[Marxism] Cyber Cuba
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 18 09:07:33 MST 2009
Counterpunch, November 18, 2009
The Internet, Broadband and Foreign Policy
By NELSON P. VALDÉS
When the cat's away
The mice will play
Political violence fill ya city
Don't involve rasta in your say-say
Rasta don't work for no CIA
Bob Marley + Wailers
On October 29, the Cuban magazine Temas held its monthly
meeting/debate, which has come to be known as "Last Thursday [of
the month]." The discussion was to be about the Internet and
Cuban culture. This in itself is an enormously complex topic in
today's world, and still more complicated in Cuba's case since all
access to and use of the Internet has been politicized by those in
opposition to the island's government. The Internet, at the same
time, has become just one more instrument used by the United
States government to project its foreign policy and influence
internal processes in the rest of the world. 
During the discussion on Internet and culture held by Temas, Yoani
Sánchez asked for and received the opportunity to speak. Her
first question was in regard to whether broadband has anything to
do with not allowing the majority of Cubans to have access to the
I've dealt with the subject of Internet and Cuba before.  In
that essay I presented the thesis that the bandwidth is an
essential element in shaping the topology and architecture a
country's connectivity will have and that in itself affects the
number of users and the speed of data transmission. This is now
well known by the general public, but it was not as known years
ago. The thesis, of course, is based on the cost of connectivity
(digital lines, servers, routers, etc.) and furthermore, the
consideration as to whether the access is obtained by satellite or
another medium. In highly industrialized countries, the per
person user cost would be much lower, since the necessary
infrastructure would be within reach for people with sufficient
resources - in other words, economies of scale would reduce the
per user cost. For a smaller population with lesser income, the
cost of connectivity tends to increase drastically.
These economic factors are usually not considered in the debate
over Cuban connectivity. However, there is a "digital divide" on
a global level. This same inequality is also found within
societies. The inequality in high-speed Internet access can be
found even in the most developed societies.
The user model of the capitalist world that is based on individual
usage, through a household or handheld computer - that the
majority of the world's poor does not possess - must also be taken
Furthermore, it must be noted that the Internet, by its nature,
breaks with an entire series of old parameters. First, it breaks
with logical and sequential thought and argumentation.
Hyper-connection destroys historical sensibility. There's no
beginning, middle or end. Now the jump is made from one side to
another without rhyme or reason - connectivity provides no real
judgment of sources. It's not easy to determine whether or not an
information source is reliable. Most all of the information is
commercial. Someone has to pay to post, send or receive it.
There's nothing surprising in thinking that this technology would
be liberating. Technological determinism is nothing new. The
same was thought of the radio, the television, the telephone, the
telegraph, and now it's said of the PC, Twitter, Bluetooth, etc.;
that they will contribute to the democratization of societies.
Such projections conquer the logic of the naive, politicians and
opportunists alike. The inherent implications of the Internet are
not as clear-cut as with political, social or economic systems,
but they do affect our own epistemology and cultural values. The
social and personal relations between people occupying a common
geographical space and the already famous "social networks" in
virtual space are not the same. Calling someone by telephone is
not the same as reaching out and "touching someone" no matter what
the ads try to sell us.
It's clear however, that the debate over the Internet inside and
throughout Cuba assumes premises inherent to highly developed
countries. The question about broadband should be answered by
Cuban authorities charged with such matters. However, it's worth
mentioning that the Obama administration has decided to spend no
less than $6.3 billion dollars toward improving the broadband
penetration. Although the US has the largest broadband market in
the OECD countries, about 70 million subscribers, but as a
proportion of its total population with broadband it ranks 15th.
A single person using YouTube, HDTV, and others require bandwidth
of 8 megabits per second in both directions to be functional. All
of Cuba, using its present infrastructure, can download 65
megabits and upload 124. The virtual dissidents, therefore, can
only be sending their images using a connectivity that is not
depending on the Cuban state resources; otherwise, all of Cuba
would have to stop to allow them to upload their materials in
YouTube and the like.
There are some pertinent questions that we ought to ask of the
virtual Yoanis found in Cuba, and who evidently have been able to
access the Internet even though the entire country's broadband
access is insufficient. Their experiences might have a positive
impact on those with lesser resources.
What is broadband? What is its importance? And how much does it
cost? [33% of U.S. Internet users do NOT have broadband. However,
in the US high speed cable modem is available to 96% of end-users
and 79% of them have DSL. In the majority of poor countries
neither of the three is widely available. Steve Song, a specialist
on the subject of broadband from the International development
Research Center noted in 2008 that "the average university in
Africa has the same aggregate bandwidth as a single home user in
North America or Europe." He also noted that the typical
university in Africa "pays more than 50 times for this bandwidth
than their counterparts in Europe or North America do for much
more capacity." 
What is the relationship between broadband, its use, and cost?
This is a cost that Cuba might not be able to provide to everyone
as anentitlement or as Cubans say "me toca". Finland, this past
October, made 1 megabit broadband a legal right to begin July
2010. France, on the other hand, has established that Internet
access is a "basic" human right [speed does not count]. But you
have to pay for it.
As the Mexican comedian Cantinflas used to say: "En el detalle
está la diferencia" - It is the little detail that makes the
difference. The French initiative says nothing about
affordability; the private person has to pay. The Helsinki Times
reports that the meaning of a "legal right" is that no household
"would be farther than 2 kilometers from a connection capable of
delivering broadband Internet with a capacity of at least 100
megabits of data a second." Thus, the superhighway will be nearby,
it is up to you, nonetheless, to pay for the connection.
On November 6th, Business Week, approvingly, noted that the
European Parliament has "abandoned a bid to declare Internet
access a fundamental right." Five months earlier, Cuban dissident
bloggers issued a statement proclaiming the right of access to
The foreign press stationed in Cuba claims that a dissident in
Havana has a blog that is translated into 16 or more languages and
has from 1 to 14 million visits a month. That is impressive for
anyone worldwide. For someone in Cuba it borders on a Fatima-like
From a logistical standpoint, this is an unusual accomplishment.
Is it possible for such traffic to be handled by Cuba today? Who
is/are the administrator[s] of the web pages in all these
languages? Translation is complicated, time-consuming, and a
worldwide translation team is costly. How is this work done? How
is it paid for? And what is the mechanism for transferring this
In Cuba, it's not possible for a person to earn enough to maintain
these costly services and systems. Yet, the blogs exist. Someone
or some institution has to incur costs to access the Internet,
Twitter, etc. Perhaps there are good Samaritans. Perhaps..
We do know that the USAID Cuba Program financially supports
"independent journalists" within the island. Is this also the
case with the "independent bloggers"?
In fact, United States foreign policy has as one of its
foundations the premise that the Internet could elicit regime
change. That is why the US Treasury Department has informed Google
and Microsoft to allow chat services into Cuba. 
The U.S. Department of Defense provides some indication that the
Internet should be utilized to fulfill United States government
objectives - i.e. targeting "regime change". This includes,
"develop[ing] a global web site supporting U.S. strategic
communications objectives" where "contents should be primarily
from third parties with greater credibility to foreign audiences
than U.S. officials." Moreover, the same report notes that the
Pentagon should "identify and disseminate the views of third party
advocates that support U.S. positions. These sources may not
articulate the U.S. position the way that the USG would, but they
may nonetheless have a positive influence." 
There are numerous US private contractors and universities around
that are more than willing to serve the interests of empire
although claiming "complete independence" from Washington's
foreign policy. 
Which Internet, then?
Is Internet the technology with the capacity to enhance and
liberate human potential, knowledge, understanding and cooperation
among nations? Or, is it one more instrument to be used, as in
the past, to maintain and extend the unequal exchanges and power
relations that have existed between the nations of the world? That
is a struggle that is presently fought throughout the world. Is
Internet a public forum or is it a commercial enterprise? That is
the debate going on in the United States and other capitalist
societies. It is a struggle within Cuba itself, where national
self determination and American hegemony confront each other in
numerous and not so obvious ways.
I would like to thank Machetera, Rafael Hernandez, Saul Landau,
Robert Sandels and Louis Head for their assistance with
translation, editing and offering numerous comments.
Nelson P. Valdés is the Director of the Cuba-L Project.
This commentary was written for Cuba-L Analysis and CounterPunch.
 New Inequality Frontiers: Broadband Internet Access by
Economic Policy Institute, 2006].
 03/09/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and
Information Technology - 2001[Part 1]
03/10/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information
Technology - 2001 [Part 2]
03/09/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information
Technology - 2001[Part 3]
03/12/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information
 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
broadband Growth and Policies in OECD Countries, Seoul, Korea,
17-18 June 2008. OECD Ministerial Meeting.
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/57/40629067.pdf and Bill Schrier,
Third World Broadband - In the United States. See:
 IDRC, Acacia news, february 2008.
http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-122116-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html and Indrajt
Basu, "Not All Americans View Broadband as Necessity, But
Finland's Another Story," [October 26, 2009. See:
and the bloggers statement:
"US Wants Microsoft to End Message Ban in Iran,Cuba" Bloomberg,
October 29, 2009.
 U. S. Department of Defense, Information Operations Roadmap,
30 October 2003, p. 27.
 A case in point is the Berkman Center for Internet & Society
at Harvard Law School and its Internet and Democracy Project which
has a 2 year grant of $1.5 million from the US Department of
State's Middle East Partnership Initiative.
 "FCC Set To Take On Aggressive Role As Internet Traffic Cop,"
SlicomValley.com, October 20, 2009. See:
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