Alexei Gámez: “Before Wifi This Was a Dead Town” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Alexei Gámez, a resident of Jagüey Grande, got his first computer at the age of ten. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 21 February 2017– Surrounded by cables and circuits Alexei Gámez has spent his life. From an early age he became passionate about technology despite growing up amidst the rigors of the Special Period. At age ten, he had a computer, “the kind that connected to TVs,” he recalls with a mixture of pride and irony. At that time he did not imagine that the screens and the keyboards would help to awaken in him a civic conscience.

At the beginning of this month, the name of this young man of 35 years, resident in Jagüey Grande, appeared in the digital media. Police broke into his house and after a meticulous search took the devices for wireless connection that Gámez counted among his most valuable treasures. The trigger was a Youtube channel where he teaches Cubans how to set up a wifi network with routers and NanoStations.

At that moment he crossed the line. In a country where thousands of users are plugged into wireless networks every day, the authorities turn a blind eye most of the time because of the inability to control the phenomenon. But it is one thing to connect to SNet, the largest of these communities, and another to say publicly that you do so and, in addition, to teach others how to create their own virtual web.

When the eyes of the cyber-cops focused on him, it carried no weight that at the age of 19 he had been one of a contingent of computer scientists, nor that he became the administrator of the Banco Popular de Ahorro network in Matanzas. After the raid on his home, an officer warned him that the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) accused him of “illegal economic activity,” although he was never paid a penny to distribute his knowledge.

He entered the world of politics at full speed and now says, with determination, he will be involved in it “until my last day

Since then, Gámez can not leave town without asking permission, but immobilizing a computer expert is like trying to hold back the sea.

Technology has also connected him with a new life. A few years ago he obtained one of those USB memories loaded with audiovisual content that circulate from hand to hand. Thus he met Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement. “That was the beginning of a friendship that lasts until today,” says Gamez.

He entered the world of politics at full speed and now says, with determination, he will be involved in it “until my last day,” unable to imagine any other course.

However, technology remains his main passion. “By not having access to mass media such as radio and television, because they are state media and only represent the Communist Party, we try to spread our message through a USB drive, a DVD or in the Weekly Packet,” he told this newspaper.

Computers, smartphones and tablets “have given us the opportunity to get closer to people and convey our message of how we think and how we want things to be in the future,” he explains.

For Gámez the opening of Wi-Fi zones in squares and parks of the country is still far from an efficient service. “The bandwidth is very restricted” and “clearly they have it very controlled.” With his knowledge, he intuits that navigation through Nauta service could be a more successful experience for customers, if the state telecommunications company ETECSA, that operates it, proposed it.

“I rely on the experience of whose of us who have a wireless network at the municipal level, with approximately 200 people connected and working at high speed.” Gámez says he can “watch a film” from his house even though its streaming on a computer elsewhere. “We do that with equipment of lower power” than those of the state monopoly.

“Before the wifi this was a dead town, there was nowhere to go,” he recalls.

Jagüey Grande Park is the center of the life of the municipality and the little recreation available to the residents. “When a few people get together, that’s as far as the Nauta connection goes,” complains the computer expert.

However, he believes that the installation of a Wi-Fi zone has significantly changed the life of the area. “Before wifi this was a dead town, there was nowhere to go,” he recalls. “On weekends there were several nightclubs, one for children, one for young people and one discotemba*.

Gámez played in that park as a child and evokes the times he spent amid its trees and benches. But with the passing of years, “the park was dying and was always dark,” he laments. “After the coming of the internet it’s full all the time and for the young people it’s a fixed meeting point,” he says with relief.

Like many of these netizens, Alexei Gámez manages to slip through the bars of control every day thanks to wireless networks. He does it like a mischievous child who clings to the tail of a kite called “technology.”

*Translator’s note: Discotemba = a place that plays older music for an older crowd.