Cuba’s Social Networks
December 3, 2011
HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 3 — Cuban authorities seem willing to embark on the
path of social networks, but they'll do so in their own style. They
propose creating internal networks on the island that will enable them
to maintain control over their operation and content, according to the
explanation given in a workshop on the topic.
Rosa Miriam Elizalde, the editor of the largest Cuban website
(Cubadebate), called for the "acceptance of technological challenge" and
the taking into account of new areas. She added, "I have no doubt that
if Jose Marti were alive today, he would be 'facebooking' and 'twittering.'"
For the moment, a Cuban Facebook has been born, called "Redsocial,"
managed by the Moa Metallurgical Institute. Apparently it will be
similar to the Intranet, a Cuban network with limited content that
substitutes for the Internet on the island.
Meanwhile the blog "Yohandry," the most officialist and mysterious — no
one knows its author — was announcing that soon there will be public
access to the network and with more affordable prices. He highlighted
that this will be because now the newly installed underwater cable
between Cuba and Venezuela "has no problems."
The Cuban government also plans to create affordable Internet cafes,
according to the pro-government blogger.
Despite the efforts of Cuban cybernauts to convince authorities of the
need to open up to cyberspace, mistrust persists. This was heard in the
words of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
At this workshop he explained, "The euphoria around social networks
coexists with the risk of regime change operations, which have
increased, as well as the threat to peace. These hazardous conditions
make it necessary and urgent that we appropriate these platforms."
The diplomat criticized the "information control" exercised by "those
who dominate the web." In fact Cuba is blocked from access to some
Internet services in search engines like Google, and the US government
spends millions of dollars to create clandestine networks across the island.
A US citizen, Alan Gross, was sentenced this year to 15 years in prison
for bringing illegal communications equipment into Cuba as part of a
multi-million dollar project funded by a US government agency.
A limited step
In any case, the efforts of cybernauts have made a dent in official
mistrust. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now has a Twitter page
and was the entity that convened the workshop on "Alternative Media and
Rosa Miriam Elizalde, one of the government's most knowledgeable
specialists in this field, said during the workshop that in a "cyberwar
— in the social or military sense of the term, if you prefer — a
cyber-defense can only be waged actively."
In plain terms for those who govern Cuba, she added that it's necessary
to begin articulating a concept about the issue "with the certainty that
the imperial model cannot be overcome in these new circumstances from a
position of ignorance or prejudice."
However, the official response still seems limited to attempting to
create local alternatives to global social networks, a mechanism that
has already been applied with little success in the creation of the
island's Intranet to substitute for the world wide web.
Finally, there's a technical problem. Due to limitations imposed by the
United States, Cuba has extremely limited and expensive Internet access.
It was thought that this would be remedied by the installation of the
underwater telephone cable between Cuba and Venezuela.
However "nothing has changed," said young Cuban blogger Roberto
Gonzalez. Speaking to BBC Mundo, he said, "Previously Cuba was linked
[to the Internet] by a satellite connection, so I could understand why
it was so slow, but now — six months after we've been linked by an
underwater cable connection — it's just as bad."
The national press isn't touching the issue. Only Yohandry's
pro-government blog indicated recently that there's no problem with the
cable – but without explaining why it still doesn't work, why some
senior-level project managers were arrested, or why others fled the country.