The Internet Comes to Cuba … Slowly
February 12, 2016 9:40 PM
LA HABANA, CUBA—
In Cuba, friends must be face to face to have a conversation. This is
not a matter of courtesy, but because the Internet and other forms of
modern communication are still a luxury on the island.
Although almost everyone has a smartphone, ironically, the devices can
only be used to receive and make phone calls. There is no accessing
social media, no texting, no sending email.
Internet access on mobile devices is limited to a few public parks.
Having it in the comfort of one’s home is still only a dream. Except for
a small elite — mostly senior government officials — no one has Internet
Getting connected with the Internet begins in small shops called Center
Agent Telecommunications. There, vendors who have government
authorization sell small pieces of paper, the size of a matchbox,
containing Internet passwords.
Each piece costs 2.50 CUC Convertible Pesos, one of the two currencies
circulating in Cuba. Each CUC equals about 90 cents.
But that piece of paper is still nothing more than paper if it is not
combined with a semi-open Internet connection, located in some parks and
a handful of hotels.
In the Park Beach Township 30, for example, about 15 minutes from
downtown Havana, hundreds of Cubans come day and night in search of
Internet access. Recently, about 50 people were there, each holding a
phone, chatting with friends or family abroad or catching up on social
The only application that allows video calls from Cuba is Imo. For some
reason, the government of Raul Castro has not restricted the service, as
it has with other similar applications.
Seemingly big changes
Even though the Internet access here pales in comparison to that of many
developing countries, New York native Suki John, a dance teacher who has
worked occasionally on the island for many years, calls it a breakthrough.
“I was last here a year and a half ago, and to have Internet then was
unthinkable,” John said. “There was none of this. Since President
[Barack] Obama and Raul are negotiating, things have changed a lot, have
improved. Having Internet in parks has allowed Cubans to take a look at
the rest of the world, and know what is happening.”
John also visits the park to make use of the Internet. For 50 cents, he
bought one of the paper passes from a scalper, giving him access to the
government Wi-Fi called ETECSA.
Jaziel Hernandez is among the many older people who use the park to
communicate with relatives in the United States. She spoke with her
daughter and granddaughter in Miami.
“It is a wonder,” Hernandez said. “Did you see me, how I was talking to
my granddaughter? … It would be nice to have Internet in every house …
but this is better than nothing.”
At about $3 an hour, the price for Internet access is still too
expensive for many middle-class Cubans, who earn about $30 a month.
‘Charm’ for some
However, John said that limited access to the Internet has its good side.
“Here, people still gather to talk,” he said. “They go to a friend’s
house to ask him out. They have not lost that human contact we,
particularly young people, have already lost. It has its charm. “
But for young people like 17-year-old Yaxon, the “charm” would be to
have Internet on your mobile phone — or at home.
“That would be a dream,” he said.
At least for now, that dream still seems distant.
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