Let's face it, most of us rely on the internet on a daily basis to go about communicating, working and even spending a lot of our leisure time. In Cuba, however, it is only the elite and tourists that are graced with a privilege such as internet access. According to a UN study, a meagre 2.1% of Cubans have internet access. First of all, your average Cuban can't afford the extortionate prices and if they can, it's extremely unlikely that they'll get much done because the connection speed is so excruciatingly slow. According to a Reporters Without Borders investigation, the "international connection" costs a third of your average cuban's monthly wage and in an hour "you can read three emails and three google news stories," if you're lucky. The "national connection" is more affordable, but is painstakingly slow and limited to email access only. So why the delay in releasing a Cuba 2.0? Is it an intentional policy of the government to deprive their citizens of another outlet for dissidence or to make sure their minds aren't soiled by any of the counter-revolutionary material available at the surfers' fingertips? Maybe it's simply due to a lack of funding? Probably a mix of both.
Cuba has a thriving but subtle clandestine press full of budding independent journalists who risk their own freedom all in the name of the right to freedom of speech and the right to know. Demotix accommodates and helps some of these brave Cubans, who put their neck on the line to disseminate information about the darker side of the repressive regime. For instance, we recently received a story which reported the arrest and detention of several membersCuba of the Women in White civil rights organisation on International Women's Day.
One thing is the Cuban blogosphere, another is the Cuban diaspora blogosphere. Whereas the cuban diaspora face no such problems as censorship, boast a massive readership and receive awards, Cuban bloggers on the other hand face strict monitoring and can receive a 20 year prison sentence for publishing anything that is deemed as "counter-revolutionary." Private internet connections are banned because it is easier to monitor users through public internet connections. All computers and laptops are state-owned and therefore installed with software which detects subversive key-words. The government relies on people to implement the practice of self-censorship, not dissimilar to what countless journalists have faced in countries such as Iran and China.
Cuba's communications minister,Ramiro Valdes, recently voiced his opinion on how Cuba is trailing behind the rest of the world in internet development
using an old soviet satellite for its connection and aims to expand internet access by 2010. He said the US trade embargo is to blame for rendering the fibre optic cables from Florida "out of bounds." So once again, it's a case of Chávez to the rescue. Cuba will hopefully be using Venezuela's 930 mile-long fibre optics cable which is nearing completion and should be ready by next year.
Unsurprisingly, the Cuban government's reluctance to expand internet access highlights a reciprocal mistrust with its own people. It is a rather daunting prospect for a regime that has been in power for over 50 years to suddenly loosen its grip on the monopoly of news and information. China is more than likely to provide Cuba with some of its internet surveillance technology and expertise, which it has already shared with other repressive regimes. Whether a Cuba 2.0 will result in a similar set up to China's militantly monitored internet censorship is another issue worth considering. Nonetheless, despite China being one of the most repressive regimes in the world, it is also home to the world's second largest blogging community after Iran. Hopefully Cuba will follow suit and we'll see a bigger participation from Cubans in citizen journalism.