Interview with Cuban Journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde
"U.S. blocks access to Internet servers from the island"
Roberto Montoya, Diagonal, Rosa Miriam Elizalde (Sancti Spiritu, 1966) Cuban journalist, former editor of Juventud Rebelde and current editor of Cubadebate, author of books about prostitution in Cuba and Venezuela internet is undoubtedly the journalist who has researched the cyber 'war' and the manipulation of the U.S. with the Internet. She says that more than 1.6 million Cubans are Internet users and get angry when they have to pass through Madrid, although it comes along with meeting Spanish friends, who despite not ever having set foot on the island, incorrectly say the Cuban government hinders the access of the population to the internet.
DIAGONAL: It can be seen now in some official media and in the congresses a greater level of internal debate and criticism.
Rosa Miriam Elizalde: Yes I recommend reading the letters section of the newspaper Granma, and acknowledgment in Juventud Rebelde, or listen to the program Hablando Skylight of Radio Rebelde, or TV News, in which almost daily there is a critical report against bureaucracy and other very sensitive problems of the people. And this debate happens also among the proper journalists themselves, within the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC). In the network many of our discussions are public. Both internally and publicly, we discuss the problems of our press, which has almost everything: the impoverishment of language, loss of trade, officials trying to control information and treat the journalist as a perpetual minor. Writings have not evolved much since the 70s, inertia, boredom, inability to communicate with younger people. This coincides with the opinion they have of Cubans. In the discussion that led to the party following a speech by Raul Castro in Parliament, millions of people expressed all kinds of complaints and the media was one of the objects of criticism from people.
D: Many people think that the Government of Cuba blocks access to the internet.
RME: I know that some believe that the U.S. blockade against our country no longer exists, that it is an excuse by the Government, but unfortunately it is a reality. After nearly half a century, it affects us in many aspects of our daily lives. And the fact that they block access to Internet servers is just one of them. In spite of that, on the island we have 62 computers per 1,000 inhabitants, a total of 700,000 computers, of which 455,000 have internet access. There are 1.6 million net users. The Government merely limits itself to check that the internet is not used to promote pornography, prostitution, racial hatred, incitement to violence or other criminal conduct.
D.: How does the blockade affect internet access in Cuba?
RME: Our bandwidth of international connection is about 380 megabytes (Mb), what any internet cafe in Spain has. Why? The satellite connection is much more expensive and slow. Although the world's first undersea cable bonded to Cuba to Florida in the nineteenth century, successive U.S. administrations have prevented Cuba, surrounded by sea, to be connected to the worldwide web of fiber optic that groups the very close eight points of the Caribbean. The system Arcos (Americas Region Caribbean Optical-ring System) connects with optical fiber to the U.S., Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, with a high-speed service. But Arcos is jointly owned by 28 operators in the region, led by New World Network, an American shareholder with about 88% of its capital.
D.: Venezuela is building an undersea cable.
RME: Yes, the undersea cable will join the Venezuelan port of La Guaira and the beach, Siboney, of Santiago de Cuba. With a capacity of 640 gigabytes, multiplied by our capacity to connect to 3,000. However, the undersea cable and satellite are carriers, but not Internet providers. For access it it necessary to hire other companies, and here we are with the problem that the servers are American.
D.: What happened to Obama's promise to ease the prohibitions on telecommunications with Cuba?
RME: Without lifting the blockade is impossible to make a trade agreement between the Cuban government and a U.S. firm to expand fiber optic cable. Cuba would not be able pay and the supplier could not charge, while the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) still prevents Americans from using the network as an electronic gateway for transactions that can benefit a Cuban institution. The Treasury Department fines up to $50,000 for violations of that clause of the blockade.
D.: From the island you can get connected to a U.S. site?
RME: When a page or a service that is off limits for Cuban users detects that it was accessed from an IP on the island, a window appears that says: "You come from a country included by the U.S. on the list of terrorist countries and are not permitted access to this page." Or it just simply says "not found."
D.: What has been the position of the Cuban Government towards the internet?
R.M.E.: Fidel saw it clearly. Already in 1999, he said that the Internet opened unimaginable possibilities for the left against the multinationals and their control of information. A decade before that, the Youth Computer Club had been created to promote awareness and social use of the net. Now there are over 600 Youth Club members in Cuba, which offers courses for all ages, These places have enabled an intensive social use of computers.
With our limitations, there were only two choices: either give it to a bunch of people, or seek alternatives to ensure the broadest and most rational use of resources. The 134,000 Cuban doctors and other health personnel use the net for infomation and nearly half do so from their homes, with open international mail and intranet browsing. Cuban journalists, about 4,000, also have access to international navigation.
Translated from the Spanish version by: