Friday, December 7, 2012

Cuba blocks dissident hotline

Posted on Friday, 12.07.12

Cuba blocks dissident hotline

A system that allowed Cubans to broadcast their grievances has been
blocked by the government.
By Juan O. Tamayo

The Cuban government is blocking calls to U.S. and Spanish telephone
numbers once described as a 911 service for dissidents — a system they
could use to swiftly report abuses to supporters abroad.

Hablalo Sin Miedo — Say it Without Fear — allowed Cubans to record voice
messages of up to three minutes that were later posted on the system's
blog and automatically emailed to those who signed up, mostly other
activists and journalists.

Launched last spring by a Cuba-born Florida International University
graduate, the system borrowed a page from a Google and Twitter facility
established after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shut down Internet
access during the Tahrir Square riots.

It was receiving hundreds of calls per month with reports that the
official media in the communist-ruled island would never publish, from
arrests of the dissident Ladies in White to the damages caused by
Hurricane Sandy last month and cases of corruption.

But starting on Oct. 29, its lines were blocked by Cuba's
government-owned telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA. Its U.S. number
was blocked first, and when the system was switched to a number in
Spain, that was blocked also.

ETECSA even blocked calls from Cuba to his personal phone, said the FIU
graduate, who asked for anonymity because he wants to keep his Cuba
activism separate from his job.

"We are exploring alternatives to re-establishing the service. We will
soon announce new ways in which it can be used again," the graduate
wrote Thursday in an email to El Nuevo Herald.

"The fact that they have blocked Hablalo sin Miedo confirms its
usefulness for Cuban activists and average Cubans who trusted us to tell
the stories that the Cuban government wants to silence," the email added.

Dissidents can still send fast messages using the Twitter system, but
the outlook for finding an alternate way of sending voice messages
abroad is unclear because all telephone calls in Cuba must go through

The Hablalo facility was being used most heavily in recent weeks by
members of the Cuban Patriotic Union, a dissident group in eastern Cuba
that has grown to be one of the most active opposition organizations on
the island.

Also using the system have been members of the Cuban Network of
Community Communicators, a group headed by dissident Martha Beatriz
Roque that focuses on reports of neighborhood-level issues.

Roque said Cubans trying to call Hablalo Sin Miedo get a message saying
the number is "temporarily disconnected." The same message is often
heard when Cuba's State Security agents block calls to or from
dissidents' cell phones.

Google and Twitter established the Speak2Tweet system after Mubarak shut
down the on-ramps to the Internet during the Arab Spring revolt there
last year. The system received hundreds of thousands of calls, which
were then posted on the Web and retransmitted as Tweets.

Calls to Hablalo Sin Miedo were fewer because phone calls from Cuba to
the United States costs about $1 per minute — a costly fee in a country
where the average monthly wage officially stands at about $20.

But foreign supporters of dissidents could pre-pay money into the
accounts of Cuban cellular phones so they could be used to call the
facility, and the system was at least theoretically available in case of

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