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President Díaz-Canel, Cuban Internet Is More Than Facebook on Cell Phones – Don’t Be Afraid of It

Ramiro Valdés Menéndez

“The Internet could and should be controlled and used to serve peace and development.”—Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, Cuban Minister of Informatics and Communications, 1997

As a result of Internet service interruption during the recent anti-government protests in Cuba, Florida Senator Rubio and Governor DeSantis and President Biden have called for measures to strengthen and guarantee Cuban Internet connectivity, but that won’t happen until the Cuban government recognizes that doing so is in its long-run interest.

I have seen several suggestions that we smuggle end-user satellite terminals from services like SpaceX Starlink into Cuba but attempts to smuggle in end-user terminals by Alan Gross and others disguised as surfing equipment have failed spectacularly. Furthermore, they would have been inconsequential drops-in-the bucket had they succeeded.

However, if the Cuban government would permit it, SpaceX service in Cuba would benefit the Cuban people and, in doing so, strengthen the position of the Cuban government.

There have also been several proposals to provide undersea cable connectivity to Cuba. The most recent one was killed in the US, but I’m confident that President Biden would support it (or another one) if the Cuban government would permit it.

I served on the advisory subcommittees to the Cuban Internet Task Force, and made a number of recommendations for facilitating Cuban Internet connectivity. Again, none of these proposals would work without the support of the Cuban government.

The Cuban government was frightened by the role mobile phones running communication and social media applications played in the protests, but mobile apps are one small part of the whole Internet. Widespread fixed broadband connectivity via satellite and improved cable capacity would have positive effects on the economy, education, healthcare, entertainment, etc., thereby enhancing the government’s standing with the people.

When the Internet first came to Cuba, there was a high-level debate on its risks and rewards. Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, then Minister of Informatics and Communications, is often quoted as calling the Internet “the wild stallion of the new technologies” and a potential tool for “global extermination.” Still, he went on to say it “could and should be controlled and used to serve peace and development.” Fidel Castro also recognized the potential upside of the Internet and supported the establishment of Youth Computer Clubs throughout the nation. (They were networked using pre-Internet technology). The same debate took place in China around that time, and they decided on a robust, but controlled Internet. It would be great if the US could convince the Cubans that the Chinese and Valdés were right. If we cannot, the Chinese, with their own satellite and cable projects, may.

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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