14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana |7 July 2019 – In forums about the governance of the internet it is easy to determine who represents the governments, almost always in formal clothes, and who represents business, also formal but with more expensive clothes. Then there is the academy, with that mix of athletic shoes, jacket and blazers, and finally, in a group with very permeable borders, those who are concerned with the development of technology and the representation of civil society.
This latter is undoubtedly the most attractive group, with its casual attitude toward dress and in the way it conducts itself. It is also almost always the youngest group. And above all, the most numerous and active group in the panels and discussions.
Participating in these forums is a great experience, unforgettable the first time, at least in my case, as I had the privilege to start doing it when internet access for citizens in Cuba was scarce, slow and very expensive. The absence of ceremony and protocol between participants from different geographical points, cultures, languages, allows us to acquire and weave numerous affinities and relationships, even though we have different problems.
The essence of these forums is to achieve consensus between competing interests such as cybersecurity in the fight against terrorism and the protection of privacy and citizens’ data, the sale of personal data to third parties by platforms such as Facebook, or the fight against false news, to give recurring examples.
For these reasons, I received with optimism the news that provincial forums were being organized in Cuba for the first time, and that their results would be represented at the National Internet Governance Forum held from June 25 to 27 at Havana’s Palace of Conventions under the title: Social Justice And Sustainable Human Development.
Having participated in May in the Havana Forum, I could see that, at least in the capital, the participants represented organizations such as the Computer Association, the Union of Jurists, the Higher Pedagogical Institute, Etecsa (the state-owned telecommunications company), and journalists from the capital’s media, and they did not have much, if any, information about what Internet Governance is and the nature of these meetings.
I was very active in the event, touching on topics such as the use of proprietary software and migration to open source, which excited the computer scientists, and I emphasized the need to improve the interaction of public officials on their Twitter accounts. Finally, I proposed to raise as a theme for the National Forum the establishment of a University for All course on the Internet, taking into account that we have an educated but aging population that has arrived late to the development of information and communication technologies (ICT).
It was encouraging to converse with very capable people, among them a telecommunications engineer was was a pioneer in the assembly of satellite receivers, or a CUJAE professor with three doctorates, who approached me to thank me for my interventions, because they had provided a glimpse of where Governance is heading.
The topics discussed were the same in all the provinces and in the national meeting: obviating the peculiarities of each region. The topics were very general and, at least in the provincial instance, treated in the form of tedious readings whose content was good for a classroom, not for the dynamic forum that it should have been.
I expressed to the organizer of the provincial forum my interest in participating in the national, but as part of the public, because I did not intend to make a formal presentation, like those representing the state-sponsored organizations. Always in those events there are more participants than speakers, and the organizer found my request logical.
Anyway I tried to formalize my presence by writing to the vice president of the Organizing Committee, since it appeared that a requirement for participation was membership in the Computer Association, or that of Jurists, or to be a collaborator with the Cuban Association of the United Nations, and I did not fulfill said requirements. Instead, I could contribute my experience in seven international forums on Internet Governance, including three global forums. The response was very bureaucratic: since I did not belong to any of the organizations mentioned, I could not attend.
I tried to follow the development of events in the Palace of Conventions through the press and television, since there was no streaming, but it was all very general and repetitive from one medium to another. They highlighted and confirmed the idea expressed by the first vice president of the Computer Union: We need to build in Cuba our own vision of the Internet, a postulate that leads us to ask ourselves in whose name we speak to build that vision.
On Twitter the hashtag #IGFCuba2019 barely reached 60 tweets, and of those only 27 were originals. There was nothing about the development of applications for the national environment. Although the University of Havana and the University of Information Science (UCI) must have been present, there was no information about Etecsa’s service expansion plans and how it plans to reduce rates, a demand that now has its own hashtag and a full news campaign. No original tweets came from civil society on topics of citizen interest.
Given all of this, it is difficult to get an exact idea of what happened at the event. I have not found a repository where video or audio is stored; only the presentation of Rosa Miriam Elizalde, a student, on the topic of the media and internet.
Far from the transparency that characterizes the conclusions in these conclaves, the press did not detail the agreements and conclusions, nor any final consensus outlining the future lines of work.
As I expressed to the Minister of Communications through Twitter (to which, with a custom that is already becoming a trend, he did not respond), the meeting could have marked a milestone, but it was nothing more than the fulfillment of one more task.
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