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.”

Thai king strips “disloyal” new royal consort of titles

In this file undated handout from Thailand's Royal Office received on August 26, 2019, royal noble consort Sineenat Bilaskalayani, also known as Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, is seen in an aircraft. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Thai king strips “disloyal” new royal consort of titles

  • Days before his coronation ceremonies, the king married the deputy head of his personal bodyguard, Suthida Tidjai, 41, giving her the title of Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana

BANGKOK: Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has stripped his newly named royal consort of her titles and military ranks for being “disloyal” and conducting a rivalry with Queen Suthida, the palace said late on Monday.
It made the extraordinary announcement just months after the king, who was officially crowned in May, made Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi a royal noble consort — the first such appointment in almost a century.
Sineenat, 34, had breached a code of conduct for courtiers and was disloyal, a two-page palace statement said.
“Royal Noble Consort Sineenat is ungrateful and behaves in ways unbecoming of her title. She is also not content with the title bestowed upon her, doing everything to rise to the level of the queen,” the statement said.
The royal family had been scheduled to participate in the Royal Barge Procession on Thursday, one of the last ceremonies in the king’s year-long coronation celebrations, but last week the event was postponed until later in the year, with officials citing weather conditions.
King Vajiralongkorn was crowned as constitutional monarch in May after first taking the throne following the 2016 death of his father, who reigned for 70 years.
Days before his coronation ceremonies, the king married the deputy head of his personal bodyguard, Suthida Tidjai, 41, giving her the title of Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana.

Before July’s of Sineenat’s elevation, the title of royal noble consort had not been used since before the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy in 1932.
The following month, the palace released a set of unusually candid pictures of Sineenat, along with her official biography on its website.
Some of the pictures were in the usual royal tradition, with Sineenat wearing Thai dress and sitting at the king’s feet. She was also pictured in the cockpit of a fighter jet and wearing a gray camouflage pattern crop-top at the controls of a light aircraft.
The page appeared to have been taken down on Monday.
As recently as last week, Sineenat was featured in official photographs released by the palace doing volunteer works in Bangkok.
Monday’s statement described vivid details of Sineenat’s behavior, saying she had opposed Suthida’s appointment because she had hoped to be named queen herself.
It also called her “ambitious” in trying to obtain royal titles and “self-promoting” in exercising her royal activities.
“She lacks the understanding of the good traditions of the royal court. She displays disobedience against the king and the queen,” the statement said.

During his reign so far, King Vajiralongkorn, also known by the title King Rama X, has moved to consolidate the authority of the monarchy, including taking more direct control of the crown’s vast wealth and transferring two military units to his personal control.
He also reintroduced the “Ratchasawat,” a basic code of conduct for those in royal service rooted in the old absolutist court, and has punished royal staff who have breached this code in the past.
Public criticism of the king or his family is illegal under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, with insults to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
King Vajiralongkorn, 67, was previously married three times when he was the Crown Prince before ascending the throne.
In 2014, he divorced his third wife, former lady-in-waiting Srirasmi Suwadee, after the arrest of several of her relatives in an investigation into people making false claims of having links to the monarchy for financial gain.
Her uncle, parents and three brothers were later convicted of lese majeste and remain in prison. Srirasmi, who was never charged herself, lives outside Bangkok and has rarely been seen in public since the divorce.