Cuba Increases Police Raids to Confiscate Satellite Dishes

Satellite dishes have always been hunted, but in recent years the raids to detect them had decreased in Havana. (DirecTV)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 10August 2021 — The illegal satellite dishes, used by Cubans to access television from Florida, are once again the target of censorship to prevent the dissemination of images of the protests of July 11 on the island. Although they have always been persecuted, in recent years the raids to detect them had decreased significantly in Havana.

“We have been without service for days,” Juvenal, a retiree living in Cayo Hueso, Centro Habana tells 14ymedio. Juvenal had been enjoying, for more than ten years,  service through a cable hidden in supposed water pipes that reached his home.” This neighborhood is all wired, this is a satellite dish area and there are families here who only watch those channels.”

Lately, police operations to detect these devices have become more frequent, to the point that in large areas of the city the owners of satellite dishes have preferred to suspend the service while waiting for better times. “They cut it off until things settle down,” Juvenal explains.

Among the crowded streets and densely populated cuarterías of Centro Habana, these antennas abound, one of the first technological elements, at the end of the nineties, which caused a change in the consumption of audiovisual content on the Island. This was followed by the “weekly packet,” USB memories and, for almost three years now, internet connections from mobile phones.

After more than two decades of the reign of clandestine satellite dishes and ten years with the weekly packet centralizing content, many Cubans now prefer to take control of what they want to see and make their own programming list, but DirecTV devices, with their corresponding dish to capture the television signal, continue to dominate in the poorest neighborhoods.

“Here there are people who cannot afford a data package to surf the internet or to buy the packet every week, but in almost every house you see the antenna because those who do not pay directly have someone who gives them an extension so they can watch it,” explains Mary, a resident near the church of Carmen, on Infanta street at the corner of Neptuno.

“It has always been something that has to be done in secret but for some time they have not carried out police raids,” explains this woman from Havana. “Since I live on a rooftop, as soon as we saw the police patrols arrive, we cut the cables and pulled them down so they wouldn’t know which house they were connected to.”

The owners of the satellite dishes are the central node, and they decide which programs are seen at what time. From a decoder device, a tangle of cables reaches other homes that pay a monthly fee that currently does not exceed 300 pesos for 24 hours of continuous transmissions. “I have at least two cables from two different sources, because with one I see some channels and with another the others,” explains Mary.

“Here what is watched the most are the Miami programs of América TeVé, also Telemundo, CNN in Español and others that offer series, documentaries and soap operas,” the woman points out. “I haven’t changed to Cuban television channels for years because I’m used to seeing these and the ones from here bore me.”

“The owner of the antenna told us that we were going to be without the service for several days because the police sniffing around here and she decided not to risk it and uninstall hers until the operations are over,” she said. “They said they don’t want people to see the images of the protests.”

In Cayo Hueso there are also technical problems “because the signal is outside the neighborhood, and accessibility to the equipment has been reduced” and “you have to be inventive,” one of the young people who has been in the business of parabolic antennas or as he says, “up on the rooftops,” for 16 years, told this newspaper.

Through the news programs of América TeVé, Univisión, Telemundo and other US channels that extensively cover the Cuban issue, many Cubans have accessed the videos with the demonstrations and police repression, for example. This way they have also learned of the international condemnation of official violence and of the numerous arrests.

For the owner of one of these antennas that provides service to more than thirty families in the neighborhood of Los Sitio, the relationship between the operations to dismantle these devices and the protests of July 11 is evident. “They want to keep people away from that version of popular protest so that they can tell them what they want on their newscast,” he explains to this newspaper, speaking anonymously.

The small businessman has several antennas with their decoder boxes placed in different houses and a brother sends him the activation cards for the DirecTV service from Miami. With that and yards of cables, he distributes the signal across the rooftops, from one balcony to another, and even with the ingenious trick of passing them through false water pipes.

“A few months ago I had a client who complained when I put on a lot of news, because they preferred to watch reality shows or soap operas, but since the protests happened, people called for more news and current commentary,” says the business owner.

“In this neighborhood you could almost walk down the street and connect the phrases of the Miami programs as you listened to them from the windows or the doors,” he says. “It was a matter of time for the police to jump, because people were finding out a lot and that does not suit them.” However, he believes that “this will happen because they can no longer control it nor can they continue to irritate people even more.”


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