Video: Cuba’s Minister of Communications talking about the implementation of cellular internet. (Not subtitled)
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 June 2018 — Facing a mountain of medical records the nurse looks for the patient’s history. She flips through the pages, pulls out the folders, but the clinical report does not appear. “It’ll have to be done again,” she tells the disgruntled gentleman who, that very morning, had read in the official press about the “advances in computerization” in Cuba’s Public Health system.
The VI Latin American Telecommunications Congress, held in Varadero, is serving these days as a launch pad for triumphant headlines in the official press. Those who pay attention only to the reports emerging from this technology congress may come to believe that, on the island, many procedures are accessibly by a click, but the reality is very different.
A country where the vast majority of people have never completed an online financial transaction, never been able to buy a product from a virtual store, and do not know the enormous potential of distance courses that would allow them to learn from home, cannot be categorized as a computerized nation.
To this we add the poverty level wages that prevent many professionals from signing up on international online resource sites related to their fields, where they could keep abreast of the latest trends. Paying a day’s salary to connect for one hour in a public wifi zone is not an indicator of a connected society, but rather an indicator of the economic penalty that weighs on Cuban internet users.
On the one hand, the Deputy Minister of Education, Rolando Forneiro Rodríguez, stood in front of congress delegates painting an optimistic scenario with a large number of teachers for the subject of Computer Science. However, on the other hand, in countless schools in the country students’ so-called ‘machine time’ comes with an absence of teachers and the deterioration of infrastructure.
Children under the age of ten learn more about technology by exchanging video clips through mobile apps such as Zapya than they do attending boring computer classes where ideology is intertwined with HTML code and the computer programs offered on the official list have more to do with politics than with fun.
For more than two decades, the teaching of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has also suffered from the Government’s attempts to create a “corralito” – a little corral – of filtered content. Those intentions are responsible for sites such as Ecured, a poor imitation of Wikipedia; the unpopular Mochila (Backpack) created to compete with the weekly packet and the failed Tendedera (Clothesline) born to wipe away Facebook.
At a time when the internet is strengthening its role as an environment for activism and a place for debate on issues as hot as the contradictions of democracy, racism or gender violence, Cuban authorities are still trying to domesticate the network and lock the Island’s users into their little guarded plot.
In hospitals and polyclinics the picture is similar. The bulky bureaucracy of the Public Health system still works with paper. The loss of a single sheet can mean months of delay in a treatment and medical appointments, most of the time, are first come first served, to the discomfort of the sick and their relatives.
In the classrooms of the faculties of medicine, the blackboard, the chalks and the plastic models of the human body have not given way to other technologies that might make the Island’s doctors modern professionals. Saving lives, today, can also happen due to the dominance of devices such as mobile phones or the ability to search for information in the great world wide web.
The fear of the social impact of connectivity and the loss of political control that would be implied by access to other news channels has been the real brake on Cubans’ ability to disembark in the 21st century, an era characterized precisely by social networks, digital content consumption and connectivity.
This fear of the ruling party has a cost not only in national economic development but also in quality of life and education. We don’t have to wait to see result of that delay because it is already visible in each classroom and during each consultation.
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