Cuba: Selective and Controlled Internet Access / Laritza Diversent

Yordanka uses the internet to look for friends and to find ways of escaping the island. However, she believes the arrival of the fiberoptic cable will not improve her possibility of freely accessing the web.

Laritza Diversent

“I don’t think that the cable connection will improve internet access for Cubans, and I also don’t believe that it represents more freedom in Cuba”, assures Yordanka Rodriguez. The young 23 year old navigates the web at midnight by using her house phone line and logging in through one of the accounts belonging to a state institution. In the online world, she tries to make new friends.

“In the internet I look for invitations or weddings. I want to live like a person, without having to think that I’m going to get in trouble every 5 minutes. To live like that, I have to leave here,” Rodriguez confesses.

In 1996, Cuba officially connected to the internet, and the government declared that “access to information networks with global reach will be selective and will be regulated”. In 2000, the government established a single access point to the international network in order to control the connections of national users.

According to the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), international software “raises the service costs and reduces reliability”.

“I have to use proxy software to access certain pages, none of which are made up of political content, because if that’s the case then I will seriously get myself in trouble,” affirms Yordanka.

One of the constant worries of the government is that the information found on the internet must be “worthy” and that all of the information which is actually allowed be “in correspondence with ethical principles and that it will not affect the interests or the security of the country”.

In 2000, the government also regulated the access of entities onto the internet as well, in order to avoid any compromise of official information. From the very beginning, the government’s policies have been aimed at prioritizing only those “connections, lawful people, and institutions of superior relevance for life and development of the country”.

For more than a decade now, the directors of the State Central Administration Agency (OACE) ask, by way of a letter to the Ministry, authorization for certain workers to access the internet from their homes.

“Web access is solely for those who are politically committed to the system and for those who have enough money to pay all the expenses associated with it,” the young woman says. In her own case, for the monthly payment of 150 convertible pesos (CUC), the Internet Administrator of a specific work center provides her with internet access.

“The account I use belongs to a business, which, in other words, is something illegal. It is dial-up services, so I have to find ways that they cannot find my telephone number,” Yordanka explains.

The government also authorized the Telecommunications Company of Cuba S.A (ETECSA) to use all the necessary technological means to impede phone lines which operate with national non-convertible currency from accessing navigation systems.

These measures intend to prevent password theft, “intentional degradations, and fraudulent and unauthorized means of accessing this service”. This was not applied, however, to the authorized phone numbers of the OACE chiefs, meaning that they can access the internet.

Despite the restrictions and the excessive control, the islanders view the internet as a means of broadening their horizons — starting from anything like leaving the country, to the promotion of certain services, and or merchandise. “Internet offers Cubans a new life, and that’s why access to it will continue to be selective and tightly controlled”, concludes Yordanka.

Translated by Raul G.

April 30 2011