From Joystick to Canon / Regina Coyula

Cuban Filmmaker Miguel Coyula

From Regina Coyula’s blog, 9 June 2017 (Ed. note: These interview fragments are being translated out of order by TranslatingCuba.com volunteers. When they are all done we will assemble them in order into one post.)

Jorge Enrique Lage interview with Miguel Coyula (Intro) 1

The country was falling to pieces, there were people drowning in the sea and on land, there was something called the Diaspora, but we bourgeois teenagers of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood knew nothing. Our lives revolved around a company and Japanese console. In my SuperNintendo years, Miguel was already a legend. Coyula was a gamer before gaming. His name passed like a password between initials. You don’t know how to kill a boss on one of the levels of the game? Ask Coyula. You don’t know how to activate this or that power? Go see Coyula.

We were playing Street Fighter II Turbo and Coyula already had Super Street Fighter II. We went to see him so he could show us the four new fighters and the recent versions of others. I remember that he revealed on the screen the improved attacks of Vega, the Spanish ninja that was my favorite fighther. Afterwards he started to clarify for us some technical doubts about The Lion King.  And I remember that, while he was leading Simba over some cliffs, I looked at his hyperconcentrated face and had a revelation, “This guy is alienated, bordering on autism, he’s going to melt, he probably does nothing else in his life,” I said to myself. “I have to give up video games, because if I don’t, I’ll end up like Coyula.”

Unfortunately, I quit videogames. Then time passed and I saw [Coyula’s] movie Memories of Overdevelopment. I saw it, by the way, before I saw Memories of Underdevelopment, which now seems to me like a regular prequel and a little drawn out. Sergio, the protagonist of Memories of Overdevelopment, ends up in a desert landscape that looks like another planet. He’s carrying a Barbie doll and his brother’s ashes, which are the ashes of the Mariel boatlift and, after that, of the Revolution.  To summarize. In 2010, Miguel Coyula scattered the ashes of Cuba in the desert in Utah; he dispersed these ashes in a psychotronic dust, between mutant and Martian. Seven years later, there are many people who still haven’t noticed.

I like that there is a guy like him in Cuban cinema.

Citizen Kastro-Citizen Alcides / Regina Coyula

Miguel Coyula (tallest in photo) and Rafael Alcides (3rd from right) collect the prize for the documentary ‘Nadie’ at the Dominican Global Film Festival. (Facebook FCGD)

Regina Coyula, 14 June 2017– Jorge Enrique Lage interviews Miguel Coyula (excerpts) 4

… at many times during the interview, Alcides interrupted himself and began to speak to Fidel as if he were right in front of him. It’s something one saw a lot in our parents’ generation: bothered by something Fidel was saying on TV and arguing with him, but supposedly there was no one listening inside the box. Documentaries offer that opportunity, that fantasy secret for many.

For me the film is a love-hate story between two men and a woman. The men are Rafael Alcides and Fidel Castro; the woman is the Revolution. Alcides lost her, and deeply resents the man who snatched her from him to dominate her, strangle her, and make her into an unrecognizable ghost. But in spite of it all, Alcides continues loving her somehow.

When he died I said that one of my actors had died, but Fidel appears in Memories of DevelopmentNobody, and Blue Heart. In the three films, I had to listen to many hours of his speeches and conversations to be able to edit and construct the dialogs in them. I can tell you it was pretty exhausting to work with him, who’d succeeded in telling me the lines I needed. But definitely he was one of the great actors of the 20th Century, including at the beginning of the 21st.

Supposedly, now one can read it as a great hallucination too, but when Alcides speaks, he addresses him in the present, as if he were alive. This doesn’t come out of nowhere. Anyone who reads Granma and reads the recycled quotes from Fidel in every issue can, as in the persistence embedded in all the talking heads you see on Cuban television, arrive at the conclusion that we’re being governed by a dead man.

Translated by: JT

#SaferInternetDay / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 7 February 2017 — Today is the worldwide observance of Safer Internet Day. Best practices should guide navigation for the benefit of the user; thus, she would never have the sour sensation that her Facebook page has been taken down for having undesirable content or that he has lost access to his email account containing all his correspondence–not to mention the disaster of a hacked web page–and all for not selecting a password other than “password” or “1234.”

Often when I speak of these matters, people stare at me in surprise or with frank indifference and think that “my contents are not secret.” I always say that mine aren’t either, but to maintain the security and privacy of my data is my right, even more so in a country where intrusive (bad) practices are part of daily life.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Embezzlement Today / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 17 February 2017 — The long laissez faire of the government with the “if you behave well, I look the other way” has given birth to a generation (just one?) of the cheerfully shameless, known generically as “fighters.” The nice denomination that began by being applied a few, no longer has color, sex or occupation. The common denominator is a very short wage for very long prices. Yes, those same people who cried in front of a photo with flowers* not yet three months ago.

Poles as distant as commerce and culture converge on this news that can only be half-confirmed because the official press never covers it without prior permission, and the friends, family, or co-workers of the enthroned acquired long ago the Pavlovian reflex of “not getting involved in things.” continue reading

The first of the cases, is in the Puentes Grandes Shopping Center, not yet three years from its opening and it already seems like a place in decline. There is an internet navigation room equipped on its opening with five computers and air conditioning. Something happened there that we have already become accustomed to. The PCs didn’t always work, the air conditioning didn’t either. In the room itself there was a counter with electronic devices such as USB memories, keyboards, headphones and the like, which was a point of sale for ETECSA, the Cuban Telecommunications Company that runs the place and maintains the monopoly of communications and as such keeps its users in a state between dissatisfaction and disgust.

And I speak about this in the past because no one can tell me if it will ever operate again; just very hastily in the parking lot an employee with a corporate image in a uniform one size smaller than necessary, acrylic nails, keratin-strengthened hair, and black-lace leggings, without raising her eyebrows or her voice, told me there had been a “tremendous explosion.” An informal taxi-driver on the hunt for a home refrigerator, was the one who told me that she was very pleased to be selling articles privately, much more cheaply than in the store.

It’s not just the stores. I remember, many remember, some fifteen or twenty years ago, the scandal in the International Relations Department of the Ministry of Culture, where artistic delegations were assembled without artists for the modest price of 500 CUC. Now it was the turn of the Council of Scenic Arts, and the information came from Colombia, Mexico or Central America with all the migratory connections, where some of the vigorous claimants of rights overseas, both university professors and lowlifes, learned to act although they never made it on stage. They demanded a red passport, that is an official one, authorized by the aforementioned Council that is supposed to authorize the travel of actors and theater groups.

Before, the same or similar matters had been in Heritage and Cultural Welfare and because of something missing in the works of art and some surplus in the construction works, appears to have been the reason for the exit through the back door of the previous Minister of Culture.

Even an octogenarian revolutionary fighter had amassed a modest fortune for the future, the future that was supposed to belong entirely to socialism. Barely two months after an anodyne article in the ’90s by Fidel Castro in the already anodyne newspaper Granma.

Nothing astonished Cubans, and from time to time we notice that corruption accompanies us wherever we go. The employee with the corporate image and the cultural officials as I already said, share the salary as a symbol. In the other case, I don’t know about you, but to me to the affair of the octogenarian fighter (for the uninformed his name is Héctor Rodríguez Llompart), tells me something about how things go among “the historicals” — as the original leaders and fighters of the Revolution call themselves.

*Translator’s note: A reference to Fidel Castro’s death

Translated by Jim

The Cuban Exile in Havana / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

”Departure” is a performance by the company The Enchanted Deer that tackles the drama of those who left Cuba. (The Enchanted Deer)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 27 February 2017 — From the beginning you feel that something is missing, you shift awkwardly in the seat in the small room at The Enchanted Deer, although you want to seem calm. After a long version of Amazing Grace, you will be detached enough to take in what follows. The stage is lit, before us, almost like a mirror, and other rows of seats appear, occupied by photographs and a woman. The actress Mariela Brito leads us through a national memory that is not spoken of but that is among us, we Cubans, with an almost physical presence.

Mariela, in a colloquial tone, tells us why many of those who left went away, stories very similar to those we tell of our own families, between friends and acquaintances. But beyond the stories told, like empty rafts float others, those who didn’t live to tell and who are, somehow, the protagonists. This is the absence that the audience can fill with its own memories.

The staging, deliberately slow, allows us to digest, metabolize facts, moments that mark one of the great dramas of our country: the family and social fracture. As if that were not enough, a screen runs through the successive departures of the last 58 years. Scars that we carry and that – the performance is here to remind us – do not end.

The audience interacts with the performance ‘Departure’. (The Enchanted Deer)

At the end of the performance, the audience is invited to approach the proscenium and interact with the photos, read the texts in the form of short letters that accompany many of the images, confirm, now closer, that they are indeed Celia Cruz, Jorge Valls, Cabrera Infante or Ana Mendieta, along with Maria, Juan or Manuel. The empty seats seem to tell us: Do not forget. Do not forget, with that dangerous selective oblivion that does so much damage to society and that history needs to reconstruct.

Inevitably, the site acts as an emetic. The accounting of this period, begun in 1959, raises the question of whether a project built at the cost of such sacrifice, the exile and death of those who are beyond the performance on the stage of The Enchanted Deer, of those who are absent, was worth it. But this is a brief chronicle. That would be a very long reflection.

World’s Harley-Lovers Gather in Varadero / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Participants wear vests that identify the owner’s name and country, in addition to the countries where they have been with their motorcycles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 14 February 2017 – This last weekend colorful festivities marked the 6th National Harley Davidson Meeting in Varadero in Cuba’s Matanzas province. Lovers of these powerful and visually attractive motorcycles attracted the curiosity of many tourists who were surprised by the peculiarity of the event.

Sponsored by the Cuban section of the Latin American Motorcycle Association (LAMA), the meeting was also attended by owners of other makes such as Indian, Triumph, Honda and Yamaha. Members have formed a strong community that helps in case of traffic accidents, or simply meets to talk and share their passion for motorcycles. continue reading

Numerous Harley-lovers from different parts of the world also met in Varadero to support their Cuban counterparts. Identifiable by their names and the flags of their country of origin on their vests, it was easy to distinguish members from Canada, France, Italy, Mexico, the USA, Germany and Croatia, who often were able to understand each other only through the passion that unites them.

One of the most exciting activities was the visit to Cheita in the city of Matanzas, to the home of a 107-year-old Harley enthusiast who had the strength to briefly peer out his door and enjoy seeing the street filled with motorcycles and the curious who came to see what all the commotion was about.

The attendees enjoyed the different competitions, such as one that tested the ability to ride most slowly without putting one’s feet on the ground, or another that tested riding through a serpentine course without touching the obstacles.

Others, more entertaining, involved a co-pilot, such as one biting a hotdog hanging from the bike in movement, or another called “straw in the bottle” which had to be accomplished without stopping or putting one’s feet down. There were also prizes for the bike that came from farthest away, the best repaired bike, or the most personalized chopper.

In all the competitions it was notable that the oldest motorcycle, a 1936 Flathead model, ran through its paces on Cuba’s roads, and in the hands of its experienced owner won several skills tests, including those for slow riding and stability.

Saturday did not come to an end without the usual concert open to the public with the popular David Blanco. The artist, also a Harley aficionado, satisfied his followers with a thrilling three-hour concert, very in tune with the spirit of the meeting, where he presented everything from classics of international rock to an arrangement of the emblematic Yo Soy El Punto Cubano.

On Sunday at noon, the motorcycle brigade departed from the park where the event was held to a point near the Varadero Marina. Once there, the official photo of this year’s meeting was taken.

In this edition an increase in the number of participants was perceptible, although neither the event nor the association have the appropriate tools of dissemination, beyond their official web pages. A proper promotion could help to promote this exceptional annual meeting in Cuba, on whose roads circulate true objects of desire for any collector in the world.

With Regards to ‘Santa and Andres’* / Regina Coyula

Cuban poet Delfin Prats

Regina Coyula, 30 January 2017 — In 1988 the Holguin poet Delfín Prats won the critic’s prize with his poetry collection “To Celebrate the Rise of Icarus,” and a friend of that time who didn’t want to see his name on my blog, on the night of the award ceremony brought Delfín to my house.

It was a moment of celebration and joy, because the prize came as a vindication of Delfín, a homosexual and poet in a provincial city. But that too was a trap.

In the middle of the toasts and after he dedicated his recent prize-winning book to me, I told him I had a present for him, and put into his hands “The Language of Mutes,” his David Prize winning poetry collection of 1968.

Delfín looked at me, looked at the book and broke into tears. It was the first time he’d seen the printed book, because that notebook in a landscape format did not circulate, it had been turned into pulp for including poems with homosexual content.

Translator’s note: “Santa and Andres” is a new Cuban film whose story revolves around a gay intellectual who was censored in 1980s Cuba. The government refused to allow the film to be shown in last year’s Havana film festival, saying that the plot of the movie “aims to highlight political persecution and attacks on the island that did not take place,” and that it follows “a course of action that is not consistent with history.”

The following video about Delfín Prats is not subtitled, but even if you cannot understand all the words, it is a delight to see his smile:

Three Days Without Fidel / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 20 January 2017 — I was asked for this by a press agency, and they didn’t publish it. Then came the official reaction and we couldn’t have much time without his image. It’s like what a wise lady said in line at the pharmacy, “It would be preferable that the (National) Assembly approved an enormous monument, and not this Fidel that comes at us from all sides and doesn’t just die.”

Friday, already late in the evening, in front of the TV, idly I switch it on. Raul Castro is talking. A good part of the city was sleeping when the phones began to ring.

Perhaps for those who loved him, the reaction was emotional, but there is no surprise in the death of an old man who’s been sick for more than ten years. Yes, there is the irony that he was killed so many times, and now his death takes us all by surprise. continue reading

The programming continues and they even start playing a film, American of course. It was not until the movie was well along that they interrupted it to replace it with images from the documentary Fidel from Estela Bravo. It gives the impression that the TV directors never dared to make a plan for this moment; and on receiving directions “from above” that they began to look for film materials for the new days of “history and patriotism.”

It’s already dawn and groups of young people are coming from the Art Factory, their party having been interrupted. The drunkest obey the “on your feet!” that they learned in military or farming encampments, and add to the amusements and loquacious, “Turn on the TV, Fifo died!” These heralds continue on their way and others camp out in the park in front of the Acapulco Cinema; two girls dance little skip steps to their own music. It is a group without tears, these displaced from the Art Factory.

Saturday. A clueless man raised his eyebrows on hearing the news in the Tulipan agricultural market and continues on. Full as ever, the market is quiet without the loudspeakers; the buyers are very discreet moving quickly among the stalls to get a few vegetables at import prices.

In the morning there are still shops that haven’t received instructions to suspend sales of alcoholic beverages; a dry law and nine days of national mourning will be a tough test for those who live between hits of rum and reggaeton. I don’t see sad faces, rather serious ones. Or cautious.

Sunday. The television broadcasts endless materials about Fidel. Fidel at the UN, at a school, at a market, with Garcia Marquez, omnipresent Fidel.  Now he is a bigger star than ever, such a focus in the media, he who spent hours at the microphone on the national channel and on Radio Havana Cuba.

On the news, the announcers are dressed in black, they provide information about the funeral rites in the Plaza of the Revolution, the journey of the ashes to Santiago, the closing of the streets. On TV there are tears, but there is no children’s programming. And no one talks about causes of death.

My neighbor in the back, who has been so worried, talks with someone on the phone about the pills she has to take for the disgust. A woman is interviewed under the marquee of the Yara cinema, at the corner of 23rd and L. She is dressed in white and wears a black mourning band on her arm. She reads a poem about her soul being torn apart at the news.

Behind her, on the wall of the Habana Libre Hotel, you can see the enormous graffiti by El Sexto. “He left,” it says on the wall, and El Sexto is in prison for this graffiti with seconds of posterity on camera.

Monday. The buses are like always, going by full. Nothing seems to have changed, but in the workplaces and schools activities are suspended so people can go to the Plaza of the Revolution. At the base of the José Martí monument that have arranged sites with flowers and huge photo and the people file by.

No one stops in front of the photo where there are no ashes. The ashes are under control of the Ministy of the Armed Forces and the people don’t file past there. Many cellphones film the flowers and the photo. The real mourning does not happen on camera.

There is disgust and angry protests from those who spend hours in line and see groups of soldiers and people from other work centers who are allowed up the ramp to the base of the monument as soon as they arrive. A note of social indiscipline without public order to order it. The solution: to extend the hours of the line and people parading by until midnight so people can pay their respects.

In a country where saying yes while thinking something else has been a practice for years, we won’t know how many bottles were uncorrked, how many complicit hugs were given. But even those legitimately struck by the loss understand the before and after.

Fidel was in charge of embodying the Revolution. It doesn’t mater how many commitments we Cubans are invited to sign*, in an illusion of continuity. His phrase, “To change everything that should be changed,” will recur in the immediate future.

*Translator’s note: At the time Fidel died, the government asked all Cubans to sign a loyalty oath to his socialist ideology.

Impressions of a Novice (Part 1) / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 8 December 2016 — A novice in Mexico and a novice in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The city surprised me because I had attributed to it a rural character it does not have. Zapopan and Guadalajara, to the eyes of a stranger, are a single city; one city with the equivalent of three-quarters of the entire population of Cuba. Many construction sites, many luxurious apartment towers that don’t seem to be inhabited, never mind the information from Miguel, my taxi driver to PALCCO.

PALCCO is the Convention Center and is enormous. The security measures are extensive, because it is a world event filled with people, including famous people, sponsored by the United Nations.

Numerous social, academic, journalism and other organizations have set up little stands in the entrance to present their programs. continue reading

Once inside the main building it is very difficult to orient yourself; an army of young volunteers, smiling and helpful, help you find your way in that labyrinth of meeting rooms and a place to have coffee.

I look at the agenda. All the topics are interesting and it’s hard to decide which to attend because up to ten sessions overlap at the same time. The technology is a wonder, because you can follow them on Youtube or watch them later.

For personal reasons I’m interested in the forums on public policy about access and internet rights, digital security, and surveillance; but I also attended sessions on other topics such as on-line education, and the lower levels of use among women, the disabled and minorities.

The sessions are in English and there is no simultaneous translation, which requires all my attention. Huge screens transcribe it and thus I can follow the topic.

I make the briefest comments on the panel on the Right of Internet Access in Latin America. I am listening to my Latin American colleagues, realizing the uniqueness of Cuba: not only has Cuba not ratified the UN covenants on human rights, but it voted against considering Internet Access a Human Right; and although the “cable” (Alba 1, from Venezuela) came to Cuba, the Internet has not come.

A synthesis that seems to be interpreted literally by another Cuban delegate, a woman representing the business sector, feels the need to remind the audience that Cuban has free education and healthcare, about the impact of the “Blockade” (the American embargo), and in my opinion, the most pernicious idea: the concern about giving people Internet when no one knows what they will do with it.

Here is the video with my comments, which occur roughly between 1:17:53 and 1:30:25.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWpZ9PMFobk&t=1h17m53s

The Cybernaut and Digital Security / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 7 November 2016 — The leaks of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails and those of her campaign chief have revived a debate that began with evidence that the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on communications, with both national and foreign politicians suspected.

But the NSA is not the only one, nor is the honor of those with the ability to spy verifiable. Under labels as sonorous as national security, sovereignty, media war, competition, soft coup, industrial secrets, etc., government spies, companies spies, and, on more than a few occasions, innocent people are those under scrutiny. continue reading

It is, on the other hand, the fact that the great technological companies have given way to government pressures and have delivered inside information. Furthermore, the companies supplying information and communications technologies possess metadata about their users which, in context, may be relevant.

No one watches over one’s personal interests better than oneself, so the protection of data acquires an individual character. Arguments such as having nothing to hide is weakened before the possibility of joke in bad taste that you cannot handle an email account because someone changed the password or erased the contacts; or following the jokes, you see your profile on the social networks with photos and comments that are not yours and spend enormous efforts to regain control. These would be the simple cases.

It seems that the foregoing and what follows are only loosely related. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was until last month was under the control of the an agency of the Department of Commerce of the United States Government, has been turned over to an independent agency with the management of multiple interested parties.

This transition has been a subject of controversy regarding the roles appropriate to each one of these multiple actors.  Representatives of controlling governments and some founding entities that, to save themselves from the hegemony of the great powers and of the great businesses of the sector, a minding international regulation is necessary for the use of cyberspace.

They have put into place a closed model with the services of the internet but without internet (for example, Reflejos, Tendedera or Weibo), which favor control of information traffic. In the name of a 20th century mentality, they try to put something as global as the internet in a straitjacket.

The most modern and predominant vision supports the strengthening of ICANN as a global and autonomous organism with a transparent management, in such a way that neither governments nor great private entities could take control of this institution whose functions include more than just naming and numbers. These names and domains and IP addresses allow access to data such as the source and destination of data packets.

The concept of global internet on a fragmented model puts the human being above any other interest with the intention that their approach to the network is free of any monitoring, whether to track their tastes and inclinations for commercial purposes without their consent, as well as their right to inform and be informed to avoid the search of the sites they visit and with whom they communicate.

Whether one lives in a democratic state, or not, is not determinant when the time comes to protect personal data, although it could seem more important in some places than others and, in some cases, determinate of the integrity not only of data, but of one’s physical self: journalists who report on complex scenarios and issues.

Every cybernaut has an idea of the importance of protecting their bank accounts and social network accounts, but digital security, more than a right, is also an obligation. An urgent obligation in complex environments. Even mega-corporations have tried to distance themselves from the lack of confidence that is created by giving out private data and putting in users hands the tools to strengthen the securities of their communications and interactions. It has been a joint achievement of organizations and people who insist on behaving responsibly in the face of the privacy of the numerous but also most indefensible link.

Some basic recommendations for better digital security:

1. Implement complex passwords for one’s devices and accounts.

2. Use email accounts that have two-step verification.

3. Use instant messaging services that are encrypted end to end.

4. Use blog platforms with double verification.

5. Always think before sending a text, and image a video that could affect you or third parties.

6. Check (insofar as is possible) the integrity of programs and downloaded attachments.

Goodwill / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 20 October 2016 — It is said that the choice of the word “embargo” or “blockade” to define the US policy toward Cuba, clarifies the position of the speaker-writer. Those who speak of the “blockade” are not better Cubans than those who call it the “embargo” (although they believe themselves to be). It is a policy that doesn’t depend on Cubans; not even the international community can eliminate it.

A goodwill gesture on the part of my leaders would be the elimination of the internal blockade to which we are subjected, in the name of the country and the imperialist threat. Clearly, although this policy toward Cuba has been dismantled little by little, it is there and we will have to wait for the goodwill of the American government for its total disappearance. continue reading

“The international community has denounced the US embargo because it violates international law, and also for moral, political and economic reasons.”

This quote is from a report by Amnesty International and reflects the rejection of the extraterritorial character of the set of laws that makes up the embargo. The bold text is intended to bring out the fundamental reason for the widespread rejection of this body of law, which is its extraterritorial nature. International law prohibits any national law to be applied beyond the country ’s borders. The Helms-Burton law is extraterritorial and retroactive, as it applies to events prior to the adoption of the legislation.

The Cuban citizen has become accustomed to hearing only about the damage the blockade  has caused and continues to cause in our economy and society; this citizen ignores in many cases the origin of these measures versus those taken in response to it, but above all, it serves as a smokescreen for domestic disaster resulting from a willful and failed policy. Neither the US blockade nor the one caused by our government have affected even for one second the life of our leaders.

The Flame Tree of Discord / Regina Coyula

Flame trees in Havana, dropping their petals int he street. Source: Caridad, Havana Times
Flame trees in Havana, dropping their petals in the street. Source: Caridad, Havana Times

Regina Coyula, 3 October 2016 — A powerful flamboyán tree, in English often called a flame tree, dominates the entrance to my house, more beautiful at this time of year with its explosion of fire, which also provides shade and spreads its colorful petals across the ground.

But two of my neighbors don’t see it that way; they dislike the dirtiness of it and feel obliged to sweep the sidewalk almost every day. And they protest greatly, but I never feel it’s about me, even though the other day they were gossiping and not imagining that I could hear them, one of them said, “I’m breaking my back over that filth, and ‘la Señora’ (a marked edginess in señora), who owns the bush acts like it’s nothing.”

I am not the owner of the flame tree, I didn’t plant it, it is in the parking strip and it is beautiful; and the señora sounded very nice coming from one trying to mark a difference between us. And so, without reaching for her style — inimitable for me as I am neither volatile nor rude — to her surprise I told that that the flame tree isn’t mine, but the red flowers that line the sidewalk don’t bother me at all, unlike the bags, cans, boxes and other trash that lines the city, product of indolent humans.

Between Analogue and Ideologue. Internet Access in Cuba / Regina Coyula

Ideas shared at the Internet Governance Forum events of the Internet Society of Latin America and the Caribbean, which recently took place in Costa Rica.

Regina Coyula, 5 August 2016 — Now recognised as a human right by most people and most governments, internet access in Cuba has been a bumpy road. Cuba connected to the internet in September, 1996. The first dial-up internet access, by telephone, was via government information offices, although some users could access email .cu from their homes.The speed of the noisy connection through a modem some three or four years ago, hardly got to 50-56 kbps.

In 2010 news came out of the extension of a powerful underwater fibre optic cable, from Guaira, Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba. According to the report, this cable would be the solution for data transmission speed; we would no longer depend on satellite connections. When the cable reached Cuba, for nearly four years its use was a mystery – something was happening, therefore there must be something there. The last mile, most of us thought, was the expensive technological challenge which was delaying access for the public. But a solution was found in the form of wifi connections. continue reading

In a little under three years, they opened internet rooms in diifferent parts of the country, at a charge of 4.50 cuc an hour. That availability did not increase until 2015 with the provision of wifi points in principal town centre locations. ETECSA (Government-owned Cuban Telecoms Company) only offers services at home to foreign residents in Cuba, to officials and to certain personalities and journalists.

There are various information networks which make up the internet (Informed, Cubarte, Rimed, Upec, etc.). The great majority of their users don’t have internet access in their homes. Those who do, have an access packet of 25-100 hours a month.

Universities, and some colleges, offer access. Students have an increasing allocation (250 Mb a month in their last year of study).

When you hear talk in the press and in international forums about percentages of access to the internet, above all they are referring to the above-mentioned Internet which is generally limited to .cu sites, to an email provider and some news sites.

Cuba, with illiteracy erradicated, free education, and with a high percentage of university professionals, technicians and skilled workers, has the lowest level of internet penetration in the region.

One hour of connection now costs 2 cuc, and the average salary is about 20-25 cuc a month. People use their connection time mostly for communicating with family and friends. Use of mobile data in the CUBACEL network costs $1.00 CUC for every MB and is only available by going into the email service @nauta.cu.

In the broadcasting media you often come across references to negative aspects of the internet, such as child porn, racism, violence, loss of privacy, which influences people who only know the internet by hear-say. The government is the only IT service provider  and importing routers, hotspots and other digital tools for private use is prohibited by law.

People don’t know about the power of social networks to help them get organised and achieve consensus about things which matter, from local issues up to the desire to elect the President of the Republic. In fact, many people imagine that Facebook IS the internet.

The internet has not been free from profound ideologisation. If the terms of the embargo laws imposed by the US government have particularly impacted IT, it is our duty to insist on the importance of eliminating the internal blockade on information and vindicate the open and democratic character of the internet, wihout any censorship of the contents or personal opinions inside or outside of the web.

An additional factor in Cuba is that video gamers, prevented from gaining access to the real internet, have put together a cable connection which is free but contributory, which nowadays is not used just for games but also for online chat and the notorious Weekly Packet, which the authorities prohibit  but cannot sanction as it is not for profit.

Priorities

  • Lower access cost
  •  Improve the quantity and quality of connection locations
  •  Attack digital illiteracy

Objectives

  • Initial public discussion on the Media Law
  • Public education by way of courses on browsers, digital business, social networks, cyber security, ethics, etc. In Council computer clubs for kids.
  • National education channel
  • Open access internet
  • Transparency over payments for internet connections in order to improve public access
  • Permit private connections at market price with equal transparency and for the same reason as the above.

Make public internet connections, where you now have to pay, free.

Translated by GH

Cuban Civil Society, For The First Time Present In The Regional Internet Governance Forum / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

The Regional Latin American and Caribbean Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum, is a regional meeting prior to the upcoming global forum in Mexico. (Twitter)
The Regional Latin American and Caribbean Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum, is a regional meeting prior to the upcoming global forum in Mexico. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerRegina Coyula, Havana, 26 July 2016 — ¿Gover… what? That reaction has become increasingly familiar in a conversation discussing internet governance. Although many users who take advantage of it aren’t aware, governance is a fundamental issue for everyone when we venture out onto the World Wide Web. That our family email travels equally with the statistics of scientific research, with an online purchase, or with a bank account statement, is thanks to governance.

Behind any familiar and easily remembered address is a long string of numbers without which the internet couldn’t function. Early developers realized that the ordinary user would be unable to recall those long strings of numbers and so created a protocol to tie them to a name. Name and number indissoluble leading us unmistakably to the desired destination. These technical protocols that make our lives easier, also have to do with governance. continue reading

Governance, a term originally applied in the social sciences, has gained strength within international organizations, and in the case of the internet, seeks interactions and consensus among interested parties, or an English word that is difficult to pronounce – multistakeholders – (multiple interested parties, academia, businesspeople, leaders and civil society).

The natural result of this interaction are world forums on governance, very fruitful meetings where those who participate know each other personally and engage in discussions at committee and plenary sessions. Prior to these world forums which have been held since 2006 and which this year will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, in December, preparatory meetings will be held by geographic region and, in some case, even national groups. The meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in San Jose, Costa Rica, between 27-29 July.

The sessions approved for the meeting include:

  1. Security and privacy – Concerns about cybersecurity and confidence in the digital environment.
  2. The situation of human rights on-line in Latin American and the Caribbean: advances, challenges and trends.
  3. Evolution, progress and challenges of the implementation of a multi-sector approach to the work of public policy and Internet governance at national and regional levels.
  4. Lessons on the development and implementation of strategies for providing access and legal initiatives on network neutrality: What are the next steps to ensure open and interoperable internet in the region?
  5. Expand understanding with regards to the responsibilities of internet intermediaries: the scope and limits of their responsibilities in the digital ecosystem.
  6. The balance between intellectual property and access to knowledge: the scope and impact of interregional trade agreements in the regulatory ecosystem.
  7. Persistent and emerging challenges for Internet access: Connecting the next billion.
  8. Integration of Internet governance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda: What are the priorities of the region for digital inclusion?
  9. A multi-stakeholder perception of the digital economy.
  10. Future of Governance of the Internet Forum of Latin America and the Caribbean (LACIGF).

Undoubtedly, the meeting will address the issue of the independence of the US government’s Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which will go into effect in September, and how ICANN, as a highly hierarchical international organization should guarantee the technical standards of internet quality: interoperability, scalability, and resistance to potential failures; but also the sovereignty of the virtual space, the equality of all users, the privacy of data, freedom of expression and the right to information, and also deal with cybersecurity. All of this in the context of a lack of rules for its proper use which diminish individual rights or national security, or favor some to the detriment of others.

Cuban civil society will be present at this event with a small representation, something that has no precedences but that could be very healthy for a citizenry that is just beginning to open itself to an internet that has restricted access and a censorship of opinions, and that is disregards of the rights that come solely by connecting to the world, human rights recognized as equals, in real space as in the virtual.

Domain Names and an Internet Debate / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 30 June 2016 — For Cubans who update their home entertainment weekly with the now famous, private and anonymous Paquete (Weekly Packet), they are familiar with a subtitle in bright, greenish-yellow letters at the beginning of the movies. This inevitable “http://www.gnula.nu” which comes up so much, piqued my curiosity. It was impossible for me to recognize the country that corresponded to that extension, so I resorted to the always-useful Wikipedia.

Surprise. The country of the pirated movie site that we see at home is Niue, an atoll with airs of a small island, assigned to New Zealand. In 1996, a North American (who doesn’t live in Niue, of course) claimed rights to “.nu” and, in 2003, founded the Internet Society of Niue, which allowed the local authorities to convert the quasi-island into the first wi-fi nation of the world. They supplemented the offer with a free computer for every child. Nothing spectacular; we’re talking about a population of barely 1,300 inhabitants. continue reading

The irony is that the .nu domain generated enormous income, while the inhabitants of Niue not only didn’t enjoy those gains, but also wanted to be connected from their homes and not from the only cyber-café on the island, and they had to pay for the installation and the service.

I also discovered another curiosity. The second extension that is most used on the Internet after .com corresponds to another little place in a corner of the Pacific that few know about, a group of little islands barely 11 square kilometers in size. Tokelau is the name of the place whose domain .tk hatched in 2009, upon offering itself for free. Today it’s the virtual home of hundreds of thousands of websites of doubtful integrity, although, contrary to Niue, the administrative earnings of the island’s government have benefited the infrastructure and services.

The form in which the geographic domains are managed on a higher level (ccTLD) is very different. The Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN) has left it to the discretion of each country to do what it likes. Many countries keep them privatized, although in the hands of institutions or businesses created for that purpose, while in others it’s an entity attached to a state agency.

The ccTLDs (country code top-level domains, geographic domains of a higher level, which, for better understanding, is the name that the extensions receive that identify each country or geographic region: .cu for Cuba, .ru for Russia, .mx for Mexico, etc.) are even more curious.

Both forms of operating the ccTLDs described above have advantages and disadvantages. Deregulating the extensions shifts the balance toward the higher-profit businesses to the detriment of agencies, NGOs and institutions with social and cultural goals. This diminishes the influence of the governments, which can have a negative effect on the sovereignty of countries that are economically fragile, or on young or small countries.

State-regulated administration tends to protect social and cultural interests, and successful management can increase earnings, which has a positive impact on national life. It also happens that governmental norms for buying a ccTLD can be restrictive or discriminatory, protected by a deliberatively vague regulation to be applied at the discretion of the government.

In the Latin American environment, Argentina, the only country to offer its site for free and with millions of websites with the extension .ar, decided in 2014 to charge for them. In Chile and Nicaragua, administration is through the public universities. In Guatemala, it is also through a university, but a private one.

In Uruguay, regulation is by the State through the National Association of Telecommunications (ANTEL); in Venezuela by the National Commission on Telecommunications (Conatel); and in Cuba through the Enterprise of Information Technology and Advanced Telematic Services (CITMATEL).

Colombia reflects a debate similar to what is happening in other countries. A private enterprise manages its ccTLD, and 89 percent of the owners of the .co site are foreigners located outside the country which, far from violating the national identity, internationalizes Colombia and carries its trade name to the entire world. What underlies these debates is the idea that the market is imposing itself on cultural values, and national governments can do little in defense of their intangible patrimony.

But in short, who governs the Internet?

Any recently-arrived observer would say that the United States governs it. The institutions and most of the servers destined to organize what would otherwise be chaos are located in its territory. And the well-known ICANN, located in California, which assigns domain names (DNS) to the IP addresses, has a contract with the Government.

Businesses that have a lot of influence on the Internet, like Microsoft, Google or Amazon, are also in the United States. But this concept is changing: It is expected that in September, the process of transition for the custody of IANA, the authority for the assignment of domain names, will no longer be under the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, in order to give ICANN authority and independence.

Other parties that also participate in the Internet have interests opposed to this current asymmetrical influence. International organizations like the Commerce of Intellectual Property (OIC) or the International Union of Communications have been incorporating together with ICANN. Virtual space is modifying the notion of sovereignty, with the added danger for equality and diversity, so that the term “governance” is important in the designing of policies, where governments, civil society, businesses, academics and technical innovators merge.

In the same way in which the technical innovators have guaranteed open access to the Internet from any type of device, it is up to the governance to establish policies, even when they aren’t binding, to guarantee freedom of expression and information, full access to the Internet and limited control.

Translated by Regina Anavy