Documentary on Internet Access in Cuba

January 10, 2013 | Print Print |

Yusimi Rodriguez

In Cuba, starting in the primary schools students are given a computer class. Photo: granma.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Students in Cuba are learning computer skills from the earliest grades in elementary school. But what will happen when they grow up in a country where access to the Internet and other social networks is highly restricted?

What does this mean for their chances for ongoing professional development?

That’s the question posed by the Cuban documentary Ojos que te miran: Entre redes (Eyes That Look at You: Among the Networks), made in 2012 by director Rigoberto Senarega. But I think we need not go that far back in time to ask about Internet access in Cuba.

Right now, many Cubans are wondering when Internet access will become available for all citizens of the country, not as a special privilege or requirement for some jobs, but as a right – even as a necessity.

In the documentary, a young woman who teaches computer classes to a group of elementary school students talks about her need for the Internet to complete her own studies, but she doesn’t have access.

Another young man says he has to pay the equivalent of $6 USD an hour (almost half of many monthly wages) to access the Internet to complete his graduating project.

“Eyes That Look at You” doesn’t delve into the reasons for preventing Cubans from having Internet access. The 13-minute documentary is meant to reveal a situation rather than to question the roots of the problem.

I could list a lot of reasons why many professionals and undergraduates, graduates, masters level and doctorates students need Internet access, but we would be falling in a trap.

The ability to access the Internet would be determined by the actual “need” to have it, and the designated authorities would immediately appear to determine who needed it and who didn’t.

Moreover, if they can determine who needs the Internet, they could also determine which websites are needed and which ones aren’t.

If you work in the area of public health, they currently argue that the Cuban Infomed website should suffice. Others have to be content with the nation’s Intranet. Both are internal networks controlled by the Cuban government.

I believe that Internet access to any webpage, anywhere, is a right – period.

The documentary shows a worker at one of the Youth Computer Clubs, a program created by the eternal leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro. Over the months that he worked there, he wasn’t even allowed to access Wikipedia.

However, another interviewee talks about the creation of EcuRed, a Cuban encyclopedia. However — paradoxically — most Cubans aren’t familiar with it or even know it exists.

Most EcuRed users aren’t even from Cuba. Our country is in “ninth, tenth or eleventh users position,” according to the interviewee. The island is located behind Spain, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, the United States and other countries.

The reason? The respondent himself said this was because of the poor Internet access that exists here in the country.

The fiber optic cable reached Cuba from Venezuela 23 months ago.

Some people, like one man interviewed in the documentary, continue to accept the national security explanation, blaming the US government and its half century embargo for everything bad that happens in Cuba.

However another man raised questions about what happened with the underwater fiber-optic cable that was laid between Cuba and Venezuela nearly two years ago. Though it still isn’t functioning, nothing has been explained to the public. I’d like to be able to recall his exact words, but I can’t. I can only say that I was pleasantly surprised.

One of the problems about having to live thinking about what you’re going to eat at night is that it keeps you focused on the problems of daily survival. It doesn’t let you think about basic questions of freedom such as access to information.

Why do I want the Internet on an empty stomach? Why do I want to have Internet access if I don’t have gas for cooking or soap for bathing?

Seen from this perspective, it appears that the Internet is a luxury that many Cubans don’t think about, even though they know it exists. But it’s heartening to know that more and more of our compatriots are interested in it.

Eyes That Look at You doesn’t delve into the reasons for preventing Cubans from having Internet access. The 13-minute documentary is meant to reveal a situation rather than to question the roots of the problem.

Perhaps that was the intention of the director, or maybe he chose to be more cautious in dealing with such a complex issue.

In any case, maybe it’s not so contradictory to teach computing in schools and to create Youth Computer Clubs and then deny Internet access to the public.

If we look to the past, the revolutionary government conducted a literacy campaign to teach the Cuban people to read and write, and then it banned many books and even several types of music.

In the documentary, a young woman who teaches computer classes to a group of elementary school students talks about her need for the Internet to complete her own studies, but she doesn’t have access.

The Internet will come to Cuba just like all those other things that were banned: the music of the Beatles, DVD players, cellphones and access to tourist hotels.

The government will run out of excuses to restrict access. As what happened with cellphones, the Internet will become available to everyone, at least to those who can pay the pretty penny for using it.

We’ll no longer say that we’re restricted from access; we’ll just have to dig that much deeper into our already shallow pockets for it.

But until those golden times come, it’s nice to see a Cuban documentary that puts the issue on the table – at least to some degree.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses

    How can the Castros continue to deny universal internet access to the Cuban people? At a cost of 6 cuc per hour, although technically available in tourists hotels, the cost is well above the average Cuban’s budget. On Tuesday, Google announced free Wifi to the southwest Chelsea neighborhood in NYC where their offices are located. Free!!! I can read HT and start my car from my Samsung cellphone for goodness sakes! Technology is leaving Cuba behind. With the completion of the fiber optic underwater cable from Venezuela, Cuba has no more excuses for these restrictions. This has nothing to do with the US embargo and everything to do with the Castros fear that with internet access, even more Cubans will know the truth.

  • Luis

    “I can read HT and start my car from my Samsung cellphone for goodness sakes!”

    How arrogant can one be. Well coming from Moses that’s not really a surprise: ‘look at me, I’m rich and my country is #1!”

    How come the embargo *not* play a part on this, if it limits Cuba’s access to the same technology that’s ‘leaving it behind’? Do you know how much a high-end switcher-router from Juniper or Cisco cost?

    You talk about Google but forget how the US government blocks some of its software to be accessed from Cuba, such as Google Analytics.

    • Griffin

      Cuba can easily buy equipment from China, Korea, Europe or Canada. The only reason that Cuba is not connected to the internet, is because the regime fears free communication with the world. The internal embargo is to blame.

    • Moses

      Wireless internet and Bluetooth technology doth not make thou rich. It makes you normal. Opportunity, hard work, perserverance and a little luck does. As far as the US being #1, it depends on what you are measuring. Luis, simply put, the decisions being made by the Castros are largely responsible for the 1st. generation, third world technology that exists in that country. As Griffin writes, internet infrastrure is available to Cuba from their Chinese, Brazilian, Russian and Canadian trading partners. China blocks most of Google and they don’t lack for technology so what’s the real excuse for Cuba?

    • Luis

      You both ‘forget’ how the US blockade punishes companies who trade with Cuba. With the US being the greatest consumer market in the world, few would take the risk of doing business with Cuba. The only one who has equivalent technology to share with Cuba is China – but it does have a price. As I said before, Cuba clearly lacks internal network infrastructure – the ALBA-1 wouldn’t ‘magically’ bring broadband access to the end-users, it would be foolish to believe so. OK, I’ve heard about corruption taking its ugly hand on the project, but that doesn’t make my first affirmative less true.

      Moses continues with his arrogance by using ‘third world’ in a derogative way. I don’t have a smartphone which can start a car, does that mean I’m not ‘normal’? Anyway Cuba is a blockaded ‘third world’ country, why should you expect it to keep up the same technology level as the US? In Brazil – which is a far, far richer than Cuba – it took nearly 10 years from the laying of the first underground fiber-optic cables to the first broadband internet providers to show up.

      As Yusimi writes, in Cuba there will be broadband internet access for its end users with time. As Grady writes, the best way to do it is linking it with the postal or telephone services via a ‘National Broadband Plan’ or the likes.

  • larry

    Im trying to find out where this is so i can read the interview

  • Grady Ross Daugherty

    In my country, the US Post Office should have pioneered monthly internet subscription service. But it did not; nor does it offer internet subscription services even now. This apparently was due to collusion with the “private sector,” in order to keep government out of the new technology internet revenue stream. The Postal Workers’ union leadership of course was bought off, to keep their mouths shut and not demand government-run internet subscription service.

    In the early days of the internet, internet use was very expensive, and available by the minute. People on the internet would scramble their ass off, trying to beat the clock and not be charged for going into the next time period. Then, AOL offered unlimited access for $20 per month, as I recall. Naturally, hundreds-of-thousands of people subscribed right away.

    Other potential internet providers saw a good thing and a feeding frenzy to sign up subscribers on a monthly fee basis began.

    The US Post Office was left out in the cold, and has now been eviscerated financially due to the disuse of “snail mail” and its old-fashioned stamps.

    The Cuban party and government should learn from this. It should do what the US Post Office should have done. It should offer Cuban citizens internet subscription services for an affordable monthly fee.

    • Moses

      The reason the USPS was “frozen” out of the early expansion of the internet was due to content, not corruption. While they offered the thruway, AOL was able to offer music, movies, and other content-related services. Because the USPS is government-funded, they simply could not compete with the private sector in developing or purchasing and then marketing the then new technology. Besides, Grady, have you been to the Post Office lately? Did you really want the USPS involved in the expansion of this medium? Likewise, the Cuban government should regulate but not “own” the internet in Cuba. Proof of my point: go to a government-owned restaurant and then to a paladar or privately-owned restaurant in Cuba.

    • Griffin

      The Cuban government should offer the people respect for human rights and freedoms, but it doesn’t do that either. The lack of internet in Cuba is not a technical issue. It is not a planning or management issue either. The sole reason the Cuban people don’t have internet access is because the government doesn’t want them to have it.

  • Rob

    I’ve never seen so many valid posts. Great comments. I’m really shocked to hear about the state of Internet access in Cuba.

  • pie grande

    Relojes atrasados

    3

    Compartir

    Imprimir

    Doble clic sobre cualquier palabra para ver significado

    Cada
    vez que pienso en la irremediable caída del régimen castrista, supongo
    que supondrá también el desmoronamiento de esa vida provinciana y
    sencilla de los cubanos, el desperdicio de una manera lenta y placentera
    de existir en un mundo sin objetivos y sin prisas en el que importa
    poco lo que pueda tardar el progreso o los veinte minutos que cada
    cuarto de hora atrasen los relojes. No hay en el progreso material una
    sola conquista que no comporte el sacrificio de algo hermoso, como
    ocurrirá en Cuba cuando desaparezcan de sus calles esos viejos coches
    americanos reparados durante décadas gracias a la simple ferretería o
    con las herramientas del zapatero. Se malogrará también el regusto de
    hacer las cosas por el puro placer de hacerlas, sin que interfiera en
    ello el deber de conseguir que, además de hermosas, sean rentables.
    ¿Será tal vez que la libertad es tentadora hasta que deja de ser una
    esperanza para convertirse sin remedio en una horrible decepción? ¿Y si
    resulta que la libertad es como el matrimonio, una institución que con
    frecuencia sólo sirve para destruir la fe que tenían en él los
    contrayentes? Será que no padezco sus restricciones, pero a mí me gusta
    esa Cuba humilde y superviviente, ese orbe calmoso e instintivo poblado
    por hombres que de vez en cuando se esfuerzan para cambiar de postura y
    descansar de su pereza, y mujeres vestidas con el fresco descuido de esa
    ropa escasa y barata que deja traslucir una excitante y roma geometría
    de honradez, fertilidad y desidia. El de Cuba es un pueblo aplastado por
    una odiosa dictadura y resulta al mismo tiempo un punto sociológico de
    reencuentro emocional con un tiempo pasado en el que la pobreza era un
    ingrediente de la honestidad, un mundo que parece irrecuperable tan
    pronto nos damos cuenta de que la libertad sirve para que se nos multe
    por pretender imitar las cosas que hacen libremente nuestros perros.