Cuba: Internet Censorship and a Generation That Has Never Spoken
By: Maria Aguirre
It’s hard to start a blog about a topic that I find so delicate to talk about, because it directly affects about 12 million Cubans. This blog aims to discuss internet censorship in Cuba and its effects on education. Cuba is a country with one of the highest levels of educational attainment in the world. Education is provided nationally, for free by the socialist government. Conversely, students and the rest of the Cuban citizens have been constantly and increasingly censored in their internet access. So, whether you’re a college student, a teenager, a young or old person, whether you live in the U.S. or in Australia, consider the possible impacts of limited access to information (e.g., in politics, news, or entertainment). Would you be a different student? Would you think the same as you do know about government agencies, historical characters, or current events? I invite you to read my blog reflect as I elaborate on this and other related topics.
Cuba is a beautiful Caribbean country of about 12 million people. Under a dictatorship of nearly five decades, Cuba remains as a socialist state. All the services and products, including education, are supplied by the government. And although highly criticized by the international arena, Cuba has a literacy rate of 99.8% (for population aged 15-24 years. Source: MDGs indicators). Yet, Cuban students and the general population are unhappy with the extensive internet censorship that the government has been applying since internet was introduced in the country. So may seem like an everyday normal thing to us in the US, like sending emails, googling, or even tweetting, is a privileged activity for ordinary Cuban citizens. Control is not limited to internet usage, but also the access, purchase or leasing of computers. This is manifested in the staggeringly low ratio: only 3.3 per 100 people own a computer, one of the lowest levels in the world.
Although the government is more lenient in providing access to information for educational purposes -allowing the use of certain computers and programs- others view this “special” availability as a tool to maintain social control over the available knowledge. Under this scheme, Cuba has become one of the most backward countries in internet usage with less than 2 percent of its population online. This web protectionism is based on the governmental excuse to ensure that the internet will not be used in a revolutionary way. For this reason, the authorities have a system of control and surveillance, which to the present day remains an enigma to the Cubans and to the rest of the world, because nobody knows exactly how this monitoring is carried out. This uncertainty and state control promotes nothing but a massive state of alert and fear for the Cuban cyber users. Yet, this hegemonic control of the internet in Cuba is double-sided. First, tourists in Cuba have a greater opportunity to use internet, being able to use the “international” less-censored sites available in their hotels. And second, because among Cubans there is a social class that has privileged internet access from their homes; they enjoy less control and surveillance, because they are thought not to represent any political risk. This particular division in the internet usage along with a centralized management of power has led to a repeated censorship, intimidating and stigmatizing people who think differently in Cuba.
Yoani Sanchez, is a 35-year-old mother, a wife, a philologist, a writer, a blogger, and considered as many, a leader in terms of internet censorship in Cuba. She has asked for hackers worldwide to help 12 million Cubans that are in need of the free usage of internet (Watch interview in Spanish). Ms. Sanchez tries to describe how her generation remains in the dark; so close, yet so far from the light of information and knowledge freedom. What the government calls “cyber-garbage” a group of students, journalists, and ordinary people fight for the same purpose. Remarkably, this resistance has won important small victories: Ms. Sanchez has been recognized by the former President Jimmy Carter, President Obama, and in 2008 by the Time magazine who included her in the list of 100 most influential people in the world.
However, along these small victories, the government counters attacks with a constant censoring of online content containing what they interpret as subversive and revolutionary words. This constant surveillance, in Ms. Sanchez’s words, leads to the Cubans feeling “… as if we’re abandoned and motionless by the side of the expressway, with ever faster and speeding kilobytes unattainable to us”. While the government maintains the position that internet usage is limited to academics, students and government workers, I ask, is it really that helping to educational purposes? I tend to think that they might be biased to restrict knowledge and what is taught. Especially if the students do not have access –as almost the rest of the world does- to one source that can be really helpful. Such questions lead me to think that in reality, the government does limits the type of knowledge available to educational motives, because the internet can be perceived as a threat to destroy the system. This protectionism is reflected in “in vitro versions of Facebook or Wikipedia style sites to schools and workplaces”; to achieve this, the government spends thousands of dollars to create controlled programs and interfaces for local use.
After an extensive search in the web, in both local and alternative sources, I can say that few media outlets are covering this topic: internet censorship and education in Cuba. After writing this blog I think that the question remains current, because although Cuba has an almost ideal literacy rates, there isn’t a test that asks the students about current issues, different perspectives or alternative thinking, which can really nurturing to the process of building critical skills. The truth is hardly ever matter of one and only one thing, and is often misinterpreted from analyzing when only perspective is considered. Then, do Cuban students (and the Cuban general population) have the right to know the other side of the coin? I think they do!
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