In November 2010, after a series of delays, the government announced that the fiberoptic cable being installed between Cuba, Venezuela, and Jamaica to improve the island’s internet connection would become available in January 2011. When the cable becomes fully functional, it is expected to dramatically improve the internet speed on the island and make it easier to access multimedia content. However, it is unlikely that the cable will enable significant network expansion and bring the internet to a greater number of Cubans.The government divides access to web technology between the national intranet and the global internet. Most Cubans only have access to the former, which consists of a national e-mail system, a Cuban encyclopedia, a pool of educational materials and open-access journals, Cuban websites, and foreign websites that are supportive of the Cuban government.17 Cubans can legally access the internet only through government-approved institutions, such as the approximately 600 Joven Clubs de Computacin (Youth Computer Clubs) and points of access run by ETECSA.18 Users are generally required to present identification to use computers at these sites. Many neighborhoods in the main cities of Havana and Santiago advertise “internet” access in ETECSA kiosks, but field research has found that the kiosks often lack computers, instead offering public phones for local and international calls with prepaid phone cards. The government also claims that all schools have computer laboratories, while in practice internet access is usually prohibited for students or limited to e-mail and supervised activities on the national intranet.
In June 2009, the government adopted a new law (Resolution No. 99/2009) allowing the Cuban Postal Service, which is controlled under the domain of the Ministry of Computers and Communications, to establish cybercafes at its premises and offer internet access to the public.19 However, home connections are not yet allowed for the vast majority of Cubans and only those favored by the government are able to access the internet from their own homes.
One segment of the population that enjoys approved access to the internet is the professional class of doctors, professors, and government officials. Facilities like hospitals, polyclinics, research institutions, and local doctors’ offices are linked by an online network called Infomed. However, even these users are typically restricted to e-mail and sites related Ibid.
Nick Miroff, “Getting Cell Phones Into Cuban Hands,” Global Post, May 17, 2010, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/cuba/100514/cell-phone.
Ellery Biddle, “Cuba: Fiber Optic Cable May Not Bring Greater Internet Access,” Global Voices, November 19, 2010, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/11/19/cuba-fiber-optic-cable-may-not-bring-greater-internet-access/.
ETECSA: Empressa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., www.enet.cu, Accessed August 28, 2010.
See the club system’s website at http://www.cfg.jovenclub.cu/.
Resolution No. 99/2009 was published in the Official Gazette on June 29, 2009) CUBA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net to their occupations. Beginning in 2007, the government systematically blocked core internet portal sites such as Yahoo!, MSN, and Hotmail. This ban was extended to blog platforms and blog commentary technology during certain periods in 2008. As a result, Cubans cannot access blogs written by their fellow citizens. Moreover, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) remains blocked in Cuba, with the exception of unauthorized points of connection in old Havana. Some social-networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are accessible in university cybercafes and other location, although with varying consistency.
There are only two ISPs, CENIAI Internet and ETECSA, and both are owned by the state. Cubacel, a subsidiary of ETECSA, is the only mobile-phone carrier. In 2000, the Ministry of Information Science and Communication was created to serve as the regulatory authority for the internet, and its Cuban Supervision and Control Agency oversees the development of internet-related technologies.LIMITS ON CONTENT Rather than engaging in the technically sophisticated blocking and filtering used by other repressive regimes in countries like China and Tunisia, Cuban authorities rely heavily on lack of technology and prohibitive costs to limit users’ access to information. The websites of foreign news outlets—including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Le Monde, and El Nuevo Herald (a Miami-based Spanish-language daily)—and human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House remain largely accessible, though slow connection speeds impede access to the content on these sites.Some sites and writings that are considered anti-Cuban or counterrevolutionary are restricted. These include many of the Cuban dissident sites based in the United States and abroad, and any documents containing criticism of the current system or mentioning dissidents, supply shortages, or other politically sensitive issues.22 Blogs and other sites with content written by Cubans residing in Cuba—such as the blogging platform Voces Cubanas and the Bitcora Cubana blog—are also inaccessible. Sites such as Cubanet.org, Payolibre.com, Cubaencuentro.com, and the Association for Freedom of the Press also cannot be accessed at youth computer centers.23 Even Revolico.com, a platform for classified advertisements that has no direct association with politics, has been censored. The ministry’s website can be found at http://www.mic.gov.cu/.
Reporters Without Borders, “Free Expression Must Go With Better Communications, Says Reporters Without Borders as Blogs Prove Hard to Access,” news release, March 31, 2008, http://en.rsf.org/cuba-free-expression-must-go-with-31-032008,26396.html.
OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profiles: Cuba,” May 9, 2007, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/cuba.
Bitcorea Cubana can be found at http://cubabit.blogspot.com/; the Association for Freedom of the Press (Asociacin pro Libertad de Prensa) can be found at http://prolibertadprensa.blogspot.com/.
Marc Lacy, “A Black Market Finds a Home in the Web’s Back Alleys,” New York Times, January 3, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/world/americas/04havana.html.
CUBA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net It is a crime to contribute to international media that are not supportive of the government, a fact that has led to widespread self-censorship. Cuban blogs typically feature implicit or explicit elements of self-censorship and anonymity. Many of those working closely with ICTs are journalists who have been barred from official employment, and the prohibitive costs surrounding the technology represent a major obstacle for them. The majority of their work is done offline by hand, typewriter, or computer, then uploaded and published once or twice a week using a paid internet-access card. For those contributing to international outlets, content can be dictated via costly international phone calls.
Despite all of these barriers, Cubans still connect to the internet through both authorized and non-authorized points of access. Some are able to break through the infrastructural blockages by building their own antennas, using illegal dial-up connections, and developing blogs on foreign platforms. The underground economy of internet access also includes account sharing, in which authorized users sell access to those without an official account for one or two convertible pesos per hour. Some foreign embassies allow Cubans to use their facilities, but a number of people who have visited embassies for this purpose have reported police harassment. Some cases of Cuban activists using mobile phones or text messaging to organize events or disseminate political information have been reported. There is a thriving improvisational system of “sneakernets,” in which USB keys and data discs are used to distribute material (articles, prohibited photos, satirical cartoons, video clips) that has been downloaded from the internet or stolen from government offices.
There is no exact count of blogs produced in Cuba, but the Cuban Journalists’ Union (UPEC) has reported a current total of 174. Examples include Yoani Snchez’s famous blog Generacin Y, which draws 26 percent of its readers from within Cuba, as well as sites like Retazos, Nueva Prensa, and Convivencia. Regional radio stations and magazines are also creating online versions, though these are state-run and do not accept contributions from independent journalists. However, in a recent development, some of these sites have installed commentary tools that allow readers to provide feedback and foster discussion, albeit censored.
Yoani Snchez has become the most visible figure in a blogging movement that uses new media to report on daily life and conditions in Cuba that violate basic freedoms. She and other online writers—including Claudia Cadelo, Miriam Celaya, Orlando Luis Pardo, Reinaldo Escobar, Laritza Diversent, and Luis Felipe Rojas—have come together on the Voces Cubanas blogging platform to portray a reality that the official media ignore, earning broad support throughout society that resulted in the government shutting down the platform. They have even made it “trendy” to exercise the right to free expression. Young people are increasingly using the Twitter microblogging service and mobile phones to document repression, as well as to spread leaks of prohibited information. These have included reports from a closed-door meeting at the Communist Party’s Central Committee headquarters, news on freezing and starvation deaths in a psychiatric hospital, and explicit CUBA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net videos of student protests and police beatings.Unable to completely suppress dissident activity on the internet through legal and infrastructural constraints, the authorities have taken a number of countermeasures within the medium itself. Government entities maintain a major presence on the social networks, and they have relied on trusted students at the University of Computer Sciences to help fight the “internet campaigns against Cuba.” The authorities have also created official blogs designed to slander and criticize the independent bloggers.VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS The legal structure in Cuba is not favorable to internet freedom. The constitution explicitly subordinates freedom of speech to the objectives of socialist society,27 and freedom of cultural expression is guaranteed only if the expression is not contrary to the Revolution.The penal code and Law 88 set penalties ranging from a few months to 20 years in prison for any activities that are considered a “potential risk,” “disturbing the peace,” a “precriminal danger to society,” “counterrevolutionary,” or “against the national independence or economy.”In 1996, the government passed Decree-Law 209, which states that the internet cannot be used “in violation of Cuban society’s moral principles or the country’s laws,” and that e-mail messages must not “jeopardize national security.”30 In 2007, Resolution 127 on network security banned the spreading via public data-transmission networks of information that is against the social interest, norms of good behavior, the integrity of people, or national security. The decree requires access providers to install controls that will enable them to detect and prevent the proscribed activities, and to report them to the relevant authorities.
Resolution 56/1999 provides that all materials intended for publication or dissemination on the internet must first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications. Moreover, Resolution 92/2003 prohibits e-mail and other ICT service providers from granting access to individuals who are not approved by the government, and requires that they enable only domestic chat services, not international ones. Entities that violate these regulations can have their authorization to provide access suspended or For example, see the videos of a August 2008 police beating and October 2009 student protest posted on YouTube:
Also, pictures of malnutritioned patient bodies from a local hospital on the Penltimos Das blog http://www.penultimosdias.com/2010/03/02/los-muertos-de-mazorra/.
A few examples include Cambios en Cuba, http://cambiosencuba.blogspot.com/; Yohandry’s weblog, http://yohandry.wordpress.com/; and the official bloggers platform CubaS, http://www.cubasi.cu.
Article 53, available at http://www.cubanet.org/ref/dis/const_92_e.htm, accessed July 23, 2010.
Article 39, d), available at http://www.cubanet.org/ref/dis/const_92_e.htm, accessed July 23, 2010.
Committee to Protect Journalists, “International Guarantees and Cuban Law,” special report, March 1, 2008, http://cpj.org/reports/2008/03/laws.php.
Cuba – Telecoms Market Overview & Statistics 2008.
CUBA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net revoked.
Resolution 179/2008 requires all ISPs to censor materials viewed in conflict with state security or contrary to social interests, ethics, and morals. Specifically, it authorizes ETESCA to “take the necessary steps to prevent access to sites whose contents are contrary to social interests, ethics and morals, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the State.” The resolution, which also spells out the requirements and procedures to become an ISP, requires ISPs to register and retain the addresses of all traffic for at least a year. Cuban customs regulations specifically prohibit the entry of any phones that use the Global Position System (GPS) or satellite connections.32 Despite constitutional provisions that protect various forms of communication, and portions of the penal code that set penalties for the violation of the secrecy of communications, the privacy of users is frequently violated in practice. Tools of content surveillance and control are pervasive, from public access points and universities to government offices. The government routes most connections through proxy servers and is able to obtain all user names and passwords through special monitoring software Avila Link, which is installed at most ETECSA and public access points. In addition, delivery of e-mail messages is consistently delayed, and it is not unusual for a message to arrive without its attachments.