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Cuba31 March 2008

Free expression must go with better communications, says Reporters Without Borders as blogs prove hard to access

Reporters Without Borders today expressed concern that Cuban Internet users are struggling to get access to blogs on the desdecuba.com platform that hosts, among others, one of the most popular in the country, Generación Y, a blog run by Yoani Sánchez.

The platform (www.desdecuba.com) has been inaccessible from public connection points in cybercafés and hotels since 2O March. The few private connections, used for professional reasons or in secret, take at least 20 minutes to download the home page. Editing and moderating posts has become impossible.

“It is hard to believe that after ten days desdecuba.com is simply having technical problems, even if there is a real problem getting an Internet connection from Cuba. This situation is in contradiction to recent steps taken by the authorities to ease access for Cubans to communications, especially the Internet,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“Since you cannot have one without the other, the promise of greater openness given by Raúl Castro must include greater freedom of expression.”

Desdecuba.com hosts an online review, Consenso, and six blogs, including Generación Y (http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony), created in April 2007 by Yoani Sánchez and regularly visited by large numbers of Cubans. More than one million Internet users visited the young blogger’s page in February 2008.

Elsewhere, there have been difficulties accessing http://www.cu.clasificados.com and http://www.revolico.net, both posting small advertisements. The public company ETECSA, Cuba’s sole access provider, has not provided any explanation.

The problems getting access to website pages comes at the end of a month marked by several announced decisions to ease private acquisition of some consumer goods. And on 28 March the government said it was allowing Cubans to buy mobile phones and that the entire population would have access to a mobile phone service. Three days earlier, it legalised the sale of computers, televisions and tape-recorders and authorised the import of DVDs. Moreover, from today, Cubans are allowed to go into hotels, which were previously reserved for foreigners, allowing them access to the international Internet network.

These steps are part of a policy of greater economic openness promoted by Raúl Castro, who officially took over as head of state from his brother, Fidel, on 24 February this year, after 20 months of interim power. He promised Cubans that he would put an end to “excessive bans and regulations”.

The Internet in Cuba is highly controlled. There is a “national” network which gives users an email address and allows them to send emails abroad but not to surf the net. The “international” network, which costs three times as much, gives access to foreign news websites like the BBC, Le Monde, and Nuevo Herald (Miami-based Spanish-language daily). But if you type in "google.fr", for example, you are redirected to the pages of the official Cuban newspaper Granma or the news agency Prensa Latina. Cuba figures on Reporters Without Borders’ list of “Internet Enemies” , which was released on 12 March 2008.



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