Public and Private Information in CubaJanuary 9, 2014 | Print |
Jimmy Roque Martínez
HAVANA TIMES — Today, I would like to share with you what happened to me a few days ago, when I tried to find out how many Nauta locales (Internet access points) Cuba’s state phone company (ETECSA) had opened up around the country.
A friend, who was writing a piece on the Internet in Cuba, visited the company web-page. The site, which hadn’t been updated, only mentioned the number of locales that were initially opened, not the total number, after additional locales were opened.
He needed the information and I offered to find out for him. I thought it would be a very simple procedure: I would go to one of these locales and ask. I’ve been living in Cuba for thirty-four years and I’m still that naïve.
Luckily, I started my search at the Miramar Trade Center building, where, incidentally, ETECSA’s head offices are located. When I arrived at the Nauta located in this business center and asked the security guard to let me in to ask my question, he asked me why I wanted that information and who I was. I explained to him I was writing an article about Internet access in Cuba. He told me he would consult with his boss.
I overheard the higher-up ask the guard who I was, what article I was writing and to what end, somewhat surprised. Then she came up to me, with a serious look on her face, and kindly asked me these questions.
When I explained to her what I was doing, she told me I had to go to the fourth floor, as she didn’t have that information at her disposal. Something similar happened on the fourth floor of the building, where they sent me to another office, where the same scene was replayed. Finally, they referred me to the management of ETECSA – fourth floor, office 317.
A bust of Jose Marti, next to the Cuban flag (and company banner), watches over the entrance to the fourth floor. There were two closed doors down the all-white, spotless hallway, and a sign saying that the head management office was accessed through the third floor.
I finally arrived at office 317. There, I told the secretary what I wanted to know and she replied with the same, fear-ridden questions: Who are you? Why do you want to know?
I took out my Cuban ID and placed it on the desk. I told her my full name, declared I was a Cuban citizen and that, as an ETECSA user, wanted to have this information.
Somewhat taken aback, she said it was not a problem, but that the boss was busy. The gentleman in question was right in front of me, speaking on the phone. When he had finished talking, I was able to ask him the dreaded question: how many Nauta locales are there in Cuba?
Just so you know, dear friends, in Cuba there are currently 133 Nauta locales, that is, 15 more than those initially opened.
I don’t know the name of the gentleman who told me this. I don’t know his exact position in the company. Nor do I know why their web-page hasn’t been updated. I could have asked him, but, by that point, I felt a caught between the wheels of power somewhat. I was inside his office, under constant questioning.
Though I have something of a critical and at times daring posture, I also suffer the consequences of years of fear, censorship and misgivings over what I think and do. It is something that will remain with us for many years.
Sometimes, these feelings betray us and we end up censoring ourselves. It’s what the system has worked to achieve.
Many a time the impulse to censor ourselves takes hold of public officials who fear making a mistake, as Raul Castro warned journalists during their last congress.
How do you know when you are wrong? Who decides this? It is not just a question of speaking at the right time and place. It is also about giving out the right information, thinking the right way, even showing the right kind of support.
That a stranger should ask these “strange” things about the Internet, that must strike officials as very suspicious.