The Park of Lost Connections / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Recreational Technology Center of Santiago de Cuba (14ymedio).
Recreational Technology Center of Santiago de Cuba (14ymedio).

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 16 January 2015 — “Happiness in the home of the poor is brief,” said a young man a few days ago who had been excited about connecting to the Internet through the WiFi network in a park in Santiago de Cuba. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) denied this Monday the news that users could navigate the web from their phones, tablets or laptops in the new Recreational Technology Center of this city, as the official website Cubaperiodistas (Cuba Journalists) had indicated.

But a worker from the Center itself, who asked to remain anonymous, assures 14ymedio that there has been a change from the initial plan. “At first, the service that would be provided was wireless access to the internet, but after revealing the information and seeing the media coverage that it caused, the authorities decided that they will only supply a connection to the intranet without any cost.”

The Recreational Technology Center is located near Ferreiro Park and will open this coming January 28. Its facilities will offer services in an Internet navigation room with computers for public use. Also they will teach classes for children, teens and adults who want to learn to use computers and other new technologies.

Specialists consulted by this paper assure that the users obtain more secure connections accessing the Internet with WiFi, thus ETECSA would lose some control over what the web surfers send and receive. Such an advantage would be so remarkable, that many suspected from the first that it was a false report.

Yusmila Reyna, an independent journalist, maintained she had “no hope.” The reporter was skeptical that the Cuban government would offer those facilities “in a place where pro-democratic activism is stronger.”

Poster with WiFi announcement at the Technology Center (14ymedio)
Poster with WiFi announcement at the Technology Center (14ymedio)

Lazaro Borrero, resident of the Mariana de la Torre neighborhood, thinks that the announcement of wireless connection to the worldwide web “had made many people very happy because they thought they would be able to connect directly to the Internet.” Now, with the denial having been made by the state enterprise, in which they also confirmed that they will only offer navigation service on an intranet – that is a network with sites hosted only within Cuba – the young man laments in frustration: “Again, we are back to normal.”

Sulianne Gomez, a young university student, did not believe at first the rumors from fellow students but then thought that if it was true, it would be very positive to “access bibliographies that today we do not have and also to enter sites like Facebook and Twitter with greater speed.” Currently the connection that university students use in their educational center is characterized by low quality and slowness, plus several digital portals and social networks are blocked.

In this situation, the illegal use of wireless networks was a palliative for some. Liudmila Cedeno, computer enthusiast, used to connect to a wireless network clandestinely. “Fifty of us gathered in the Plaza de Marte Park near the Rex hotel, which had an open network, and with the Freedom application we accessed the Internet.” However, “after several months of doing it, the government authorities together with the National Police decided to come down on the people who were gathered there.”

Another young man who did not want to give his name and confessed to being one of those who met to download, taking advantage of the hotel’s open signal, says that he managed to watch the police seize laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, besides imposing fines of up to 2,000 pesos on those who used that connection without authorization.

The hope of those who lacked that chance focused then on the possible service that the Recreational Technological Center would offer. Ridel Brea says that all the teens with smart phones had created great expectations. “They were like crazy people searching for telephones with WiFi to be able to connect, and now what they have is great despair,” he laments.

The chance for a wireless connection to the global network would have been an alternative to the few navigation rooms that the province has, which usually are jammed by high demand and the deterioration of their infrastructure. Santiaguans lament the lost connections that appeared in the headlines of an official media but, at least for now, it does not appear that they are going to reach the park.

Translated by MLK