Dear Editor: Having read Luis Zuleta’s letter about freedom in Cuba and Venezuela, I have some further information to add regarding internet in Cuba. The best summary of the situation I have yet read is in Walter Lippman’s excellent article “Two Months in Cuba” in which you find:
“Almost no Cubans have internet access at home. Cubans have had e-mail access and computer training for two decades through computer youth clubs and schools. They had to wait for a connection to the internet, which became available in October, 1996. This opened up the graphical world and instant delivery. They have had internet e-mail, both domestic (for more people) and international (for fewer people), for many years prior to 1996.”
Only a few journalists, doctors and other scientists have e-mail at home. To check e-mail from elsewhere, foreigners have to use an internet cafe, such as the one at the Capitolio, where access is both slow and expensive at $5.00 an hour. You must present your passport, which is logged in at the desk, and Cubans can’t access the internet there. Students have net access at the University, but I wasn’t able to see under what conditions or limits.
Some Cubans have internet access at work. They are mostly people who work for foreign companies. Many Cubans have e-mail at their jobs, though without internet access. These limits are explained by the expense of the equipment (starting with computers), limited bandwidth and security considerations. The domestic Cuban intranet, however, has been built up over the last 20 years and is extensive. In a country where telephone service has been mostly unreliable, many businesses and universities use e-mail via the Cuban intranet to communicate.
A campaign that began in the Washington Post in December, 2000 claims that Cuba deliberately limits internet access to its citizens. It is hypocritical for the US, which does whatever it can to prevent Cuban access to technology, equipment and much else, to complain about this. Cuba is still a relatively poor Third World country. Its hard currency resources are kept for the highest priorities: health, education and self-preservation. Internet access is growing, but not as quickly as one would like. It’s far less widely available than in the US, where income rather than need is what decides.
All governments fear uncontrolled information ... in the US, we are drowned with massive amounts of information. By this means, important information (like favorable materials about Cuba!) can be drowned out where not eliminated totally.
Anyone seriously concerned about expanding access to the internet in Cuba should speak out to end the blockade. If Cuba didn’t have to do so much to defend itself, and if Cuba were free to purchase computers and all the technology needed with it, internet access would be far more available there than it is at present. And Cubans might begin to purchase software that they currently cannot buy legally from US companies.
More importantly, when the internet is “opened” and made more available in Cuba, I can’t imagine it would EVER be like it is in the USA. There will NOT be 11 million people sitting alone at home at 11 million individual terminals. Remember, Cubans still share phone lines. That will continue, and so will sharing of internet resources ... this is as much a cultural phenomenon as a resource-related one.
Cuba isn’t interested in giving everybody individual internet access. The whole society is more communal and collective than that. It is much more likely that, with unlimited access and resources just handed to them, Cubans would work out a community-based kind of access. CDRs and schools and community centers and clinics will be used for internet access, not each individual home. One beginning effort they are making is to put public terminals at post offices.
Living in the US where internet access is relatively inexpensive, I have a high-speed DSL connection, and I don’t pay attention to how long my computer stays connected. In Cuba, where access was $5.00 an hour for a slow connection at the Capitolio internet cafe, I had to carefully assess the value of what I was reading. Much and sometimes most of what I get in e-mail is junk, so I found myself deleting most of what I received in Cuba without reading it.
Cuba is willing to trade with anyone who will trade with it. I noticed that many of the computer monitors in the Capitolio, and elsewhere, were of Israeli manufacture. Cuba’s vigorous support for the Palestinians doesn’t keep it from having economic relations with Israel, which maintains a very low profile on the island.”
Regarding undeniable intolerant aspects of the Cuban revolution one has to consider a similar intolerance in the exile Cuban community in Miami. People there celebrate terrorists like Orlando Bosch who organized the blowing up of a civilian Cuban airliner and killed 73 people as some kind of heroes. A left-leaning radio station such as Radio Progreso Alternativa has had to suffer all kinds of sabotage. The hard-liners of this right-wing extremist community have for more than forty years struggled to convince the US government to invade Cuba (the failed Bay of Pigs invasion is one blatant example of this).
So I think it is not surprising that Cuba sometimes takes harsh measures to defend its sovereignty. Regarding dissidents: There are many dissident organizations that are not financed by the US and that are tolerated by the Cuban government. Cuba ... even according to dissidents ... have rather few political prisoners. In fact many US supported regimes have many more. According to Wayne S. Smith, former head of the US interest section in Havana under Jimmy Carter, Cuba is gradually developing into a more open society. There is for example freedom of religion (unlike in Vietnam or China) and many Christian organizations have their own publications that are by no means being censored.
And finally: If Cuba were such a tyranny, why do almost all of those thousands of doctors who spend two years working in Latin American countries, return to Cuba when they have finished their job. Why don’t they escape to such wonderful free democratic countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua which have been dominated by the USA for decades and have had such a wonderful social and economic development?
In Venezuela the Chavez government has done a lot to make internet available to everyone in public institutions, so I cannot see that Luis Zuleta could possibly have anything to complain about there.