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Cuba13 February 2007

Minister blames US embargo for low number of Cubans online

Reporters Without Borders took issue today with comments by Cuban communications minister Ramiro Valdes yesterday describing the Internet as a “tool for global extermination” and as a “wild colt” that needed to be tamed.

Valdes also insisted that, if few Cubans were online, this was due to a US embargo that prevented Cuba from have decent Internet connections. In Reporters Without Borders’ view, it is in fact due to the Cuban government’s desire to control the flow of information throughout the country.

“The US embargo prevents Cuba from connecting to the Internet by underwater cable and this obviously does not favour development of the Internet, but we published a report in October that shows that the authorities deliberately restrict online access,” the press freedom organisation said.

“It would anyway have been astonishing if a country that has no independent radio or TV station or newspaper did allow unrestricted access to the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “We await the creation of a better Internet connection via Venezuela, as the minister announced, and we will then see if the government finally allows its citizens access to an uncensored Internet.”

Valdes made these comments, which were reported by the Associated Press, at the opening of a conference on communications technologies in Havana. He also accused the United States of using the Internet to “undermine the communist government.”

Going online in Cuba - Internet under surveillance (extract of the October 2006 report) :

"With less than 2 per cent of the population online, Cuba is one of the world’s most backward countries as regards Internet usage. The worst off by far in Latin America and with a thirteenth of Costa Rica’s usage, it is down there with Uganda or Sri Lanka. This is quite surprising in a country that boasts one of the highest levels of education in the world. The authorities blame this disastrous situation on the US trade embargo, which supposedly prevents them from getting the equipment they need for Internet development. In particular, they say they are unable to use underwater fibre optic cable to connect to the Internet outside Cuba and are therefore reduced to using costly and less effective satellite links.

This may indeed explain the slowness of the Cuban Internet and the endless lines outside Internet cafes. But in no way does it justify the system of control and surveillance that has been put in place by the authorities. In a country where the media are under the government’s thumb, preventing independent reports and information from circulating online has naturally become a priority.

An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders revealed that the Cuban government uses several mechanisms to ensure that the Internet is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” fashion. Firstly, the government has more or less banned private Internet connections. To visit websites or check their e-mail, Cubans have to use public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “Youth computing centers” where it is easier to monitor their activity. Then, the Cuban police has installed software on all computers in Internet cafes and big hotels that triggers an alert message when “subversive” key-words are noticed.

The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for its political opponents and independent journalists, for whom reaching news media abroad is an ordeal. The government also counts on self-censorship. In Cuba, you can get a 20-year prison sentence for writing a few “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites, and a five-year one just for connecting with the Internet in an illegal manner. Few people dare to defy the state censorship and take such a risk."

Read the full report


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