What Happened to the Internet Cable from Venezuela to Cuba? / Eliécer Ávila

Laying the fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba. Source: tvcamaguey.co.cu

The Longest Cable in the World

About eight years ago now, several friends and I, who were starting our studies at the University of Computer Science in Havana (UCI), were amazed to discover the vast range of possibilities that the Internet could offer to the inhabitants of this planet. We immediately retrieved data on worldwide connections and could see that Cuba was behind almost all countries, including those as poor as Haiti.

We immediately began to review this issue at every opportunity presented to us, and then shared the answers we managed to get. It was always the same: “The Yankees will not let us connect.” Even as young militants we couldn’t complete swallow this idea.

One day, apparently to calm the anxiety of everyone concerned with the issue, a deputy minister gave a lecture at the newly opened Chinese Teaching Theater. After presenting a slide show of several futuristic projects, the visitor finally addressed the issue and “declassified” the idea of the famous cable to Venezuela, an agreement within the framework of the multiple ALBA agreements regarding integration.

The senior official explained that with this cable every Cuban would have greater bandwidth than the whole country had at that time. And there were not political obstacles on the part of the State blocking Cubans from accessing this service, which had been normal for years for much of the world.

“The enemy says that Cuba doesn’t have broad access to the Internet because we are afraid of freedom of information, but it’s obvious that that is nothing more than a lie. On the contrary, with this platform every Cuban will be able to bring the truth to the world, and help to combat the constant anti-Cuban campaigns being promoted,” offered on cadre, present at the meeting.

That night we all slept better. And even make plans for the arrival of the day of opening to the world. Which, according to those involved in the matter, “would be, at the latest, by early 2011.”

Sometime later the then Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque called on a select group of outstanding students to give lectures about U.S. Blockade of Cuba at various schools and workplaces in the capital. And one of the ideas which, with a healthy childish enthusiasm, we always used to win over the people (who almost never listened of their own free will) we that idea of future high quality Internet for everyone.

Time passed and, as usual, the Cuban press (demonstrating its total lack of principles or real autonomy) never said anything about it again.

The year 2012 arrived and the cable is a total mystery.

As always, the lack of information was accompanied by some rumors which, in my opinion, are put into circulation by the government itself to gain time, divert attention and even give temporary solutions to problems they do not want to face.

One of those rumors I heard in Santiago de Cuba from the mouth of someone closely related to the agreement. “It has been a tremendous problem, because it turns out that the officials involved in the purchase of the cable have siphoned off much of the money and bought one of poor quality that does not meet the anticipated parameters, and there are a pile of people in jail for that,” the gentleman told me directly.

In Havana, later, I heard worse, “They say the cable doesn’t work because it was chewed up by sharks.” I almost laughed in the face of my interlocutor, but as his expression was serious, I assumed he was not playing and just told him that was a real shame.

Recently, I came across an old friend who has access to the Central Committee, and this person finally shed some light that sounded both real and heartbreaking at the same time. “Son, the cable is ok. They are already using it in senior Government, in the armed forces (FAR), and in the Ministry of the Interior (MINIT). It’s a highway but, to be honest, I don’t think it’s going to get to the people. A You-Know-Who doesn’t want that, and that’s how things are thing.”

This meeting really hurt me. It made me remember how, years ago I used to lie to the people, and I felt like I was trash.

But I draw comfort from the fact that for some time now I haven’t been involved in playing the game that keeps Cubans in the limbo of misinformation. Now they use other university students, whom I don’t attack or condemn because I was once in their shoes. I leave the task of opening their eyes to time and events.

Returning to the cable, the rumors have taken on a concrete reality. Days ago, a Venezuelan minister said that, “The cable is operational and it is the sovereign decision of Cuba to determine its use.” In other words, there is no excuse.

We are now in a position to demand that the Government sell all Cubans Internet accounts at affordable prices. (Although reasonable prices have not yet been applied, not with Internet and not with cell phones.)

What we can not allow under any circumstances is that they apply the number one rumor of the “unofficial post-cable.” This rumor came out of a leader of the Youth Club system: “People are going to get Internet for 6 Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) an hour for international access, and 2 CUCs an hour for email through a telephone line.” [This in a country where the average monthly wage is less than 20 CUCs; that is three hours of “international access” would cost many people their entire month’s salary, or more.]

This really would be a huge joke to everyone in this country. And I won’t wear myself out explaining why. Any Cuban with a minimal intelligence knows what that represents. It would be resolving an issue of rights at an immoral price given the salaries they pay, as they have done with other things.

Starting tomorrow, from June 21 to 23, the Havana CLICK Festival will be held, an event to discuss the Internet, technologies and Cuba 2.0. During those days, all of us who are fighting for the right to information and communications in Cuba have the opportunity to unite our voices to demand (through Twitter, social networks, radio, TV or, better yet, by participating directly in the activities taking place at #4606 1st Street, between 46th and 60th, Playa) that they tear down the fences that enclose digital minds of our people, keeping us from seeing the world and seeing ourselves.

From Diario de Cuba.

20 June 2012