Artist Demands Internet Access for all Cubans
March 4, 2014
Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — Aldo Menendez is a Cuban artist who left Cuba in 1991 and
currently lives in Spain. There, he has organized a campaign named Raul
Castro Ruz: Libre acceso a Internet para todos los cubanos (“Raul
Castro: Unrestricted Internet Access for all Cubans”). In Cuba, he was a
member of the ArteCalle group and, in Miami, he created the visual arts
space La Clinica del Arte (“The Art Clinic”). He is the author of the
book La Obra Entornada (“Half-Open Works”) and the blog Castor Jabao.
During his visit to the island in December of last year, he agreed to
offer Havana Times an interview on the issue of Internet in Cuba.
HT: Why ask for unrestricted Internet access in Cuba if the government
has already opened its Nauta Internet locales, available to all Cubans
regardless of their political affiliations?
Aldo: As I understand it, these locales, even if they were to run like
clockwork (which isn’t the case) aren’t enough to offer services to
everyone. What’s more, Internet rates are an insult to the people – an
hour costs one fourth the monthly salary of the average Cuban.
On the other hand, people’s rights are being violated, for they have to
provide identification to use these services – the connections are being
monitored. They offer no printing services, they’ve blocked a series of
keys and tools to prevent you from downloading videos and the connection
is deliberately slow to limit transfers. I also know some pages are blocked.
It’s a joke, designed to tell the world Cuba has Internet. There are no
home Internet services available. The restriction of Internet access is
equivalent to the burning of books by the Nazis and Stalinists at
different points in history.
The Internet is a new language. Cuba has an Internet connection from the
previous century that has nothing to do with the type of connectivity
abroad and the ways in which today’s Internet surfers think. I try to
explain to my friends in Cuba how a 3-gigabyte home connection gives you
a completely different lifestyle, the ability to interact with reality
in startling ways, and that Cuba is being left behind because of this.
A number of ETECSA executives have said, off the record, that they may
be able to start offering home Internet services by the end of 2014, but
everyone knows nothing is being done in this connection. What’s more,
fiber-optic connections are already obsolete – current satellite
technology works much better. It doesn’t need much infrastructure, it
doesn’t even require government intervention. All people need is
permission to buy modems and dishes to be able to connect directly to
HT: Cuba’s blogosphere grows every day. Doesn’t this contradict your
petition? Do you know the blog platform Reflejos (“Reflections”) or
Bloguea? Do you see changes happening in this connection?
Aldo: The blog explosion in Cuba is a step forward, but personal
web-sites are already 20 years old. As Cuba begins to publish more and
more blogs (which are slow), the world is already fully immersed in
social networks with a broad variety of characteristics, particularly
the ability to steer social reality.
If this were a civilized country, we could be broadcasting this
interview through different channels right now – it wouldn’t be a
semi-secret interview in a house whose tenants are about to be evicted.
There is a serious technological divide here.
The next step is to make more affordable technologies available and for
people to have these at home. In Cuba, this is being assessed from a
political point of view right now, and the government, fearful of losing
power, is quite capable of renouncing to the idea altogether, without
realizing that the political question is the least important thing, that
what matters is education.
The emergence of new technologies has torn down all of the structures
and concepts of traditional education and pedagogy. The amount of
information out there is such that no traditional structure can provide
a student with all of the information they need to become a useful
citizen. Linear education is no longer possible. We can’t continue to
give everyone the same education either. We’re all different; we all
belong to different ethnic, cultural and social groups.
HT: What do you think the Cuban government fears?
Aldo: On the one hand, you have techno-stress. Somewhat jokingly, I
would say Raul Castro doesn’t use the Internet. He has no idea how that
world works, which is terrible because he is unable (for better or for
worse) to understand what’s happening there.
Likewise, people are terrified of what they don’t understand. It’s a
fear of technology and fear of what they cannot understand. They panic
just from seeing the possibilities technology opens up, for they know
they wouldn’t last five minutes in power.
Those in government here know nothing of economics. They’re not useful.
They’re not even politically correct. Even though they know information
is essential, they are willing to sacrifice the country’s development to
remain in power.
HT: Are you for or against free, State-operated Internet services?
Aldo: In our campaign, “Unrestricted Internet Access for All Cubans”, we
ask that all public libraries have computers where people can connect to
the Internet free of charge. Countries like Spain have free Wi-Fi, and
people can use these services sitting on the steps to their house, a
roof or a park.
These services are also available in most parks around major cities, at
airports, in nearly all public buildings, administrative offices, unions
and other such places. Those governments aren’t out to get money from
people through the Internet. What the Cuban government is selling the
people as the “socialization of Internet” is yet another scam. To
“socialize” would be to enable people to connect, to provide free Wi-Fi
in public areas.
HT: Does Cuba have the infrastructure and technology needed to offer
these services to the private and home sectors?
Aldo: No investment is required. These services aren’t offered via
fiber-optic cables. You don’t need to install cables or set up other
infrastructures or hire new personnel. The satellites are there. The
only thing you need to do is talk with these companies. It is really a
rather cheap infrastructure. The fiber-optic cable, those seventy
million dollars that were allegedly spent, became obsolete even before
it was installed, and it doesn’t work (or they’re not letting it work).
HT: Do all Cubans actually want Internet?
Aldo: That’s a very sad question to ask. When you don’t know something,
you think you don’t need it. Since ninety percent of Cubans are still
living in the 1980s, they don’t see the Internet as a real need, because
they don’t know it. They don’t understand they can make a living through
the Internet. It is not just a question of accessing information, it is
also the ability to access education, to be up to date, to be
financially independent and to grow as a professional. It’s practically
HT: Don’t you think you’re assuming the same attitude as the State,
which “knows” what the people need?
Aldo: I’d never looked at it that way. It’s clear that, when one tries
to get people to understand and discover certain things, there’s a
certain degree of paternalism involved. For me, however, this kind of
paternalism is benign compared to the paternalism that consists in
imposing and prohibiting things.
I don’t want Cubans to access certain information or become exposed to a
given ideology, but to access information in general, to arrive at their
own opinions and choose their own paths.
My campaign is not ideological. I am not trying to hammer an idea into
people’s heads. I am quite simply asking Raul Castro to allow Cubans to
have unrestricted access to the Internet, without censorship or
HT: Could you tell us about this campaign of yours?
Aldo: Its name says it all: “Raul Castro: Unrestricted Internet Access
for all Cubans.” Nearly all of the signatures I’ve collected come from
the émigré community or outside Cuba, from Argentineans, Czechs,
Russians, people from across the world.
The campaign began in April of 2013 and I’m bringing it to Cuba now.
It’s been a rather tragicomic experience: launching a campaign so Cubans
can have access to the Internet and that Cubans are unable to sign
because they have no access to the Internet…it’s a vicious circle. The
only way to do it is to go back to analogic, to printed documents, and
distribute these documents old school.
HT: How are the numbers so far?
Aldo: They’re bad. The most supportive people are Anglosaxons, then come
the Europeans. Latin Americans come in last…and Cubans come in behind
them. There’s much apathy surrounding this issue in Cuba’s émigré
community, because this community hasn’t healed entirely. Miami is an
ultra-conservative city where people are stuck in time, not for
technological reasons, but because of nostalgia and the very trauma of
exile. These people have a very antiquated way of thinking and they
don’t see the importance of Internet for democratization or changes in Cuba.
We collected twenty signatures at our first campaign presentation in
Cuba. We’ve been getting more and more. A very good opportunity for us
would have been at the Estado de SATS gathering held on Human Rights
Day. I’d been invited as a panelist, but the Cuban Ministry of the
Interior detained me for 27 hours to keep me from attending. In all
we’ve gathered more than two thousand signatures so far.
HT: What would happen if tomorrow Cubans had “unrestricted access to the
Aldo: All Cubans would start writing their relatives abroad to have them
to buy modems and satellite dishes for them. A few days later, private
networks would start to flourish. These exist already, but we’d see more
of them, and they wouldn’t be illegal.
From that point on, anything the Cuban people want could happen. We’ll
see all sorts of things: a first period in which a lot of people consume
pornography (this always happens) and music. There’d be some brutal
cultural changes across the arts.
Independent journalism would begin to flourish tremendously. The
official newspapers and TV channels would change because of the
country’s access to real information, not merely the accredited press
It would be an explosion of people’s awareness, a step up, thirty or
forty years of development in a few weeks. It would be an authentic
revolution, for better and for worse, because such intense changes can
unleash many things. Generally speaking, however, it would be a very
positive development, unlike any other.
I am positive many new businesses that no one else in the world has
thought up would begin to appear. The curiosity and creativity of Cubans
Source: Artist Demands Internet Access for all Cubans – Havana Times.org