HAVANA, February (http://www.cubanet.org) The recent news that the government was getting ready to move against unauthorized Internet connections shook many here who had somehow contrived to get online.
In the last few years, the government took hurried, definite steps to
move the country toward the information age. It acquired thousands of
computers to be used in schools. It put in place a digital cable from one
end of the island to the other. It opened up a computation university
at the former Soviet electronic listening base at Lourdes.
The Cuban Post Office, which is nominally in charge of telephone
communications, offers e-mail service in cybercafes that have been set up in every municipality’s post office and even some free-standing ones. But
at present very few of these are operational. The computers installed
in these cybercafes belong to the TuIsla (Your Island) system, an
intranet that allows limited e-mail service.
Etecsa, the joint venture telephone company, offers access to Internet
and e-mail, but only to foreigners. The company’s service, called Enet,
operates small stores where they sell telephones, offer international
long distance, videoconferencing, and sell Internet access cards for 15
dollars, again only to foreigners.
The exposure, even if indirect, only whet Cubans’ appetite to surf the
Web and there arose a black market for computers and an underground net of sorts. About a year ago, a Cuban could secure a connection by
paying, in dollars, for an “international connection” for his phone, getting
a foreigner to front for him to buy a 15-dollar Internet card, and
installing a computer at home.
The best estimates are that by the end of 2003, beginning of 2004,
there were more than 40,000 such clandestine connections to the Internet.
Some used the 15-dollar cards, others bought passwords from people who
have them because they work at a foreign company.
The new regulations call for detecting these clandestine connections,
confiscating the equipment, levying a fine, and disconnecting the user’s
More likely than not, everyone who had one of those clandestine
connections to the Web has already taken it down.
A call to Etecsa this morning yielded the information that the 15-dollar Internet connection cards are no longer being sold.
The only remaining possibility right now for Cubans to log on is to
discretely buy an access card in a quiet hotel that has a cybercafe,
usually consisting of a computer on a table next to the bar, at a cost of 6
dollars for one hour’s use. This entails, of course, walking into a
hotel intended for foreigners only, so anyone who doesn’t look the part,
may find the entrance barred.
Officially, Internet usage in Cuba is controlled by a statute enacted
at the end of the 90s. Two-and-a-half years ago, in a flurry of
activity, the government started offering e-mail service, chatting for the
masses, but lately there has been a hasty retreat from that policy.
The irony behind it all is that after being the beneficiaries of a
campaign for computer literacy, Cubans will only be allowed to open