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Geopolitics

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

-Analysis-

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 Paradoxreveals 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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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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