14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 September 2016 — The last day of Cuba Internet Freedom Forum (CIF), which is meeting in Miami this week and was attended by dozens of experts in the use of networks, explored the importance of recognizing internet access as a fundamental human right and analyzed trends in the digital market on the island and the landscape of independent journalism, among others. The event, organized by the US Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and the first of its kind in history, seeks to promote new ways to increase connectivity in one of the countries with the worst internet access index in the world.
Among the most relevant events of the day was the Internet Freedom: Fundamental Human Right workshop, which involved the US subcontractor Alan Gross who spent five years in prison in Cuba for “acts against the territorial integrity of the state.”
Gross’s first words were “¿Qué bolá?, asere” – what’s happening, dude. Gorss said that “information is food for the brain” and, therefore, should be considered a human right.
The former prisoner, cigarette in hand, also noted the island’s need to “land” in the 21st century. “If we believe that the Cuban government says about the the need for exports to improve its economy, we have to think that it would facilitate contacts between producers and foreign markets, and that can only be done through the internet,” he added.
In the panel on trends in the digital market in Cuba, the founder of the site Apretaste, Salvi Pascual, explained the results of a survey conducted through this new initiative, which allows information to be collected through Nauta email. The results show that the majority of those consulted on the island want internet, although they would have to pay a fixed monthly fee. The survey also showed that a high percentage of the inhabitants on the island want the government rationing system to be maintained.
“Internet is a universal human right and that is why the Castros fear it,” said Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio in a video message addressed to the public forum.
In another panel, dedicated to independent journalism on the island, the analyst Miriam Celaya recalled the background of this phenomenon. Other participants such as Rolando Lobaina, Ivan Garcia and Ignacio Gonzalez also addressed the issue from the plurality of independent sites and the awakening being observed in other media in which official journalists participate, such as El Estornudo, OnCuba and El Toque.
Lobaina raised the challenge of organizing an event of this kind on the island, but said government repression towards the independent press “would probably prevent it.”
The event presented the work of the digital site Martí Noticias, which has about six million visits to its website and an average of more than nine minutes of time spent on the site.
“It is an excellent opportunity for an exchange between those of us on the island and those in exile. The future of the internet in Cuba we are going to guarantee for everyone,” Joanna Columbié, a member of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More). The activist added that this type of event has a real impact on ordinary Cubans, because it provides tools to facilitators who, once in the country may continue the educational work there.
According to Rachell Vazquez, a freelance journalist who contributes to 14ymedio, it is increasingly necessary that the information produced in Cuba not only reflect the reality of the capital, but also the interior of the island.
“Freedom, both of expression and on the internet, is fomented when people of a neighborhood or a municipality see their lives, their concerns and their hopes reflected in the work we do. That’s the best way to contribute to the change of mentality in Cuba,” she said.