instagram and Signal, to go to the other networks I have to activate the VPN [Virtual Private Network],” Havana resident Igor Medina, 23, told 14ymedio.
“Starting at noon everything got slow, but in the afternoon the blockade came, it was intermittent, sometimes everything worked and sometimes nothing. WhatsApp was impossible, it connected and disconnected, the same with Telegram, Facebook and Twitter,” he added.
Several users interviewed by this newspaper explained that only by activating a VPN could they access instant messaging services and social networks that are regularly available on the Island.
The strategy of canceling the internet connection from mobile phones or blocking access to online services has been frequently used by the Cuban authorities since internet service on mobile phones was first made available in December 2018.
In these last two years, digital spaces have become a public square for debate and civic convocation, as well as serving as a platform for feminist movements, animal protection, artistic creation and independent journalism, among others. A ferment of proposals and opinions that the ruling party does not seem willing to tolerate.
Several experts consulted by this newspaper point out that the blockades in recent days point to the implementation of a firewall similar to the one implemented by the Chinese authorities. With this, the government can filter content, monitor content sharing, and also create an “internet blackout” whenever it sees fit.
The antecedents in recent weeks have been the censorship against the instant messaging application Telegram and also the blocking of several very popular VPNs on the Island. Now, the fear is that these cuts will extend to other tools widely used to circumvent censorship against digital sites.
The blockade of these tools began a few hours after the protest of more than 300 artists in front of the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT) last Friday, in response to the repression that the Government unleashed the day before against the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, in Old Havana.
“Since yesterday the WhatsApp application in Cuba has been working intermittently. What could be happening?” Rosalía Viñas, a resident of Pinar del Río and a member of the editorial team of the magazine Convación, asked in a tweet.
Viñas pointed out that outside of Cuba the above mentioned networks were functioning without any problem, “a fact that I verified with different friends who live abroad,” she said.
“After the peaceful demonstration in front of MINCULT, which had good coverage on the networks and kept many Cubans informed of what was happening there, it made the government very nervous, to the point that once again it violated freedom of expression, and the rights of online users by unjustifiably blocking services,” she added.
For this weekend other calls had also been launched to demonstrate in the streets, one in front of the Ministry of Internal Commerce, in Old Havana. The call sought the closure of stores that since last summer sell food and hygiene products which buyers can purchase only with foreign currency.
The initiatives also included a demonstration in front of the United States Embassy, in El Vedado, with the aim of protesting against the repression unleashed by the Government.
In the Parque de la Libertad in Matanzas several young people decided to sit down on Saturday night in a peaceful way to show solidarity with the San Isidro Movement but some were detained by the authorities. Similarly, a demonstration was called in Santa Clara for this Monday afternoon “for a Cuba of free thought.”
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