Cuba expands Internet access, but under a very wary eye

Women connect to internet from their mobile phones in Havana, on March 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Cuba expands Internet access, but under a very wary eye

  • Only a small percentage of the Cuban population can access the global Internet, as opposed to the government-controlled national Internet, according to the NGO Freedom House

HAVANA: All Cubans can now have Wi-Fi in their homes, as the island’s government extends Internet access even while trying to maintain control over its version of the “truth” and to defend its legitimacy, a top official tells AFP.
“Cubans support and defend the revolution in every domain, both in the real and the virtual worlds,” Ernesto Rodriguez Hernandez, vice minister of communications, said in an interview.
In his eyes, the Internet and social media are tools to “position the truth of Cuba, not to manipulate things,” giving them a key role in the political and ideological battles being fought at a time of sharp diplomatic tensions with the United States.
The telecommunications sector in Cuba — once one of the world’s least connected countries — has doubtless changed more than any other in the past year.
Since December, when mobile phones gained 3G connectivity, an active online community has sprung up on social networks, often questioning the government about the challenges of daily life on the island.
Since July 22, Cubans have been able to import routers, register their equipment, and then create private Wi-Fi networks connected to signals from state-controlled operator ETECSA. No longer do Cubans have to go to centralized public sites to connect.
“The objective of the country is to provide wider and wider Internet access to the entire populace,” the vice minister said.

But the technical requirements set out by new legislation would appear to put an end to the informal networks created in recent years by groups of residents. Such control is the “sovereign right” of the Cuban state, Hernandez says.
And connecting is not cheap — $1 an hour, an exorbitant amount in a country where the average monthly salary is $50. The lowest 3G rate is $7 for 600 megabytes.
For weeks, hundreds of Cubans have been campaigning on social media under the hashtag #BajenlospreciosdeInternet (#Lower the price of the Internet).
Since Wi-Fi’s arrival in 2013, “the cost of Internet access has dropped by a factor of four,” the vice minister says, adding that “it will continue to fall” as communications infrastructure improves.
In this country of 11.2 million, 1,400 Wi-Fi hotspots have been installed, 80,000 homes now have Internet access and 2.5 million Cubans have 3G connectivity.
But the communist government is moving forward cautiously. “The technology is not apolitical, as some try to present it,” Hernandez said, but instead is “manipulated and used.”
Arguing for the need to “educate” the population, he added: “It does no good to provide Internet service to those who do not know... how to distinguish between what is useful and what is harmful; not everything on the Internet is good.”

A series of decrees and measures published in early July in the island’s official Journal call for “responsible use by citizens” as well as both “the political defense and cybersecurity in the face of threats, attacks and risks of all sorts.”
The message is clear: the Internet must be an “instrument for the defense of the revolution,” under regulations to be enforced by the Communications Ministry with the help of the “revolutionary armed forces and the Interior Ministry.”
In short, the Internet will continue to be closely monitored by the authorities, as it has been from the start.
Only a small percentage of the Cuban population can access the global Internet, as opposed to the government-controlled national Internet, according to the NGO Freedom House. Blogs and websites critical of the government are frequently blocked.
Hernandez defended that practice as normal.
“We don’t share those Internet sites that can encourage discrimination or deal with subjects that go against morality, ethics and responsible behavior,” he said.
“It is a right of every state to protect its people and their society from practices of that sort — and I believe that every country in the world does so.”


Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

Updated 22 November 2019

Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

  • The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement
  • Haydar Mohammed said, “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”

BAGHDAD: The images are both haunting and inspiring, transforming a once dreary, grim underpass into a vivid, colorful wall of art.
“We want a nation, not a prison,” says one painting that depicts a man bursting free from behind bars. “Plant a revolution, and you will harvest a nation,” reads another showing a hand flashing the victory sign over protesters heads.
Some of the messages are less sentimental. “Look at us, Americans, this is all your fault,” declares one.
The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement. Along its walls, young artists draw murals, portraits and graffiti that illustrate the country’s tortured past and the Iraq they aspire to.
The tunnel passes under Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests where thousands of people are camped out in a giant sit-in that has taken on the feel of a vibrant mini-city.
Almost daily, clashes erupt with security forces not far away firing tear gas, live rounds and stun grenades to prevent protesters from crossing bridges over the Tigris River to the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Tuk tuks — three-wheeled motorcycle transports — often zip back and forth through the Saadoun Tunnel, rushing wounded protesters from the front lines to medical clinics.
Saadoun Tunnel, the tuk tuks, the square and a nearby 14-story Saddam Hussein-era building on the Tigris that protesters took over have all become symbols of what has become the largest grassroots protest movement Iraq has seen. The protests erupted Oct. 1 over longstanding grievances at corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system imposed after the 2003 US invasion and its entire political elite.
Young protesters, men and women, throng the tunnel — actually a long underpass, most of which is open to the air except for enclosed portions directly beneath Tahrir — and pass time there hanging out or taking selfies in front of the murals. Caricatures on the walls mock Iraqi politicians; other paintings praise the tuk tuks; a woman with an Iraqi flag on her cheek flexes her bicep, recreating the famed US “We Can Do It” poster; faces in drawings shout in anger or pain.
Haydar Mohammed said he and a group of other medical students were partly responsible for the murals. They met in Tahrir and saw the tunnels walls were a perfect medium to send a message to those who are suspicious of the protesters, he said.
“We are life-makers not death-makers,” he said. “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”
Many of the murals carry calls for anti-sectarianism, peace and a free Iraq. In one painting, a little girl cries, declaring “They killed my dream,” referring to the group of men behind her, some in religious clothes.
Another shows an Iraqi protester wearing a helmet against tear gas with the Arabic words: “In the heart is something that cannot be killed by guns, which is the nation.” Nearby is scrawled, in English, “All What I want is life.”
“Sitting in front of these portraits, people and candles is better than being in any coffeeshop. Every time I look at them I am hopeful that the revolution will not end,” said Yahya Mohammed, 32, smoking a hookah in the tunnel and observing the scene.
“This tunnel gives me hope.”