Informacion economica sobre Cuba

More Cubans are turning to cell phones — using them not to talk but
Sunday, May 23, 2010
By Nick Miroff, GlobalPost
Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

HAVANA, Cuba — A cell phone is a handy device on this underwired island
— just not for making phone calls.

Cuba's state-run wireless monopoly, Cubacel, has some of the steepest
rates in the world, charging the equivalent of 50 cents per minute for
outgoing and incoming calls. In a country where the average salary is
less than $20 a month, half a day's wages can disappear with the first

And yet, with Internet access on the island so limited, Cubans are
increasingly connecting to the world through their cell phones, instead
of the Web. When friends or family members dial from abroad, the calls
are free to receive. Ditto for international text messages.

Opponents of the Castro government sense an opportunity in this trend.
The U.S. government, Cuban exile groups and dissidents on the island say
cell phones can be a conduit of unfiltered information to ordinary
Cubans. And the role of cell phone communication via Twitter in
organizing protests in Iran and elsewhere has not gone unnoticed.

Only the Cuban government is not clamping down its network, but opening
it up. Since President Raul Castro lifted a ban on Cubans owning cell
phones in 2008, the number of wireless accounts in the country has
soared by 600,000 — to more than 838,000 today, according to Cuban
telecom officials.

Activation fees have been slashed from $150 two years ago to roughly
$25. International calling rates also are being cut, and the number of
wireless users in the country (population 11 million) is expected to
grow to 2.4 million by 2015. The island's GSM network already covers 70
percent of Cuba's territory, and further expansions are planned.

"We're going to keep working to provide the benefits of
telecommunications to a greater number of Cubans," said Cuban telecom
official Maximo Lafuente at a recent Havana news conference. "There's no
doubt that cell phones are an important foundation to the country's

The U.S. government wouldn't disagree, even if it has a differing type
of "development" in mind. It views cell phones as direct channels of
information to an island where the media is almost entirely
state-controlled and less than 2 percent of Cuban households have an
Internet connection. Popular voice-over-Internet-protocol services like
Skype also are blocked by the Cuban government.

Last year, the Obama administration exempted U.S. wireless providers
from long-standing trade sanctions against Cuba, calling increased
communications with Cuba "our best tool for helping to foster the
beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island."

"This will increase the means through which Cubans on the island can
communicate with each other and with persons outside of Cuba," the
administration said.

U.S. companies and the Cuban government haven't signed any deals,
though, and the chances of such agreements seem remote. The biggest
obstacle is some $160 million in Cuban telecom assets that U.S. courts
have seized to award Cuban American litigants who have sued the Castro
government in absentia.

For the meantime then, U.S. activists and organizations are simply
aiming to get more cell phones into the hands of ordinary Cubans. Roots
of Hope, a Cuban American group in Miami, has started a campaign called
"Cell Phones for Cuba (C4C)," urging supporters to donate phones that
can be delivered for use on the island or recycled and used to purchase
new devices.

The group says the phones will "provide Cubans with mobile news and
information, help them make sense of the information, and enable
coordination to act upon the information."

United Nations statistics show that Cuba has only 9.8 fixed phone lines
per 100 inhabitants, among the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. That's
even fewer lines than Cuba had in 1958, the year before Fidel Castro
came to power, when the rate was 15 per 100 inhabitants. So expanding
wireless access enables Cubans who don't have landlines to possess at
least some form of communication device, even if few can afford to talk
on the phones.

Instead, Cubans primarily use the phones as text-messaging machines and
glorified pagers. Users screen incoming numbers, then call back later
from a public phone or the house of a friend or neighbor. Text messages
are roughly 15 cents apiece — still a bit pricey — but also
increasingly popular.

Even capitalist-style SPAM is beginning to contaminate the socialist
island's networks. Some Cubacel subscribers have been receiving text
messages from entertainment promoters about upcoming parties or
concerts, while others say they've gotten anonymous political messages
with an anti-Castro bent sent to their phones.

Blogger and Internet activist Claudia Cadelo said she welcomed the
growth of cell phone use, but that she thought the government's decision
to grow its wireless customer base was sheerly economic. "I think it's
being done out of necessity," she said. "But economic decisions also
create openings in society."

When Ms. Cadelo was briefly detained by Cuban security forces in
November along with fellow blogger Yoani Sanchez, she used her cell
phone to update her Twitter account from the back seat of the police
car, alerting more than a thousand followers. The incident quickly
became international news, drawing condemnation from the White House and
European governments.

"Cell phones are an invaluable tool," Ms. Cadelo said. "But they're not
a substitute for the Internet."

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