A Few Days With Nauta / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on March 24, 2014
Now you can read your @nauta.cu email on your cellphone
"The line's long but it's moving fast," someone tells me outside a
Cubacel Office. After an hour and several shouts from the guard whom we
crowded around at the door, I managed to enter. The clerk is bleary-eyed
and warns me that I can only open a Nauta email account there, but
"under no circumstances is the account configured for a mobile phone."
This provokes a little, "It doesn't matter, I know how to do it, I
already downloaded the Internet manual." The little twist of the knife
works because she asks me, curious, "Oh really… and could you help a
friend of mine who doesn't know how to do it?"
This won't surprise my readers, we're in Cuba where restrictions and
chaos mix. Where the same entity that should help its clients ends up
asking them for help. So I lent a hand with the friend and her email
After gaining her trust, I was able to get a little information from the
bored clerk. "I'm sure the Internet will be available soon on
cellphones," I let fall, just another comment. She clicked her tongue
and offered, "Don't get your hopes up," turning to me from the desk.
Then I attacked, "Well, if it's the Venezuelan cable, I imagine the
service will expand." And that's when the employee hinted to me, "This
cable comes from somewhere else," while putting her index finger near
her eye as the signal for "vigilance."
I go home, stumbling at every step because I'm looking at the cellphone
screen where it shows new messages. First I write several friends and
family members warning them that "this email @nauta.cu is not reliable
or secure, but…" And then a long list of ideas for the uses of a mailbox
that isn't private, but that I can check any time from my own cellphone.
I ask several acquaintances to sign me up for national and international
news services via email. Within an hour a flood of information and
opinion columns is stuffing my inbox.
I spend the following days searching out the details of the service, its
limits and potential. I conclude that for sending photos it's much
cheaper than the previous method through MMS messaging. Before, the only
option was to send an image, with agonizing slowness, costing 2.30 CUC
($2 USD). Now, I can do it through Flickr, TwitPic and Facebook through
their email publication service, paying 0.01 CUC for each kilobyte. The
average photo for the web doesn't exceed 100 Kb.
Among its possibilities, is also the ability to maintain a flow of long
texts — far beyond the 160 characters of an SMS — with Cubacel users who
have already activated the service. In the first 48 hours I managed to
create news feeds for other activists in several areas of Cuba. So far
all the messages have arrived… even thought the Nauta contract threatens
to cut off the service if it is used for "activities…against national
independence and sovereignty."
I also tested the effectiveness of the GPRS connection, needed to send
and receive emails, from several provinces. In Havana, Santiago de Cuba,
Holguín, Camagüey and Matanzas I was able to connect without major
problems. There are some stretches of road where there aren't even
signals to make calls, but the rest of the tries were successful.
It's not all good news
Coinciding with the new email service on cellphones, there has been a
noted deterioration in the sending of text messages. Hundreds of
messages in recent days never reached their recipients, although the
telephone company quickly charged for them, which points to an act of
censorship or the collapse of the networks. I would prefer to think it's
the latter, if it weren't for the fact that among the greatest failures
were activists, opponents, independent journalists and other
On the other hand, let's not be naive. Nauta has all the hallmarks of a
carnivorous network that swallows information and processes our
correspondence for monitoring purposes. Very likely there is a filter
for key words and minute-by-minute observation of certain people. I
don't discard the possibility that the content of private messages will
be published in the official media, should the government deem it
appropriate. Nor do I rule out phishing to damage the prestige of some
customers, or the use of information–such as emails published on social
networks–to impersonate others.
All these possibilities need to be taken into account when using the new
service, because there is no independence between the telephone company
and the country's intelligence services. So every word written, every
name referenced, every opinion sent via Nauta, could end up in State
Security's archives. We need to avoid making their job easier.
After a week with Nauta, my impression is that it is a crack that is
widening. Through which we can project our voices, but also through
which we could be abducted. A poor imitation of the web, a handicapped
internet, their service is very far from what we have demanded as 21st
Nevertheless, I suggest using this new option and pushing its limits,
like we have done with text-only messaging. Used cautiously, but with a
civic conscience, this path can help us to improve the quality and
quantity of information we receive and of our own presence on the social
networks. Its own name already says it, if we can't be internauts… at
least we can try being nautas.
24 March 2014
Source: A Few Days With Nauta / Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba -