Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Illiteracy Knocking on Cuba's Doors

Illiteracy Knocking on Cuba's Doors
September 20, 2011
Alfredo Fernandez

If it doesn't allow free access to the Internet soon, Cuba will be a
country of virtual illiterates in the next few years.

The New Technologies of Information and Communications (NTICs) have
invaded contemporary society putting the Internet, computers and
cellphones under the heading of indispensable.

The problem is that these technological creatures, by the force of
kilobytes, are approaching us from the distance. They are informing us
in real time of any occurrence, at anytime, anywhere on the planet.

Yet the mere mention of the Internet in Cuba causes commotion. Up to
now, Cuban authorities have had reasons to justify the non-existence of
free access to the "network of networks" in this country. They have
been able to point to "the US blockade" that has forced the island to
rely on the narrow bandwidth of an expensive satellite connection. The
result in this case was that the blanket covered us so completely we
could never even see a toe sticking out.

What should one hope for when one is waiting? That question was the
title of a fantastic piece of choreography by the Danza Contemporanea de
Cuba troupe that I saw several years ago. Today this is a question that
stays constantly on my mind. I can't get it out of my head when I see
the government's stance toward the Internet contrasted to the real
possibility of Cubans soon having unrestricted access to the Web.

The Internet will become available to all Cubans – I have no doubt about
that. What I want to know is when. And what I worry about is the delay
in taking advantage of the fiber optic cable that has linked the towns
of Güaira Venezuela and Siboney Cuba since this past February.

Since the arrival of that long-awaited cable in Siboney, the government
announced that by July it would be fully operational. However, as far
as I know no one has been able to consume a single kilobyte from this
famous line.

Last month, Ministry of Communications Vice Minister Boris Moreno said,
"In the next few months it will become operational." The cable,
according to official spin, will have a connection speed that's 3,000
times faster than the current one. On the other hand, authorities had
previously specified that the connection would prioritize
"videoconferences and scientific centers" – not mass public access.

The little that I can expect from the "cable with a better connection"
is that it will reduce the outrageous price of access to the Internet in
Cuban hotels, where presently the rates are more than $5 USD an hour.

At this point, as a social scientist I'm unable to overlook this
situation since it portends grave consequences. The fact that people in
Cuba don't exercise their right to freely access the Internet is a
circumstance that acts to deprive of people of all ages of their right
to be informed, communicate and entertain themselves.

Added to my fears is that New Technologies of Information and
Communications is making illiteracy a dynamic concept; that's to say, a
person might not be technologically illiterate today, but by being
outside of the new uses of technologies they can end the year being a
true illiterate as to questions related to NTIC.

If this country does not embrace this technology in the immediate
future, availing itself of the wide possibilities of that reserve of
knowledge that is the Internet, an increasingly real possibility exists
that in a few years we will have an entire nation of illiterates here in


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