14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 November 2017 — When Ignacio Ramonet’s interview with Fidel Castro was published in 2006, many citizens did not miss the opportunity to mock the title. “Why should we read One Hundred Hours With Fidel if we have spent our whole lives with him?” people were saying on the streets, but the journalist did not even notice.
That volume, marked by journalistic meekness that led it to be cataloged as an autobiography of the Maximum Leader, earned more than just laughs. Accusations of having used the “cut and paste” method, to make answers out of the content of old speeches, also rained down.
Without having given a convincing explanation of such issues, Ramonet has returned to the charge with another book being promoted this week by several universities on the island. This volume has, also, has one of those titles that set off smiles of ridicule: The Empire of Surveillance.
Last Tuesday, Ramonet, a professor of Theory of Communication, spoke at Marta Abreu de Las Villas Central University during the presentation of the book, which was brought out by José Martí Publishing. It was a bitter diatribe against the global surveillance network that the United States has woven to obtain information about citizens, groups and governments.
The book puts special emphasis on the complicity of companies that manage user data, adding them to that web of espionage, commercial interests, control and subordination, a tangle in which modern society is trapped and from which it must urgently escape, according to the analyst.
On this point, he doesn’t differ from what so many of the planet’s cyber activists are denouncing, but Ramonet suffers from an ethical hemiplegia when it comes to sharing responsibilities and commenting on other governments that invade the privacy of their citizens every day.
The fact that he traveled to such an Orwellian country as Cuba to point the finger at Washington shows his position when investigating topics such as Big Data, the legalization of surveillance on the web and the compilation of user data to predict behavior or sell products.
Cuba, where State Security (the Big Brother in this case) monitors every detail of the lives of individuals, is not the best place to talk about indiscreet eyes that read other people’s e-mails, policemen who observe every piece of information that crosses the network and data intercepted by powers that use them to subdue human beings.
This nation, where the Plaza of the Revolution maintains an iron grip on information and only allows public dissemination of discourses in agreement with itself, should be among the regimes Ramonet denounces in his book. But, curiously, for the journalist there is “bad” and “good” surveillance, with that carried out by the Cuban government among the latter.
At the same university where Ramonet presented his book on Tuesday, a journalism student was expelled a few months ago due to her connection with an independent opposition group. The Empire of Surveillance sees no shades of gray and trashed her with the complicity of some coerced students and student leaders.
A few days later, the cyberpolice that make up that army of control launched a campaign of defamation against the girl on social networks. To denigrate her they used information taken from her emails, her phone calls and even private conversations. Our Big Brother acted without regard.
A few years ago, national television showed the contents of several private emails that had been stolen from the personal account of an opposition member. All this without the order of a judge, without the lady being prosecuted for a crime and, of course, without having sent a request to Google to provide the content that supposedly should be published.
Ramonet cannot ignore that the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) maintains a strict filter on each text message sent by its clients. The state monopoly censors words like “dictatorship” and the names of opposition leaders. Although senders are charged for the messages, they never reach their intended recipients.
Nor has Ramonet, former director of Le Monde Diplomatique, gone to a Wi-Fi zone to access the web among those that the Cuban government opened after years of citizen pressure. If he had tried any of them, he would know that on this Island the Chinese firewall model has been copied to censor innumerable pages.
Does Ramonet know that a good part of Cuban Internet users use anonymous proxies, not only to access these filtered websites but also to protect their private information from the indiscreet eye of the State? Has he noticed that people lower their voices to talk about politics, put covers on forbidden books or shield their computer screens with their bodies when they visit a blocked newspaper like 14ymedio?
Has he ever wondered about the agreement between Havana and Moscow to open a center in Cuba under the name of InvGuard, which will implement an alleged protection system against network attacks? Just when the Kremlin is accused of having manipulated, through the internet, everything from Brexit to the Catalan crisis to elections in the United States.
The reader can find answers to none of these questions in Ignacio Ramonet’s most recent book, because, like his autobiography of Fidel Castro that he tried to pass off as an interview, this book raises questions among Cubans from the title alone: Why should we read The empire of Surveillance when our entire lives are under its control?
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