Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Internet in Cuba and Needs of the Population

Internet in Cuba and Needs of the Population
June 18, 2013
Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — I couldn't help but be amused by an article I came across
in the website Cubadebate, originally published in the blog La Joven
Cuba (Young Cuba) under the title of Internet in Cuba: Good News and Bad
News, where the young authors of the piece attempted to downplay the
importance of certain developments – and exaggerate the significance of
others – to suit their particular interests.

The post begins thus: "We were first given the news about changes to
customs regulations which facilitate bringing electrical appliances
purchased abroad into the country and today we were greeted with the
good news that we are now able to access the Internet across the
country. According to its detractors, Cuba stagnates in its resistance
to change, but the truth is that these measures, and others yet to be
taken, are being implemented in response to the needs expressed by the
people (…)"

Further on, the article develops some rather interesting ideas. As the
wording is important, I quote them in their entirety:

"Some will say that, through access to the Internet has now been
authorized, service rates are extremely high. This is true, but, what of
hotels, mobile phones and passports? These too have high prices that are
above what a broad sector of the population can afford, but they're
there. They are no longer made inaccessible by the absurd prohibitions
we had to deal with, some of which have not yet been eliminated. Using
the Internet may still be a luxury for most, but email services, for
instance, are more affordable and will help bring Cuban families closer
together (…)"

Let us briefly focus on this issue of "luxury", as the authors call it.
Some weeks ago, La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA)
announced that it would open 118 public Internet access points across
the country, and that these, open Monday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to
7:30 p.m., would offer Internet, email and intranet services to the public.

More of the same. Who are they trying to fool with this whole, hackneyed
business of "customer services", services charged in the hard currency
that Cuban workers are not paid in, bought at an extremely unfavorable
exchange rate?
The rates: for intranet (Cuban websites), will be 0.60 CUC the hour;
access to an international email provider and these same intranet
services will cost 1.50 CUC an hour. Internet access, plus all the above
services, will cost 4.50 CUC an hour. (1 USD = 0.87 CUC)

By paying for these services directly at the cybercafé or purchasing a
"Nauta" card at an ETECSA sales point (for use at specific locations),
users will be able to access temporary accounts, valid for 30 calendar
days as of the date of the first session. They will also be able to open
a permanent account, complete with username, password and email address,
if they so request and pay for the service.

They continue to take us for suckers. Yes, now you are entitled to stay
at a hotel, but, how is a Cuban family expected to be able to afford a
weekend at the Playa Pesquero Hotel, which charges 99 CUC the night, for
adults, and 56 CUC for children? Or at the Tuxpan de Varadero, part of
the Cubanacan chain, charging 159 and 111 CUC for two nights, for adults
and children, respectively?

How is a Cuban expected to obtain a tourist visa at any embassy or
consulate, when they have to offer proof of financial solvency, backed
by an account that, many a time, must have a minimum balance of 2,000
U.S. dollars? How is any Cuban expected to do this, when paying the 100
CUC that a passport costs is often next to prohibitive?

The post is one contradiction after the other, as demonstrated by the
paragraph that follows: "(…) When I go a day without accessing the
Internet, I feel uncomfortable, it's like an addiction. But, the truth
is that the Internet is not essential to our everyday lives, nor do we
need it to be free, as some would have us believe [who would have them
believe this, their inner voices?] (…) I have friends and relatives
who've never heard of the Internet and lead happy lives. For them, the
most important things in life are other things. Of course, the decision
to turn the Internet into something essential, or not, must be made by
the individual, on the basis of the freedom to access it."

Then, the post deviates into the usual "philosophical digressions",
claiming that "(…) hundreds of thousands of young Cubans have free
Internet access at university. There are also numerous professors,
researchers, athletes and workers from other sectors who can access the
Internet, many of them from their own homes." Admittedly, many pages are
blocked and there are set times when one can access certain others,
including Facebook (after 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and anytime on

The required mention of the "mercenary" online press and blogs follows,
as does the mandatory reference to the arrogant posture of the US
government (and to what people on both shores are saying about all this).

The funniest thing for me, however, was this: "(…) Recently, La Joven
Cuba published a survey which put the following question to the
population: Which of the following news would you want to see headlined
in tomorrow's papers? 1. A new inmigration law reform. 2. Public
Internet access. 3. The elimination of the two-currency system. The
results could not have been more revealing. In total, over 770 people
voted and only 29 % chose Internet access."

Incidentally, they never did mention which option people voted for the
most. It goes without saying that, right now, Internet access cannot be
the top priority for the average Cuban, who has to work miracles to get
to the end of the month with food on the table. How could anyone be
expected to pay 4.50 CUC to use the Internet for an hour, when they
don't even have oil to cook with or enough food to eat at home? Hence,
the question I close with: what needs does Internet access in Cuba
respond to?

Source: "Internet in Cuba and Needs of the Population - Cuba's Havana" -

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