Cuba: Growing Internet Access Is About Money Not Freedom

People used social media to help organize the large, anti-government protests that took place on the island last July. And yet, unlike their counterparts in China, Cuban authorities are loath to prohibit access to such sites. Do the math.

Cuba: Growing Internet Access Is About Money Not Freedom

Internet access is finally available in Cuba, albeit with some limitations

Guillermo Nova/DPA/ZUMA Press
Farid Kahhat


Mobile phones, as the former Facebook executive Antonio García Martínez writes in his blog The Pull Request, were illegal in Cuba until 2008. Even after that, it took another decade before people were allowed to connect those phones to the internet. And more recently, on July 11 — when people held large protests (organized in large part online) — Cuban authorities blocked the internet for several hours.

Overall, however, internet access is finally available in Cuba, albeit with some limitations — for two reasons. The first is the expensive. An Amnesty International report titled Cuba's Internet Paradox reveals that the connection cost, as of 2017, was $1.50 per hour, a tremendous amount for people where the average monthly wage is roughly $25.

The other reason is censorship. The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) reports that in Cuba, web pages that criticize the government, discuss human rights or share techniques for evading censorship are blocked. The state telecommunications firm likewise censors text messages containing the words "democracy" or "hunger strike."

In Cuba, disrupting the internet comes at a steep price

The answer may come down to money, as shown by open-source database Yugabyte, which found that by cutting off the internet in July, even for just a few hours, the Cuban government lost some $13 million.

The reason is that internet access in Cuba is controlled by a state monopoly, the Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). And as shown by the hourly access rate, the company abuses its monopoly. A good part of ETECSA's revenue comes from cellphones and internet accounts paid by Cubans abroad to keep in touch with relatives on the island, and when the connection is cut, so is the revenue stream.

Emilio Morales, the head of Havana Consulting, which provides market information on Cuba, says the Cuban government's monthly earnings from Wi-Fi and mobile data are some $80 million. The internet is also used for remittances to the island, which are an important source of hard currency used to pay for food and medicine.

Cuban government's relative tolerance of the internet and social media, when compared with China, should not therefore be construed as a liberalizing step. Instead, it's yet another, and particularly blatant, sign of the shortcomings that have characterized Cuba's economy for decades.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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