Protests in Egypt Spark Fears in Cuba Over Growing Internet Opposition Movements
Protests in Egypt Spark Fears in Cuba Over Growing Internet Opposition
By Serafin Gomez
Published February 11, 2011
Peering at the upheaval thousands of miles away in Egypt, the Cuban
government is increasingly concerned about a burgeoning opposition
movement growing through the Internet.
"We do see instances of repression starting since the Egyptian upheaval.
There have been brutal beatings on dissidents," said Susel Perez, of the
Cuba Transition Project, at the University of Miami. " It is a direct
sign from the Cuban government that this is something that will not be
tolerated on the island."
In a 53-minute video leaked last week, a Cuban counter-intelligence
staffer warned an audience of Castro government officials that
pro-Democracy organizers in Cuba and the United States were using social
media, like Facebook and Twitter, to foment a political uprising in the
"The technology in itself is not a threat, but the threat is what the
people who use the technology can do with it," the lecturer said in the
video, identified by the Miami Herald as 38-year-old Eduardo
Fontes-Suarez. "The Internet is a battlefield."
The video lecture was purportedly shot over the summer, months before
the situation exploded in Egypt. The impetus behind the unrest was a
Facebook page created to honor a young Egyptian man allegedly murdered
by corrupt police.
During the lecture, Fontes-Suarez directly blamed the U.S. government
for coordinating the new Internet push and says Cuban bloggers like
Yoani Sanchez — creator of "Generacion Y," a blog critical of the Cuban
regime — are part of a U.S. campaign to overthrow the Castro government.
"A network of mercenaries is being organized that are not like the
traditional counter revolution," Fontes-Suarez said. "We are talking
about young people. Young people who hang out with our children."
But the Cuban government has taken steps that seemingly contradict the
premise that they fear the Internet. On Tuesday, Cuban authorities
recently unblocked Sanchez' blog, allowing it to be accessed and read
within the island for the first time.
The reason may be that the authoritarian regime has such tight control
of Cuba's Internet and those who access it — much firmer than Egypt's
Mubarak government– that they believe they could clamp down on any
"It is always hard to predict what ends up bringing down a
dictatorship," said Dr. Susan Kaufman Purcell, a Latin American expert
at the University of Miami. " The Cuban government is fearful, and they
have always been fearful of the impact of social media, that is why they
control it so much."
The overwhelming majority of Cubans do not have Internet access.
According to recent statistics, there are only about 1.5 million
Internet users out of 11 million in Cuba – just 14 percent.
According to the CIA's world fact book, private citizens in Cuba are
prohibited from buying computers or accessing the Internet without
special authorization. Some Cubans buy illegal passwords on the black
market or take advantage of public outlets to access limited e-mail and
the government-controlled intranet.
"The problem is access. In Egypt, there is much broader access to the
Internet. You had numbers that go into the street that could make it
difficult," Purcell says. "Cuba is a much more closed society than Egypt
and many other Middle East countries."
In the few audience shots of the leaked video, Cuban officials in
military uniforms intently watch as Fontes-Suarez brings up the case of
American Alan Gross, who is facing 20 years in a Cuban jail for
allegedly supplying satellite phones to Cuban-Jewish communities, as an
example of the United States helping dissidents expand Internet access.
"Social media sites are the basis of all the actions being taken against
Cuba, " Fontes-Suarez says. "But being a blogger is not a bad thing.
They have their bloggers and we will have ours. We are going to fight
and see which of them will be stronger."
On Wednesday, a Cuban official announced a major achievement in
increasing the weak Internet strength on the island nation that sits
just 90 miles away from Florida beaches: an underwater fiber-optic
cable, across 1,000 miles, which links Cuba to Venezuela and promises
faster Internet and telephone service to Cuba.
Sanchez questioned whether the move would do more to increase
communication options for Cubans or increase opportunities for the
government to monopolize communication, but it probably will do both.
"This international connection looks like it's more destined to control
us rather than to interconnect us," Sanchez wrote, according to The Wall
Street Journal. But Chavez also predicted that hours of Internet access
would end up being sold on Cuba's infamous black market.
"With authorization or without it, the hours of connectivity will end up
on sale, in a country where the diversion of resources is a daily
occurrence, and a strategy for survival," she wrote.