A new generation of independent female journalists is emerging in Cuba, despite ongoing censorship and repression. Cuba ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in the latest Freedom of the Press Index from Reporters Without Borders. Although internet access and economic freedoms have been growing following the 2013 US-Cuba détente, these changes have been accompanied by a human rights crackdown.
A “repressive wave of renewed brutality is sweeping the island,” according to a March statement from the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba . Yet despite this, outlets including 14 y medio, online magazine El Estornudo, Periodismo de Barrio and Cuba’s first feminist magazine Alas Tensas have emerged over the last two years. All are headed by women.
As Cuba advances its economy into the 21st century, informatics will play an increasingly important role. Cuba Trade recently sat down in Havana with Ernesto Rodriguez Hernandez, director-general for informatics at Cuba’s Communications Ministry. Since he assumed the post in late 2013, Cuba has added hundreds of wifi spots for internet access and seen a boom in the number of self-employed computer programmers.
This year, Cuba plans to add at least 150 more internet access points and is seeking ways for the self-employed to work more with state companies. Keeping up with rising demand for the internet and the role of Cuba’s growing cadre of trained engineers and programmers were among the questions Cuba Trade touched on in its meeting with the 47-year-old IT director. Here is an edited version of that interview.
Media piracy in Cuba isn’t just rampant; it’s a way of life. Terabytes of data come into the country nearly daily through smugglers, internet connections and satellite feeds, immersing the country and its people in a never-ending flood of Game of Thrones, Resident Evil, The Bachelor, great Dreamworks flicks and questionable Matt Damon movies.
Despite trade embargoes and socialist government censorship, Cuba floats in a sea of commercialism fueled by United States pop culture and, thanks to the rules meant to keep it out, all of that content costs almost nothing, even for those living on a Cuban’s low monthly salary. The Cuban government isn’t just ambivalent to the piracy; it participates in it, often broadcasting pirated television shows, selling tickets to pirated movies at state run movie theaters and even licensing some resellers of media content.
Ever since the Barack Obama administration eased the U.S. embargo on Cuba, an increasing number of Cubans are getting access to internet, but local internet firms are still struggling to get on their feet, with the communist government continuing to deny easy access to the web.
The island’s young online retailer Cubazon, a Cuban version of global retailing giant Amazon, is counting on Cuban diaspora to remain afloat.
That’s because good “internet infrastructure doesn’t exist for domestic buyers to sustain the market,” according to the BBC, which also interviewed Nearshore Americas’ Managing Editor Kirk Laughlin for the article.
Less than a week ago I found myself waiting in several long lines in Cuba to buy a card for anywhere between £3 and £5 (Cuban’s can get it for more like £1) that would provide me with a username and a password that I could use to get online for an hour at a time.
Each time I purchased one of these internet cards — issued by Cuba’s state-run telecoms company, ETESCA — I had to then find a public square or a high-end hotel in order to access the internet.
For someone that is used to being connected 24/7, this was something of a shock. But for Cubans, a lack of connectivity is something they’ve always had to live with. The Caribbean island has the lowest level of internet connectivity in the western hemisphere. But this week we got a big sign that Cuba is slowly starting to embrace the internet.
As the internet becomes more widespread in Cuba, online start-ups are emerging. But the problems many of the companies hope to address are also a reminder of how far the island has to go.
Bernardo Romero Gonzalez, a 33-year-old software engineer from Cuba, launched his new business this month: a website where people can order island-made products such as soap, bouquets of flowers and cakes for home delivery.
“It’s like Amazon for Cuba, but with a difference,” he told an audience of New York techies at a conference this month.
The summary was a classic start-up pitch, but it also underscored the obstacles when it comes to starting an online business in the Caribbean country.
The last rule of the Street Network is that you don’t talk about the Street Network. But that wasn’t always the case.
For several years the clandestine Havana network of illegal Wi-Fi repeaters, lengths of high-speed network cable and squirreled away servers packed with pirated games, movies and music was sort of an open secret.
The government didn’t just turn a blind eye to it; in some cases it protected the valuable equipment located on windowsills and rooftops, keeping an eye out for potential thieves.
All of that changed in some people’s eyes in 2015 after several people in the Street Network (often just called the Snet) talked to the Associated Press and brought too much attention to their efforts.