The Internet Balloon Deflates in Cuba / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on January 12, 2016
Yoani Sanchez, El Nuevo Herald, 10 January 2016 – She raises the phone
and holds it in front of her eyes. A tear rolls down her cheek while her
son tells her, in a video call, that early mornings on the border
“aren’t that cold” and he has “a mattress to sleep on.” Thousands of
immigrant Cubans, stranded in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, are in contact
with their families thanks to technology. Screens and keyboards bring
close what geography separates.
The beginning of the thaw between Cuba and the United States aroused
expectations of economic improvements and political changes on the
island. Along with these illusions, there was growing hope of better
access to the internet. While some marked the date of 17 December 2014
as the end of a diplomatic confrontation, the youngest identified it
with a flood of kilobytes just off the horizon.
However, a year after the announcement of the reestablishment of
relations between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution,
Cubans have not been able to fully enjoy the status of internauts. The
hoisting of flags in Washington and Havana has not brought the
longed-for connectivity, nor the wave of new technologies that some
predicted. But nor has the Cuban government had the ability to stop the
flow of information that moves along informal networks.
If five years ago the great conqueror of state censorship was a
minuscule USB memory stick, now people want more. The use of external
hard disks is expanding and applications for cellphones and tablets are
beginning to overcome the obstacles of living on “the island of the
disconnected.” Among the graduates of the University of Information
Sciences (UCI), where they prepared to be information soldiers, have
emerged those who kow design software to bypass the difficulties in
On the sidewalks, under the trees and on the stairs that lead to the
sober government ministries on La Rampa – the street that passes the
Coppelia ice cream stand and the Havana Libre hotel as it heads down to
the Malecon – are crowded the customers of a wireless navigation service
opened in the middle of last year. Despite the high costs of connecting,
where an hour of websurfing coasts the equivalent of two days wages, the
number grows every day of users about to feel what it’s like to be online.
Age and ideological affiliation don’t matter, the internet is the most
democratic terrain Cubans have known. They can use it to put their house
up for sale on a classifieds site, or to hold a videoconference with
their exiled relatives on the other side of the Straits of Florida.
Despite the censored digital sites and the unpleasant conditions of the
wifi areas, those who peer into the web have a rare expression on their
faces, scarecely known in these parts. They are surprised, happy… alive.
Every day, across the island, more than 150,000 customers on average
access the internet, according to information provided by the state
service provider, ETECSA. For a nation of 11 million people, right now
there are only 58 wifi areas, though the state monopoly assures that
this year another 80 will be ready. A drop in the ocean of need.
This global web comes to us bit by bit, not at all like the
stratospheric balloons Google plans to launch in several areas around
the world to connect citizens little favored by geography, economic
hardship or censorship. “Project Loon” cannot be applied to Cuba as long
as information is like a nightmare for the authorities, who want to
avoid it at all costs.
The big question is whether Raul Castro took the step of opening a few
wifi zones when he spotted the silhouette of Google’s balloons on the
horizon. We will never know for sure, but we don’t need a very advanced
computer algorithm to guess the answer.
Source: The Internet Balloon Deflates in Cuba / Yoani Sanchez |
Translating Cuba –