Cuban journalist Julio César Gálvez, a former Honorary Member of English PEN, reports on the impact that increased internet access will have on the island.
Houston, Texas, June 2013
A few days ago, the Cuban regime made internet access publicly available to the whole of the island’s population. The announcement was welcomed as a good omen by mass media all over the world, which deemed it a step forward in the reforms laid out by General Raúl Castro. But if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.
The Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), owned by the Cuban government, fitted out 118 centers spread across the whole country, but mainly in Havana, to provide internet service, but these haven’t been greeted with the demand that the government expected. The reasons behind this couldn’t be more eloquent. A price tag of $6.00 convertible pesos—popularly called ‘chavitos’—is costly for the average citizen, whose average salary isn’t more than 25 dollars a month and who must therefore choose whether she will eat, dress herself or sit in front of a computer.
The Cuban authorities are telling barefaced lies. These centers were already available in mid-2000, when they were set up in certain postal zones, in the regional headquarters of the Post Office, and made publicly available by means of a card costing a dollar an hour. Following an avalanche of Cubans who wanted to surf the internet, communicate with family members and get in touch with the outside world, the centers were soon closed down, only to be reopened under a new banner: ‘Foreigners Only’. Cubans were relegated to second-class citizens. I was one of the many who suffered this technological segregation.
By the summer of 2001, these postal zone centers, the internet café in the Capitolio Nacional, the main hotels in Havana and the island’s tourist areas had not only authorized foreigners to use their services; Cubans with dollars to spare were also illegally granted access by their friends or ‘associates’ who worked at the centers.
The coming into effect of purported free access to the internet in Cuba is yet another trick of the Castro regime to allow it to meddle in the life of its citizens. Firstly, the connection is made through an ETECSA server, which allows any electronic message or communication leaving Cuba to be filtered and inspected. Secondly, the ‘Nauta’ cards, the only ones authorized and sold by the telecommunication regulatory body, constitute a strict legal gag, since chapter 6 of the General Conditions of Access to the Service of the Internet – User Obligations points out that: ‘This service must not be used to carry out actions which may be considered by ETECSA or by the competent administrative and judiciary authorities as harmful or detrimental to public security, integrity, the economy, independence and national sovereignty…’
It’s crystal clear. What was supposedly a civil right has been turned into another form of espionage, with the implicit and explicit threat of imprisonment under Law 88, popularly dubbed the ‘gag law’, if one is considered an enemy and traitor to the motherland. Once more, psychological terror looms over the head of those who want to tell the truth about what happens in Cuba, this time with the help of the worldwide web. No matter: as long as Castro’s totalitarianism is in control of Cuba, we will communicate more safely through smoke signals and carrier pigeons.
Translated by Vicente M. Lopez Abad.
Journalist Julio César Gálvez, a former Honorary Member of English PEN, worked for Cuban government media for 24 years before becoming a freelance reporters in Havana until his arrest in 2003. Having served more than seven years of a 14-year prison sentence for crimes against the state, Julio was forced into exile in Spain. He is one of more than 40 Latin American writers to have contributed to the PEN International anthology Write Against Impunity.