The Internet: A Space for Diversity and Freedom of Expression / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Young people are indifferent to politics.  Cell phones, video games and television series are their priorities (photo by the author)
Young people are indifferent to politics. Cell phones, video games and television series are their priorities (photo by the author)

We have to wonder how much the Cuban government invests in restricting this essential information tool in our time, blocking it and even minimizing the “harmful effects” of its free and generalized use

cubanet square, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 24 April 2015 – Faced with the problem of the limits on access to the internet in Cuba, one would have to wonder not how much the Cuban government invests in expanding the reach of this information tool, essential in our time, but how high the costs will rise in order to restrict it, block it and even to minimize the “harmful effects” of its free and generalized use.

It is known that every state enterprise, institute and agency has an information department charged with not only managing the internet but monitoring the navigation of every user, censoring it and reporting any “suspicious maneuver.”  The specialists do not work of their own will but must carry out to the letter the rigorous instructions provided by the national Information Security team strongly tied to the Ministry of the Interior.

A great portion of State resources are tied up in the strict control of information and in filtering the communications of absolutely every email account that is hosted on Cuban servers or that uses them, according to a worker for the network Infomed, who prefers to remain anonymous.  According to this person, who makes a living from offering email service on the black market, all messages that pass through the server are rigorously investigated.  Through specialized programs, customers are studied, words and key names are marked, elements are deleted as a routine practice.

A review of ads on the classified ads page reveals immediately how exhaustively internet connections and email accounts are monitored.  Almost all who seek services from clandestine providers advise that they will only employ them for “family” or “serious” purposes.  Although they sell on the black market, the vendors of hours of connection forbid doing “problematic” searches or sending content “contrary to the Revolution.”  Thus, any opponent in Cuba finds it very difficult to make a deal for the purchase of an internet or email account with an international outlet.  The computer experts who take risks with such clients are very few, and when they do it, they double their prices due to the danger they may run.

Disguised censorship

On the threshold of a new millennium, the creation in Cuba of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) and the increase in software development centers were not linked to a willingness to update our knowledge in those new areas of the scientific universe but as a defensive strategy in the face of the “penetration of information,” the most feared of all the ghosts in a totalitarian environment.

Nevertheless, all the projects of cyber defense have become a double-edged sword due to the fact that a work of computer censorship so huge and in a country sunk in misery must mobilize thousands of people to whom access must be given to that which will have to be prohibited, and these will use their “power” not to exercise it fully but in order to find the cracks in the system that will permit them to personally profit.

Although the University of Computer Sciences is the study center most monitored and controlled by the Cuban government, as much there as in any of the  country’s other computer departments, there are many students and specialists who live not on their stipends and salaries but by clandestinely providing services related to the internet.  Those who review all the speeches by Fidel Castro where he addressed the topic of the internet will be able to recognize his insistence, if not to say his desperation, to create a cyber shield in order to hide the world and continue his disinformation maneuvers.

ETESCA Telepunto office.  Long lines to access email and internet service (Photo by the author)
ETESCA Telepunto office.  Long lines to access email and internet service (Photo by the author)

Much software and many applications created in official Cuban institutions are aimed at control of the web and its accessibility.  The so-called “initiatives” to carry information to all the people in Cuba are intended not to share free connectivity with all citizens or to end privileges but to create “monitored diversification” of the Cuban internet and sites with the .cu domain that function as substitutes for the true Worldwide Web, where the topic of “Cuba” is approached only from the regime’s perspective.

To diversify the Cuban platforms for blogs, continuing the history of censorship from the first, loyalty to the system will continue to be demanded along with abstention from free expression of opinion; it is known that the sites classified as tied to the official press, more than providing a service, are trying to displace the uncontrollable; the Cuban encyclopedias, out of date and ideological, badly imitate Wikipedia.  These are some of the “sterile” products that the government intends to fight the “dangerous internet.”

When I hear Cuban leaders put forth with such insistence the idea of “responsible use of information and the internet,” I feel that they are putting a patch over the immense information abyss that censorship will generate.  Undoubtedly, not being able to dominate the monster, they will continue generating laws much more absurd than the current ones in order to punish freedoms, so it will be as if someone said to me:  “They will allow all Cubans to set in front of a computer, but they will be prohibited from turning it on.”

It is surprising the number of computer students, particularly at the mid-levels, who do not know what it is to navigate the internet.  Some do not even have a computer at home.  In Cuban universities it is a real ordeal, both for students and professors, to get permission to freely access the internet.

Youth pass by worn out speeches

It is no longer news to assert that the great majority of Cuban youth shy away from political speeches, from commitments of loyalty to a regime and to its social model.  Television, radio, press, newsreels, round tables and all those devices of manipulation of the masses that between the 60’s and the 90’s were effective for the regime, now are distant worlds for the new generations who have learned, due to the bitter experiences of their parents, to nullify that which they find “bothersome” and to search for alternatives of escape, as much physical as spiritual.

Several young people confess to having absolutely no interest in anything related to the revolution and its leaders.  Many admit to never having read the newspaper Granma or having seen the newscast or the Round Table.  There are even those who have never heard or read a speech by Fidel Castro, much less by Raul, in spite of it being required study in all Cuban schools.

Demand by Connect Cuba on a Havana Street (photo by the author)
Demand by Connect Cuba on a Havana Street (photo by the author)

A young neighbor, a high school student, has told me:  “I’d like you to see the people in my school when the principal gets into those political talks. Everyone puts on headphones and it’s over. The same with the classroom. No one is interested in any of that. When they require work about Fidel or any of that trash, I tell my dad to do it or I pay the teacher but I am not wasting my time.  To make us read Granma, sometimes they ask us to talk about some news item but people invent anything about the Pope or the doctors in Venezuela or some gossip that came out on the dish and with that it’s dead.  In the end, on the television they always say the same thing, and the teacher doesn’t waste his time on that either.”

Nevertheless, with each passing year technology will be developing new means for information to reach everyone, and at the same time, get away from the domination of a few. In spite of knowing that they are fighting a losing battle, the Cuban leaders keep investing resources just to make the imminent collapse much slower. Mobile telephones, the internet, and the so-called “packet of the week” (international television programming and other content prohibited in Cuba that people transmit by digital media) have achieved in a few years what the regime’s opponents have not been able to manage in more than half a century.

The internet is delivering the coup de grace to the dictatorship and the most interesting thing about that is that it has not done it with political speeches or programs of action but by providing a space for diversity and freedom of expression, the most feared enemies.

448.thumbnailAbout the author

Ernesto Perez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, 15 June 1971).  Writer, graduate in philology from the University of Havana.  He studied Galician Language and Culture in the University of Santiago de Compostela.  He has published the novels:  Your Eyes Are in Front of Nothing (2006) and Alicia Under Her Own Shadow (2012).  At the end of 2014, the publisher Silueta, in Miami, will publish his most recent novel:  Food.  He is also the author of books of stories:  Last Photos of Mama Nude (2000); Sade’s Ghosts (2002); Stories of Silk (2003); Variations for the Preliterate (2007), The Art of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Deadly Stories (2014).  His narrative work has been recognized with prizes:  David de Cuento of the Cuban Gazette twice, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin American Story prize on its first call in 2002; National Critics Prize in 2007; Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others.  He has worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions like the House of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Publisher, the Center for Research and Development of Cuban Music.  He was Chief Editor for the magazine Union (2008-11).

Translated by MLK