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    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.

    As a result, the regime has intensified its crackdown on
    groups in an attempt to ensure that what is happening in Cairo
    will not happen in Havana, according to some observers.

    "We do see instances of starting since the Egyptian upheaval.
    There have been brutal beatings on dissidents," said Susel Perez, of the
    Cuba Transition Project, at the 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
    island nation.

    "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 .

    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 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 , 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 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 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.