WiFi-Free In Old Havana, A Perfect Post-Modern Getaway

It's taken a few days to accept, but Cuba's less-than-ideal WiFi situation may be a blessing in disguise for one Argentine visitor.

Some hotels in La Havana sell Wifi cards for tourists
Some hotels in La Havana sell Wifi cards for tourists
Diana Pazos


HAVANA — It is a June night in Old Havana, with a waning moon and temperatures a steamy 29 °C. A few meters from Obispo, a shopping street, two Japanese tourists are crouching at the entrance of a palatial building turned five-star hotel, staring at their smartphones.

Next comes a man from Buenos Aires, desperate to check his e-mail, add a couple of "likes' to his Facebook page and send someone a WhatsApp to say how much he is enjoying his holidays in Havana. He arrives all sweaty from another luxury hotel. The Argentine wasn't a guest there either, so wasn't allowed into the lobby to check his mail. But in this hotel, anyone can bring a laptop or phone to surf the web, albeit only until 10 p.m., when the lobby closes to non-guests. It's after 10, so like the Japanese tourist, he does his surfing on the sidewalk.

Back in Argentina he uses a desktop computer for his Internet needs and criticizes people who are married to their smartphones. Now, though, he's sitting in front of this Havana hotel and staring at a screen without taking note of the two Cubans playing chess on the tree-lined Paseo del Prado. He doesn't hear the sound of that classic song "Dos Gardenias," with its finely tuned voices, playing somewhere nearby. Nor has he noticed the driver of a Fiat 125 taxi and his USB packed full of reggaeton music.

The man won't go into the bar across the way that offers salsa classes. He won't sip a guarapo a kind of cane sugar squash on San Francisco de Asís square. And he won't find out that the antiques and used books market on the Plaza de Armas has now moved closer to the port, where the cruise ships arrive.

The Argentine does know, however, that in Havana — like in Spain — they call WiFi "güifi." He has figured out too that tourists can connect in some of the expensive hotels of the colonial district after buying an ETECSA (the state telecommunications firm) card. It shows a user ID consisting of 12 numbers and another, difficult-to-remember number code, revealed when you scratch the card. The connection lasts an hour, is slow and sometimes breaks down.

By Sunday he might even wean himself off WhatsApp.

Some of the hotels sell the WiFi cards. Otherwise, getting one involves waiting in long lines at the state telephone company. But maybe there's a benefit to all that asking around for WiFi. It slows things down a bit. For the Argentine man, it offers a taste of life at an entirely different pace.

Maybe by Monday those oh-so-important tweets stop mattering as much. By Wednesday he might care bit less about what his friends think on Facebook. Perhaps on Friday he'll even be able to eat a meal without loading a picture of it onto Instagram. By Sunday he might even wean himself off WhatsApp.

With a little luck, his two-week holiday might — by the second week — actually become a vacation. Forget about WiFi for a while, and he just might make a meaningful connection with Havana.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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