Dissidents in Cuba
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Freedom on the Net – Cuba

Cuba
Freedom on the Net

Status: Not Free
Obstacles to Access: 25 (0–25)
Limits on Content: 32 (0–35)
Violations of User Rights: 33 (0–40)
Total Score: 90 (0–100)
Population: 11.2 million
Internet Users/Penetration 2006: 190 thousand / 2 percent
Internet Users/Penetration 2008: 1.3 million / 11 percent (Note:
includes users with access only to intranet)
Mobile Phone Users/Penetration 2006: 152 thousand
Mobile Phone Users/Penetration 2008: 327 thousand
Freedom of the Press (2008) Score/Status: 94 / Not Free
Digital Opportunity Index (2006) Ranking: 129 out of 181
GNI Per Capita (PPP): Unavailable
Web 2.0 Applications Blocked: Yes
Political Content Systematically Filtered: No
Bloggers/Online Journalists Arrested: Yes

Introduction

Despite the slight loosening of restrictions on the sale of computer and
mobile-phone equipment in 2008, Cuba remains one of the world's most
repressive environments for the internet and information and
communication technologies (ICTs). There is almost no access to internet
applications other than e-mail, and surveillance is extensive.
Nevertheless, a nascent community of bloggers has emerged on the island,
creatively using online and offline means to express opinions and
circulate information about Cuban society.

Cuba was connected to the internet for the first time in 1997, and the
National Center for Automated Interchange of Information (CENIAI), the
country's first internet service provider (ISP), was established that
year. However, the executive authorities continue to control the legal
and institutional structures that decide who has access to the internet
and how much access will be permitted.[1]

Obstacles to Access

Though the government has claimed that all Cubans have access to the
internet, according to the ITU, only 1.3 million people – 11.5 percent –
had access to the internet in 2008. [2] However, it should be noted
that this number is also potentially over inflated as it includes those
who had access to the Cuban intranet only, but not to the global
internet. A closer estimate is that 240,000 – 2.1 percent – of the
population had some level of access to the world wide web in 2008.[3]
Restrictions on access have been exacerbated by tight government control
over related equipment. The sale of modems was banned in 2001, and the
sale of computers and computer accessories to the public was banned in
2002. Exceptions could be authorized by the Ministry of Internal
Commerce if the items in question were deemed to be "indispensable."
This policy changed in early 2008, when the government of President Raul
Castro began allowing Cubans to buy personal computers. Individuals can
now legally purchase a computer and connect to an ISP with a government
permit. Nonetheless, high costs put both the internet and mobile phones
beyond the reach of most of the population. A simple computer with a
monitor averages around 722 convertible pesos (US$780) in retail stores,
or at least 550 convertible pesos (US$600) on the black market.[4] By
comparison, the average monthly Cuban salary is approximately 16
convertible pesos (US$17).[5] These computers are generally distributed
by the state-run Copextel Corporation, which imports communications,
computing, and other ICT equipment. An internet connection costs between
6 and 12 convertible pesos (US$9 and US$15) per hour.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Cuba had a
mobile-phone penetration rate of only 2.9 percent (approximately 327,000
users) as of 2007. However, the government eased restrictions on
mobile-phone purchases in March 2008, and reduced the sign-up fee by
half, though it still represents three months of wages for the average
worker. It is estimated that Cubans signed some 7,400 new contracts for
mobile phones in the 10 days following the lifting of the ban, and
according to the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde, an estimated
480,000 cellular lines were in use by year's end.[6] ETECSA, the
state-controlled telecommunications company, predicts that there will be
1.4 million new mobile contracts over the next five years.[7] Mobile
phones do not include internet connections, but it is possible to send
and receive international text messages with certain phones.

TTT he government divides access to web technology between the national
intranet and the global internet; most Cubans only have access to the
former, which consists of a national e-mail system, a Cuban
encyclopedia, a pool of educational materials and open-access journals,
Cuban websites, and foreign websites that are supportive of the Cuban
government.[8] Cubans can legally access the internet only through
government-approved institutions, such as the approximately 600 Joven
Clubs de La Computacion (Youth Computation Clubs) and points of access
run by ETECSA; users are generally required to present identification to
use computers at these sites.[9] Many neighborhoods in the main cities
of Havana and Santiago advertise "internet" access in ETECSA kiosks, but
field research has found that the kiosks often lack computers. Instead
they have public phones for local and international calls with prepaid
phone cards. The government also claims that all schools have computer
laboratories; in practice, however, internet access is usually
prohibited for students or limited to e-mail and supervised activities
on the national intranet.

Individuals who do access the internet face paralyzingly slow
connections, and tests conducted on the island found that just two
e-mails could be sent per hour using Yahoo! mail. Multimedia
applications were inoperable. This was the case even at universities,
where the connections are slightly better than at ETECSA access
points.[10] One segment of the population that enjoys approved access to
the internet is the professional class of doctors, professors, and
government officials. For example, 3,000 e-mail accounts had been issued
to medical institutions by 2001, and facilities like hospitals,
polyclinics, research institutions, and local doctors' offices are
linked via an online network called Infomed.[11] However, even these
users are typically restricted to e-mails and sites related to their
activities. Beginning in 2007, the government systematically blocked
core internet portal sites such as Yahoo!, MSN, and Hotmail. This ban
was extended to blog platforms and blog commentary technology during
certain periods in 2008. As a result, Cubans cannot access blogs written
by their fellow citizens. Moreover, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
remains blocked in Cuba, with the exception of illegal points of
connection in old Havana. Some social-networking platforms such as
Facebook are accessible in university cybercafes.

There are only two ISPs, CENIAI Internet and ETECSA, and both are owned
by the state. Cubacel, a subsidiary of ETECSA, is the only mobile-phone
carrier. In 2000, the Ministry of Information Science and Communication
was created to serve as the regulatory authority for the internet, and
its Cuban Supervision and Control Agency oversees the development of
internet-related technologies.[12] In May 2008, Deputy Minister for
Information Science and Communication Boris Moreno said "Cuba is not
concerned with the individual connection of its citizens to the
internet. We use the internet to defend the Revolution and the
principles we believe in and have defended all these years."[13] The
government argues that acc
ess restrictions are a direct consequence of
the U.S. embargo, which prevents Cuba from connecting to underwater
cables and forces it to use expensive Chinese and Venezuelan satellites
instead.[14] It has been estimated that the cost of laying a fiber-optic
cable from Havana to Florida, to allow high-speed connectivity, would
cost as little as $500,000.[15] In the meantime, Cuba and Venezuela
signed documents in 2006 for the purpose of building and operating a
fiber-optic cable linking Cuba and Venezuela (as well as Jamaica, Haiti,
and Trinidad and Tobago) and amplifying Cuba's internet connections by
2010.[16] It remains unclear whether the Cuban government will truly
allow widespread access once the infrastructural impediments are removed.

Limits on Content

Rather than engaging in the technically sophisticated blocking and
filtering used by other repressive regimes such as China and Tunisia,
Cuban authorities rely heavily on lack of technology and prohibitive
costs to limit users' access to information. The websites of foreign
news outlets—including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Le
Monde, and the Nuevo Herald (a Miami-based Spanish-language daily)—and
human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
remain largely accessible, though slow connection speeds impede access
to the content on these sites.[17] Sites and writings that are
considered anti-Cuban or counterrevolutionary are restricted. These
include many of the Cuban dissident sites based in the United States and
abroad, and any documents containing criticism of the current system or
mentioning dissidents, supply shortages, and other politically sensitive
issues.[18] Blogs written by Cubans residing in Cuba are also
inaccessible. For example, sites such as cubanet.org, payolibre.com,
bitacoracubana.com, cubadebate.com, and prolibertadprensa.blogspot.com
cannot be accessed at the youth computer centers. It is a crime to
contribute to international media that are not supportive of the
government, a fact that has led to widespread self-censorship. Cuban
blogs typically feature implicit or explicit elements of self-censorship
and anonymity. Many of those working closely with ICTs are journalists
who have been barred from official employment, and the prohibitive costs
surrounding the technology represent a major obstacle for them. The
majority of their work is done offline by hand, typewriter, or computer,
then uploaded and published once or twice a week using a paid internet
access card. For those contributing to international outlets, content
can be dictated via costly international phone calls.

Despite all of these barriers, Cubans still connect to the internet
through both legal and illegal points of access. Some are able to break
through the infrastructural blockages by building their own antennas,
using illegal dial-up connections, and developing blogs on foreign
platforms. The underground economy of internet access also includes
account sharing, in which authorized users sell access to those without
an official account for one or two convertible pesos per hour. Some
foreign embassies allow Cubans to use their facilities, but a number of
people who have visited embassies for this purpose have reported police
harassment. To date there have been no reported cases of Cuban activists
using mobile phones or SMS (text messaging) to organize events or
disseminate political information. However, there is a thriving
improvisational system of "sneakernets," in which USB keys, CDs, and
DVDs are used to distribute material (articles, satirical cartoons,
video clips) that has been downloaded from the internet.

The lack of a proper internet connection remains Cuban bloggers' biggest
challenge, according to Roger Trabas, cofounder of the Bloggers Cuba
website. In September 2008, Trabas organized the first meeting—dubbed
Blogging on Our Own—designed to bring together the island's bloggers and
those involved in online journalism.[19] There is no exact count of
blogs produced in Cuba, but the Cuban Journalists' Union (UPEC) has
reported a current total of 174. Examples include Yoani Sanchez's famous
blog Generación Y, which draws 26 percent of its readers from within
Cuba, as well as sites like Retazos, Nueva Prensa, PayoLibre.com,
Cubaencuentro.com, and Convivencia. Regional radio stations and
magazines are also creating online versions, though these outlets are
state-run and do not accept contributions from independent journalists.
However, in a recent development, some of these sites have installed
commentary tools that allow readers to provide feedback and foster
discussion.

Cubans succeeded in mobilizing via the intranet in January 2007,
following the appearance of Luis Pavon Tamayo on a television program
honoring people who have made significant contributions to Cuban
culture. Cuban artists and intellectuals spontaneously started an e-mail
discussion to protest his appearance. Tamayo had formerly headed the
National Culture Council and was widely viewed as responsible for a
multiyear crackdown on cultural expression during the 1970s. The period,
known as the Grey Five, saw Cuban artists and intellectuals censored,
sent to labor camps, or driven into exile. The e-mail protest quickly
drew the attention of the government, and Culture Minister Abel Prieto
met with 20 of those involved to discuss their concerns.[20] Prieto
initially refused to apologize for Tamayo's appearance, but in the face
of a growing online movement he reconsidered and issued an apology. He
said the appearance—as well as the subsequent appearances of two other
leading figures in the 1970s crackdown, Armando Quesada and Jorge
Serguera—had been an "error," and explained that "today the leadership
of this country regards that period—which was fortunately brief—with
great disapproval."[21]

Violations of Users' Rights

The legal structure in Cuba is not favorable to internet freedom. There
is no clear constitutional guarantee of internet freedom, and the
constitution explicitly subordinates freedom of speech to the objectives
of socialist society.[22] Freedom of cultural expression is guaranteed
only if the expression is not contrary to the Revolution.[23] The penal
code and Law 88 set penalties ranging from a few months to 20 years in
prison for any activities that are considered a "potential risk,"
"disturbing the peace," a "precriminal danger to society,"
"counterrevolutionary," or "against the national independence or
economy."[24]

Cuba is one of the few countries to have issued laws and regulations
explicitly restricting and outlawing certain online activities. In 1996,
the government passed Decree-Law 209, known as Access from the Republic
of Cuba to the Global Computer Network, which states that the internet
cannot be used "in violation of Cuban society's moral principles or the
country's laws," and that e-mail messages must not "jeopardize national
security."[25] In 2007, Resolution 127 on network security banned the
spreading of information via public data-transmission networks that is
against the social interest, norms of good behavior, the integrity of
people, or national security. The decree requires access providers t
o
install controls that will enable them to detect and prevent the
proscribed activities, and to report them to the relevant authorities.

From a regulatory perspective, Resolution 56/1999 provides that all
materials intended for publication or dissemination on the internet must
first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications.
Moreover, Resolution 92/2003 prohibits e-mail and other ICT service
providers from granting access to individuals who are not approved by
the government, and requires that they enable only domestic chat
services, not international ones. Entities that violate these
regulations can have their authorization to provide access suspended or
revoked.

Despite constitutional provisions that protect various forms of
communication, and portions of the penal code that set penalties for the
violation of the secrecy of communications, the privacy of users is
frequently violated in practice. Tools of content surveillance and
control are pervasive, from public access points and universities to
government offices. Delivery of e-mail messages is consistently delayed,
and it is not unusual for a message to arrive without its attachments.
The phenomenon is known to occur in hotel cybercafes used by both
tourists and locals.

The new administration of Raul Castro has continued its predecessor's
repressive practices with respect to independent journalism, indirectly
affecting the blogging community as well. These practices include the
imposition of fines, searches, and the confiscation of money and
equipment. There have been a few cases in which online journalists were
arrested and punished for their work, most notably the imprisonment of
two correspondents of CubaNet. One, Oscar Sanchez Madan, was sentenced
to four years in prison in April 2007 for "precriminal social danger,"
and the other was sentenced to seven years in November 2005 for
"subversive propaganda."[26] Still, bloggers have not been subject to
anything akin to the Black Spring of 2003, in which 27 journalists were
arrested on grounds that they were "agents of the American enemy."[27]

Prominent bloggers do face a wide range of other forms of harassment,
intimidation, and restrictions on their rights. Yoani Sanchez and her
husband Reynaldo Escobar (a fellow blogger) were summoned for
questioning in December 2008, reprimanded, and informed that their right
to travel had been restricted, meaning they would be unable to attend a
two-day blogging workshop in the western part of the island.[28] Other
individuals planning to attend the event were also summoned for
questioning and pressured to cancel;[29] as a result, the meeting of 20
bloggers was reportedly held online to avoid the risk of arrest.[30] In
May 2008, the government refused to issue Sanchez a travel visa that
would have allowed her to receive the Ortega y Gasset prize for digital
journalism in Spain.[31]

[1] Ben Corbett, This is Cuba: an outlaw culture survives, Westview
Press, 2002,

http://books.google.com/books?id=N2P5n3rU7EkC&pg=PA145&lpg=PA145&dq=CENIAI+Internet&source=bl&ots=33reH-Vvh7&sig=UBxsUT16g0Z2BLKa0P1e5NMRFB0,
Accessed March 20, 2009.

[2] Internet World Stats,
http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats10.htm#spanish, Accessed March
20, 2009.

[3] Reporters Without Borders,
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26096, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[4] "Cubans queue for computers as PC ban lifted, but web still
outlawed," Irish Examiner, May 5, 2008.

[5] "Mobile phone use booms in Cuba following easing of restrictions,"
Agence France-Presse, April 24, 2008.

[6] Cellular News, http://www.cellular-news.com/story/35917.php?s=h,
Accessed March 18, 2008.

[7] "Mobile phone use booms in Cuba following easing of restrictions,"
Agence France-Presse, April 24, 2008.

[8] ETECSA: Empressa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., www.enet.cu,
Accessed March 20, 2009.

[9] Joven Clubs de La Computacion, http://www.cfg.jovenclub.cu/,
Accessed March 20, 2009.

[10] ETECSA: Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.

[11] Infomed, www.sld.cu, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[12] Ministry of Information Science and Communication,
http://www.mic.gov.cu/, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[13] "In Raul Castro's reforms in Cuba, internet remains restricted,"
Agence-France-Presse, May 17, 2008,
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gbs2d7rh33vYKZ6hp3xAwhA4BXvQ,
Accessed March 20, 2009.

[14] For instance, Government sources cite the cost of 4 million US$/yr
to connect to the Internet through these satellites. From this, local
sources affirm that 850K US$/yr are just to connect a local association
of artists and writers.

[15] "Cuba to get high-speed Internet in 2010," Techweb, July 17, 2008

[16] Ibid.

[17] "Access impeded to Internet platform hosting popular blogs, other
websites," March 31, 2008,
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92118/,Accessed March 20, 2009.

[18] ONI report on Cuba, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/cuba,
Accessed March 12, 2009.

[19] "Cuba: More Bloggers are Firing Off Thoughts From the Island,"
Inter Press Service, October 6, 2008.

[20] "Cuban writers angered by resurfacing of censor," January 16,
2007,
http://www.caribbeannetnews.com/cgi-script/csArticles/articles/000051/005155.htm
, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[21] "Artists' congress marks more changes in Cuba," April 5, 2008,
http://www2.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=c97b6387-8824-4198-8910-9cc9b06ac8c6,
Accessed March 20, 2009. and Arturo Gracía Hernàndez, "Interview with
Abel Prieto, Cuban Minister of Culture,"
www.embacu.cubaminrex.cu/Portals/7/Interview.doc , Accessed March 20, 2009.

[22] Article 53, available at
http://www.cubanet.org/ref/dis/const_92_e.htm, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[23] Article 39, d), available at
http://www.cubanet.org/ref/dis/const_92_e.htm, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[24 See – Protection of Cuba's National Independency and economy.
http://cpj.org/reports/2008/03/laws.php

[25] Cuba – Telecoms Market Overview & Statistics 2008.

[26] Freedom of the Press, Cuba 2008,
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&year=2008 , Accessed
March 12, 2009.

[27] Reporters Without Borders, March 16, 2006,
http://www.r
sf.org/article.php3?id_article=16771
, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[28] "Cuba v. the Bloggers," PoliBlog, December 6, 2008.

[29] Global Voices Online, Cuba Government Officials Tell Bloggers to
Cancel Planned Meeting, December 6, 2008,
http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/12/06/cuba-government-officials-tell-bloggers-to-cancel-planned-meeting/
, Accessed March 20, 2009.

[30] Mother Jones,
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/12/cubas-blogger-crackdown,
Accessed March 20, 2009.

[31] "Cuba refuses to give blogger visa to collect prize," Agence
France Press, May 6, 2008.

Freedom on the Net: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media
freedomhouse.org: Special Report Section (23 June 2009)
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=384&key=199&parent=19&report=79

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