Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuba: Freedom on the Net 2011 – Freedom House

    FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net 2011


    2009 2011
    Obstacles to Access 25 24
    Limits on Content 30 30
    Violations of User Rights 33 33
    Total 88 87

    POPULATION: 11.3 million


    Despite a slight loosening of restrictions on the sale of computers in
    2008 and the important growth of mobile-phone infrastructure in 2009 and
    2010, Cuba remains one of the world's most repressive environments for
    the internet and other information and communication technologies
    (ICTs). There is almost no access to internet applications other than
    e-mail, and surveillance is extensive, including special software
    designed to monitor and control many of the island's public
    internet-access points.1
    Cuba was connected to the internet for the first time in 1996, 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. Nevertheless, a growing community
    of bloggers has consolidated their work, creatively using online and
    offline means to express opinions and spread information about
    conditions in the country. 2


    According to the last official report on the website of the National
    Statistics Office, there were 1.6 million internet users in Cuba in
    2009, representing 14.2 percent of the population.
    3 However, only 2.9 percent of Cubans access the internet regularly and
    5.8 percent routinely use email. Most internet users are only able to
    connect to a government intranet rather than the internet proper. Some
    sources estimate that only 200,000 residents have access to the world
    wide web.4
    Most individuals who are able to access internet face extremely slow
    connections, making the use of multimedia applications nearly
    impossible. In January 2010, the government announced that it had
    expanded the national bandwidth and achieved a 10 percent increase in
    international connectivity. According to official data, Cuba now has
    speeds of 209 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 379 Mbps
    for uploading. 5
    Cuba continues to blame the U.S. for its connectivity problems,
    saying it must use a slow, costly satellite connection system and is
    limited in the space it can buy. But in 2009, in a move that eased some
    aspects of Washington's prolonged sanctions on trade with Cuba,
    President Barack Obama allowed U.S. telecommunications firms to enter
    into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite
    telecommunication facilities linking the and Cuba and to
    enter into roaming agreements with Cuban providers. However, these
    high-speed connections are not available to regular users and officials
    also noted that the government's plans did not include fostering private
    use of the internet. 6
    Cuba's leaders reiterated their demand for a complete end to the
    embargo, and official media ignored this important change in the U.S.
    legal framework. The bilateral relationship was affected by another
    incident in 2009 that touched directly on the lack of open internet
    access in Cuba. On December 4, the Cuban authorities arrested an
    American independent contractor, Alan Gross, who was in the country to
    set up individual satellite-based internet connections as part of a U.S.
    government–funded project.
    The Cuban government maintains tight control over the sale and
    distribution of internet-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. This policy changed in early 2008, when
    the government began allowing Cubans to buy personal computers, and
    individuals can now legally connect to an ISP with a government permit.
    However, this permit is granted only to certain people, mostly Cuban
    officials or "trusted journalists." High costs also put internet access
    beyond the reach of most of the population. A simple computer with a
    monitor averages around 722 convertible pesos (US$780) in retail
    outlets, or at least 550 convertible pesos (US$594) on the black market.
    7 By comparison, the average monthly Cuban salary is approximately 16
    convertible pesos (US$17).8 Computers are generally distributed by the
    state-run Copextel Corporation, which imports ICT equipment.
    Approximately 31 percent of Cubans report having access to a computer,
    but 85 percent of those said that the computers were located at work or
    Cuba still has the lowest mobile-phone penetration rate in Latin
    America, but the number is rising fast. There were 443,000 active
    mobile-phone subscriptions in 2009, a huge increase since 2004 when that
    figure was approximately 75,400. An internet connection in a hotel costs
    between 6 and 12 convertible pesos per hour.
    10 In part because family members frequently share a mobile phone, it is
    estimated that the total number of users currently exceeds one million.11
    In another step to increase affordability, the state-owned
    telecommunications firm ETECSA announced a series of rate modifications
    in April 2010. The government eased restrictions on mobile-phone
    purchases in March 2008, and reduced the sign-up fee by more than half,
    though it still represents three months' wages for the average worker.
    12 Per-minute rates for calls on prepaid accounts will be reduced from
    0.65 convertible pesos to 0.45 convertible pesos, except for 11:00 p.m.
    to 7:00 a.m., when a 0.10 convertible peso rate will apply. Also,
    international long-distance rates will fall, for both mobile and
    fixed-line accounts, by between 42 and 75 percent. Calls to the Western
    Hemisphere will now cost 1.60 convertible pesos per minute, except for
    the United States (1.85) and Venezuela (1.40), and calls to the rest of
    the world will be 1.80 per minute.13
    In addition, a scheme will be introduced whereby either the caller or
    the call recipient will be able to indicate that they will pay the
    entire charge for a call. Ordinarily, both parties to a call pay 0.45
    convertible pesos per minute, but under the new scheme, the party taking
    on the whole charge will pay 0.60 convertible pesos per minute.
    Activation fees for new accounts have fallen from 120 to 60 to 40
    convertible pesos. Cuba has roaming agreements with 306 carriers in 128
    countries, and 2.2 million people used those services in Cuba in 2010.14
    The island's mobile network already covers 70 percent of Cuban
    territory, and further expansions are planned.15
    In November 2010, after a series of delays, the government announced
    that the fiber-optic cable being installed between Cuba, Venezuela, and
    Jamaica to improve the island's internet connection would become
    available in January 2011. When the cable becomes fully functional, it
    is expected to dramatically improve the internet speed on the island and
    make it easier to access multimedia content. However, it is unlikely
    that the cable will enable significant network expansion and bring the
    internet to a greater number of Cubans. Most mobile phones do not
    include internet connections, but it is possible to send and receive
    international text messages and photographs with certain phones. 16
    The 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. 17 Cubans can legally access the internet only through
    government-approved institutions, such as the approximately 600 Joven
    Clubs de Computación (Youth Computer Clubs) and points of access run by
    In June 2009, the government adopted a new law (Resolution No. 99/2009)
    allowing the Cuban Postal Service, which is controlled under the domain
    of the Ministry of Computers and Communications, to establish cybercafes
    at its premises and offer internet access to the public. Users are
    generally required to present identification to use computers at these
    sites. 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 offering public
    phones for local and international calls with prepaid phone cards. The
    government also claims that all schools have computer laboratories,
    while in practice internet access is usually prohibited for students or
    limited to e-mail and supervised activities on the national intranet.19
    However, home connections are not yet allowed for the vast majority of
    Cubans and only those favored by the government are able to access the
    internet from their own homes.
    One segment of the population that enjoys approved access to the
    internet is the professional class of doctors, professors, and
    government officials. Facilities like hospitals, polyclinics, research
    institutions, and local doctors' offices are linked by an online network
    called Infomed. However, even these users are typically restricted to
    e-mail and sites related to their occupations. 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 unauthorized points of connection in old Havana. Some
    social-networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are accessible
    in cybercafes and other location, although with varying
    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.20


    Rather than engaging in the technically sophisticated blocking and
    filtering used by other repressive regimes in countries like 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 El Nuevo Herald (a Miami-based Spanish-language
    daily)—and groups like Amnesty International,
    Watch, and Freedom House remain largely accessible, though slow
    connection speeds impede access to the content on these sites.21 Some
    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, or other politically sensitive issues.22 Blogs and
    other sites with content written by Cubans residing in Cuba—such as the
    blogging platform Voces Cubanas and the Bitácora Cubana blog—are also
    inaccessible. Sites such as,,, and the Association for Freedom of the Press also
    cannot be accessed at youth computer centers.23 Even, a
    platform for classified advertisements that has no direct association
    with politics, has been censored.24
    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 authorized and non-authorized 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 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. Some cases of Cuban activists using mobile
    phones or text messaging to organize events or disseminate political
    information have been reported. There is a thriving improvisational
    system of "sneakernets," in which USB keys and data discs are used to
    distribute material (articles, prohibited photos, satirical cartoons,
    video clips) that has been downloaded from the internet or stolen from
    government offices.
    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 Sánchez's famous blog Generación Y, which draws 26 percent
    of its readers from within Cuba, as well as sites like Retazos, Nueva
    Prensa, and Convivencia. Regional radio stations and magazines are also
    creating online versions, though these 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, albeit censored.
    Yoani Sánchez has become the most visible figure in a blogging movement
    that uses new media to report on daily life and conditions in Cuba that
    violate basic freedoms. She and other online writers—including Claudia
    Cadelo, Miriam Celaya, Orlando Luis Pardo, Reinaldo Escobar, Laritza
    Diversent, and Luis Felipe Rojas—have come together on the Voces Cubanas
    blogging platform to portray a reality that the official media ignore,
    earning broad support throughout society that resulted in the government
    shutting down the platform. They have even made it "trendy" to exercise
    the right to free expression. Young people are increasingly using the
    Twitter microblogging service and mobile phones to document repression,
    as well as to spread leaks of prohibited information. These have
    included reports from a closed-door meeting at the Communist Party's
    Central Committee headquarters, news on freezing and starvation deaths
    in a psychiatric , and explicit videos of student protests and
    police beatings. 25
    Unable to completely suppress dissident activity on the internet through
    legal and infrastructural constraints, the authorities have taken a
    number of countermeasures within the medium itself. Government entities
    maintain a major presence on the social networks, and they have relied
    on trusted students at the University of Computer Sciences to help fight
    the "internet campaigns against Cuba." The authorities have also created
    official blogs designed to slander and criticize the independent
    bloggers. 26


    The legal structure in Cuba is not favorable to internet freedom. The
    constitution explicitly subordinates to the objectives
    of socialist society,27 and freedom of cultural expression is guaranteed
    only if the expression is not contrary to the Revolution.28 The penal
    code and Law 88 set penalties ranging from a few months to 20 years in
    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."29
    In 1996, the government passed Decree-Law 209, 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." 30
    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 In 2007, Resolution 127 on network security
    banned the spreading via public data-transmission networks of
    information that is against the social interest, norms of good behavior,
    the integrity of people, or national security. The decree requires
    access providers to install controls that will enable them to detect and
    prevent the proscribed activities, and to report them to the relevant
    authorities. revoked.
    Resolution 179/2008 requires all ISPs to censor materials viewed in
    conflict with state security or contrary to social interests, ethics,
    and morals. Specifically, it authorizes ETESCA to "take the necessary
    steps to prevent access to sites whose contents are contrary to social
    interests, ethics and morals, as well as the use of applications that
    affect the integrity or security of the State." The resolution, which
    also spells out the requirements and procedures to become an ISP,
    requires ISPs to register and retain the addresses of all traffic for at
    least a year. 31
    Cuban customs regulations specifically prohibit the entry of any phones
    that use the Global Position System (GPS) or satellite connections. 32.
    The government continues to repress independent journalism and blogging
    with fines, searches, the confiscation of money and equipment. There
    have been a few cases in which online journalists were imprisoned for
    their work, most notably two correspondents for One of them
    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." More recent is the case of Dania
    Virgen Garcia, a and journalist, who was arrested in April 2010
    and sentenced to 20 months in prison on arbitrary charges; the
    authorities released her a few weeks following the arrest. 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. The government routes most connections through proxy servers
    and is able to obtain all user names and passwords through special
    monitoring software Avila Link, which is installed at most ETECSA and
    public access points. In addition, delivery of e-mail messages is
    consistently delayed, and it is not unusual for a message to arrive
    without its attachments.
    Prominent bloggers and activists face a variety of other forms of
    harassment and intimidation. In May 2008, during a public trial of
    dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque, state television and Granma
    showed evidence of government hacking of dissidents' Yahoo! accounts.33
    Bloggers have been summoned for questioning, reprimanded, and had their
    domestic and international travel rights restricted.34
    Luis Felipe Rojas, a blogger who documents human rights abuses, was
    taken for questioning and detained on numerous occasions, most recently
    in August 2010.35 Moreover, in recent years, the Cuban government
    refused on multiple occasions to issue Yoani Sánchez a travel visa that
    would have allowed her to receive various prizes or honors overseas.36
    Similarly, in May 2010, the government denied another blogger, Claudia
    Cadelo, a permission to leave Cuba to attend an international gathering
    of bloggers in Germany.37


    1 "Prestaciones efectivas para redes informáticas" [Effective Features
    for Computer Networks], Radio Surco, April 11, 2009,; Danny O'Brien, "The
    Malware Lockdown in Havana and Hanoi,"CPJ Blog, June 8, 2010,
    2 Ben Corbett, This Is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives (Cambridge, MA:
    Westview Press, 2002), 145.
    3 National Statistics Office, Republic of Cuba, Tecnologías de la
    Información y las Comunicaciones en Cifras: Cuba 2009 [Information and
    Communication Technologies in Figures: Cuba 2009] (Havana: National
    Statistics Office, May 2010),
    4 Ray Sanchez, "Cuba Cutting Internet Access," Sun Sentinel, May 7,
    Reporters Without Borders, http://www,rsf.irg/article.php3?!id_article26096.
    5 Amaury E. del Valle, "Cuba, la red sigue creciendo" [Cuba, the Network
    Continues to Grow], Juventud Rebelde, January 6, 2010,
    6 "Fact Sheet: Reaching Out to the Cuban People," The White House:
    Office of the Press Secretary, April 13, 2009,
    7 "Cubans Queue for Computers as PC Ban Lifted, But Web Still Outlawed,"
    Irish Examiner, May 5, 2008.
    8 "Mobile Phone Use Booms in Cuba Following Easing of Restrictions,"
    Agence France-Presse, April 24, 2008.
    9 9 National Statistics Office, Republic of Cuba, Tecnologías de la
    Información y las Comunicaciones en Cifras: Cuba 2009 [Information and
    Communication Technologies in Figures: Cuba 2009]
    10 There were 327,000 subscriptions in 2007. International
    Telecommunications Union (ITU), "ICT Statistics 2009—Mobile Cellular
    11 "ETESCA mobile phone users cross million mark,",
    July 14, 2010
    12 The website of ETECSA, or Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA,
    can be found at .
    13 Amaury E. del Valle, "Rebajarán tarifas para llamadas de telefonía
    móvil en Cuba" [Prices for Mobile Telephone Calls Will Fall in Cuba],
    Juventud Rebelde, April 21, 2010,
    14 Ibid.
    15 Nick Miroff, "Getting Cell Phones Into Cuban Hands," Global Post, May
    17, 2010,
    16 Ellery Biddle, "Cuba: Fiber Optic Cable May Not Bring Greater
    Internet Access," Global Voices, November 19, 2010,
    17 ETECSA: Empressa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.,,
    Accessed August 28, 2010.
    18 See the club system's website at
    19 Resolution No. 99/2009 was published in the Official Gazette on June
    29, 2009)
    20 The ministry's website can be found at
    21 Reporters Without Borders, "Free Expression Must Go With Better
    Communications, Says Reporters Without Borders as Blogs Prove Hard to
    Access," news release, March 31, 2008,,26396.html.
    22 OpenNet Initiative, "Country Profiles: Cuba," May 9, 2007,
    23 Bitácorea Cubana can be found at; the
    Association for Freedom of the Press (Asociación pro de Prensa)
    can be found at
    24 Marc Lacy, "A Black Market Finds a Home in the Web's Back Alleys,"
    New York Times, January 3, 2010,
    25 For example, see the videos of a August 2008 police beating and
    October 2009 student protest posted on YouTube:, Also, pictures
    of malnutritioned patient bodies from a local hospital on the Penúltimos
    Días blog
    26 A few examples include Cambios en Cuba,; Yohandry's weblog,; and the official bloggers platform
    27 Article 53, available at, accessed July 23, 2010.
    28 Article 39, d), available at, accessed July 23, 2010.
    29 Committee to Protect Journalists, "International Guarantees and Cuban
    Law," special report, March 1, 2008,
    30 Cuba – Telecoms Market Overview & Statistics 2008.
    31"Internet En Cuba : Reglamento Para Los Proveedores De Servicos De
    Acceso A Internet" (Internet in Cuba: Regulations for Internet Service
    accessed on August 28, 2010.
    32 See the website of Aduana General de la Republica de Cuba (Cuban
    33 Deisy Francis Mexidor, "Presentan evidencias irrefutables sobre
    actividad subversiva de Estados Unidos contra Cuba" [Irrefutable
    Evidence Is Presented of Subversive Activity Against Cuba], Granma, May
    19, 2008,
    34 Steven L. Taylor, "Cuba vs. the Bloggers," PoliBlog, December 6,
    2008,; Eduardo
    Avila, "Cuba: Government Officials Tell Bloggers to Cancel Planned
    Meeting," Global Voices Advocacy, December 6, 2008,;
    Marc Cooper, "Cuba's Blogger Crackdown," Mother Jones, December 8, 2008,
    35 For more information, see Rojas' blog Crossing the Barbed Wire,
    36 "Cuba Refuses to Give Blogger Visa to Collect Prize," Agence
    France-Presse, May 6, 2008. On Yoani Sanchez being denied visa to Brazil
    on July 2010 see
    On Yoani Sánchez denied visa to travel to receive a special recognition
    from the Maria Moors Cabot Prize committee in New York on October 2009
    37 Claudia Cadelo, "Confessions Regarding Utopian Journey," translated
    by Octavo Cerco, May 12, 2010,