[Marxism] Cyber Cuba

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 18 09:07:33 MST 2009


Counterpunch, November 18, 2009
The Internet, Broadband and Foreign Policy
Cyber Cuba

By NELSON P. VALDÉS

     I'm singing
     When the cat's away
     The mice will play
     Political violence fill ya city
     Yeah-ah
     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. [1]

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 
Internet.

I've dealt with the subject of Internet and Cuba before. [2]  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 
into consideration.

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.[3]

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." [4]

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.[5]

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 
Internet.[6]

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 
miracle.[7]

 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 
payment?

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.[8] 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. [9]

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." [10]

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. [11]

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.[12] 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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

[1] New Inequality Frontiers: Broadband Internet Access by 
Economic Policy Institute, 2006].

[2] 03/09/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and 
Information Technology - 2001[Part 1] 
http://cuba-l.unm.edu/?nid=45032&q=Nelson%20P%20Valdes%20and%20Internet&h= 
03/10/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information 
Technology - 2001 [Part 2] 
http://cuba-l.unm.edu/?nid=45055&q=Nelson%20P%20Valdes%20and%20Internet&h= 
03/09/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information 
Technology - 2001[Part 3] 
http://cuba-l.unm.edu/?nid=45100&q=Nelson%20P%20Valdes%20and%20Internet&h= 
03/12/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information 
Technology [Final] 
http://cuba-l.unm.edu/?nid=45151&q=Nelson%20P%20Valdes%20and%20Internet&h=

[3] 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: 
http://www.digitalcommunitiesblogs.com/CCIO/2009/03/third-world-broadband-in-the-u.php

[4] 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: 
http://www.digitalcommunitiesblogs.com/international_beat/

[5] 
http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/htimes/domestic-news/politics/3179.html

[6] 
http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/nov2009/gb2009116_710422.htm 
and the bloggers statement: 
http://bottup.com/200906014676/Internet/comunicado-para-defender-los-derechos-en-cuba.html

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoani_S%C3%A1nchez

[8] 
http://www.usaid.gov/locations/latin_america_caribbean/cuba/photogallery/cu01.html

[9]"US Wants Microsoft to End Message Ban in Iran,Cuba" Bloomberg, 
October 29, 2009. 
http://news.yahoo.com/s/bloomberg/20091029/pl_bloomberg/afpeerwgcyla_1

[10] U. S. Department of Defense, Information Operations Roadmap, 
30 October 2003, p. 27. 
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB177/info_ops_roadmap.pdf

[11] 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. 
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/idblog/the-internet-and-democracy-project/

[12] "FCC Set To Take On Aggressive Role As Internet Traffic Cop," 
SlicomValley.com, October 20, 2009. See: 
http://www.siliconvalley.com/sectors/ci_13603357






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