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    Will ‘Telecentros’ Transform Cuba’s Internet Access?

    by Anne Nelson
    April 14, 2010
    A view inside a Brazilian Telecentro. Photo by Henri Bergius via Flickr

    It wasn’t your typical keynote address.

    Earlier this month, at an event held on the campus of Cornell University, a room of people gazed at a blank screen in rapt attention, listening to a woman speak over a weak cell phone connection originating in Cuba.

    A new wave of online media is promising to challenge the Cuban status quo."

    The speaker was Cuba’s 32-year-old star blogger, Yoani Sanchez. The event was the seventh annual meeting of Roots of Hope, an organization founded by Cuban-American students that aims to promote cultural exchanges with the island. Its April meeting was specifically focused on new media. (I was invited as a panelist.) Attendees had been told that the keynote speaker would be a surprise. After a nail-biting series of dropped calls, the attendees were thrilled to hear Sanchez finally come on the line.

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    Yoani Sanchez

    Sanchez told her U.S. audience how she had assembled her personal computer by foraging for discarded components, and devised an online publishing strategy that relied on scarce computers, cell phones, and flash drives. Last year, her blog posts and tweets earned her a spot on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

    Sanchez epitomizes the Cuban online community’s ingenious response to the dual restrictions of government censorship and the U.S. trade embargo. Some call it the “hacker mindset.” In the same fashion that Cubans manage to keep the chassis of 50 year-old old Chevys on the road, a small but growing Cuban tech community has learned how to go online against the odds.

    Thanks to cooperation from other countries in Latin America, a new attitude in Washington, and the work of NGOs, Cuba may be poised to make big online strides.

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    The Cuban Paradox

    When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba 51 years ago, he launched a revolution that has been fueling controversy ever since. Supporters lauded Cuban advances in health care and education, while detractors condemned the government’s heavy-handed measures against everything from private enterprise to gay rights.

    The Cuban paradox extends to the media. Although Cuba has achieved one of the highest literacy rates in the hemisphere, it also has earned the most dismal record on freedom of expression. The government controls all news media, and takes harsh measures against any domestic or foreign journalist who steps out of line.

    It’s not surprising that digital media have been slow to get off the ground in Cuba. They have been woefully hampered by Cuban government censorship, but another major factor has been the decades-old U.S. embargo, which has starved the island of the technologies necessary for modernization.

    Something of a double standard has been at work: At the same time Communist countries such as China have been transformed by economic investment and educational exchanges with the U.S., Cuba has been left as an isolated backwater. Only 3 percent of Cuba’s 11 million citizens have cell phones, giving it the lowest cell phone penetration in Latin America. It also has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates. The government’s restrictions on cell phone ownership and Internet access have further limited communications, often making them a privilege for the party faithful.

    Fiber Optic Cable in Cuba

    Today a new wave of online media is promising to challenge the Cuban status quo — and surprisingly, some of the changes are the result of government initiatives. The first one is a fiber optic cable currently being laid between Cuba and Venezuela. It’s expected to be completed within a year.

    Another new development is arriving by way of Brazil’s “Telecentro” program. Telecentros are public computer labs that use open source software and provide free Internet access. They are designed for poor and under-served communities and have been a wild success in Brazil. Ten thousand of them are scheduled to be in service in that country by the end of the year. Brazil is now exporting the model to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Cuba, aiming for a total of 52,000. The Cuban Telecentros are mainly designed to support primary education, but they are available after hours to other community members.

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    Open source software is playing a key role in the Telecentros. Ryan Bagueros, the owner and founder of NorthxSouth, a software development company that describes itself as a “network of open source developers from all over the Americas,” said Brazil and other Latin American governments are unenthusiastic about the high cost and security leaks of U.S.-made proprietary software. (Bagueros joined me on a panel at the annual meeting of Roots of Hope.) He noted that these Latin American countries are investing heavily in developing open source alternatives, and expanded via email about the value of open source software:

    Marcos Mazoni (the head of Brazil’s federal committee to migrate to open source), conducted a survey last year and, from the free software migration that has already been completed, Brazil is saving $209 million USD each year. When the migration is complete, Brazil should be saving around $500 million USD each year. Brazil, as a whole, spends about $1 billion USD on software licensing each year.

    The emphasis on open source is helping to stimulate a Latin tech boom, with the Brazilian tech industry poised to reap substantial advantages. It’s too early to predict the impact, but the initial signs are intriguing. Not only have the Latin governments saved millions of dollars on software, but the open-source Telecentros are creating new generations of pre-teen software developers in the favelas.

    During our session, Bagueros predicted that this phenomenon could be particularly interesting in Cuba. He reported that embargo restrictions have created a generation of “engineers who are good at ‘reverse engineering’ software for donated medical equipment” and other devices. The combination of hacker ingenuity, loosened government control, and dramatically increased bandwidth and access could lead to big things, fast, in Cuba.

    New Winds from the North

    In the past, tensions between Cuba and the United States have complicated every development in communications. The Bush Administration has been criticized for politicizing media development by supporting groups seeking to overthrow the government. One private contractor, dispatched to secretly hand out cell phones and laptops in Cuba, was arrested for espionage last December

    The Obama administration is experimenting with a different approach. In March, the Treasury Department modified trade sanctions to allow the export of social media and related technologies to Cuba, Iran, and the Sudan. In combination with the upcoming technological advances, this move could energize online Cuban freedom of expression, and provide the first real alternative to Cuba’s geriatric official news media. (Though it’s important to note that the administration recenlty took something of a harder line with Cuba.)

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    At the same time, new initiatives are appearing in the Cuban-American community. One of the initiatives supported by Roots of Hope is an ongoing cell phone drive called Cells4Cuba.

    “[Politically,] I’m to the right myself,” said Miguel Cruz, a Cells4Cuba activist from the University of Texas. “But these cell phones are for any youth in Cuba, no matter what their politics.”

    Roots of Hope has enlisted the support of Cuban-Americans ranging from Gloria Estefan to Perez Hilton, and its membership represents a variety of political perspectives. Its stated goal is to open a dialogue between youth in Cuba and the U.S., and the organization sees social media as a perfect conduit.

    Social media won’t change the contentious nature of the Cuba debate, and the new developments raise as many questions as they answer. Will the Cubans and Venezuela’s mercurial Hugo Chavez attempt to control the data stream on their fiber optic cable? Will Cuban officials try to emulate China’s army of Internet censors to control content, trace dissidents, or conduct online espionage? Will Latin American tech initiatives find new ways to harness digital media for social goals? What role will Latin America’s open source initiatives play in shifting political alignments?

    However these issues play out, it’s clear that so far, Cubans have energetically taken advantage of every new online opportunity that’s come along — and that’s not likely to change.

    Image of Yoani Snachez by blogpocket via Flickr

    Anne Nelson teaches new media and development communications at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She consults for a number of foundations on media issues, and serves as senior consultant for the Salzburg Global Seminar initiative, Strengthening Independent Media. She was a 2005 Guggenheim fellow for her recent book, “Red Orchestra: the Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of
    Friends Who Resisted Hitler.”

    Tagged: brazil cuba hugo chavez media development open source telecentro yoani sanchez
    • Lorenso Yuma

      Ms Wilson obviously has not been to Cuba or is getting some wrong information.I am an American citizen who has lived in Cuba for 10 years,6 months at a time, and all my friends including my wife have a right to buy a cell phone.While they don’t have rights to go on the internet many houses have access through family members who live abroad.You are allowed to put internet in your house,for$120 a month,if your family member has dual citizenship.These households then rent out time on the internet, another way around restrictions.The embargo coupled with the fear of the government(Cuban) has left many Cubans stranded for information.

    • Frederico da Silva

      Is always a shock to me that US media accuse Cuba of “restricting internet access” because they are crazy totalitarian censors. Cuba has declared access to internet a human right (the US will never do this). Is true, Cuba has had to provision internet access. But is because Cuba is denied internet access by the owners of this technology.

      Is easy for the United States to deny Cuba access to uplinks and then cry out “See! They wont give internet access to their people!” This strategy is very old but is amazing people still do not see it. The strategy only works because journalists do not tell the whole story. After Helms-Burton became a law, how do US journalists justify believing anything that US or US-funded groups say about Cuba? Why US journalists ignore what Cuba says, and also what Cuba DOES?

      The very minute Cuba was able to get internet access from somewhere other than the United States, they jump on the opportunity. They have said it will be available for all Cubans, when technologicaly possible. Does the US make the same goal? No, and in fact the US is making laws to destroy net neutrality and corporatize the internet, destroying the freedom of expression that exists in this new technology. But little Cuba, denied internet by a military bully that has harrassed and terrorize Cuba for half century, they are the evil ones??

      I appreciate this article talks the “telecentros” coming from Brazil, and talks about how Cuba cannot get internet now, but from these facts I cannot understand how the author concludes that Cuba is censoring the internet. I don’t think the facts can lead to the conclusion.

    • Mark Rushton

      Sigh. More American do-gooders attempting to “do good” without having any idea what they’re talking about. I’m an academic with over a decade of on-the-ground experience in Cuba. My Master’s research focused on Cuba’s national network of *gasp!* “Telecentros”, which has been operating since 1987. Yes, six years before the World Wide Web made its appearance.

      One wonders what Brazil could possibly be “exporting” to Cuba in that regard. Check out http://www.jovenclub.cu for the history of this fabulous organization.

      The article also puts in a dig against Cuba’s record on gay rights: ridiculous. Cuba’s rapid moves to initially isolate, and later educate HIV-infected persons has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a model that should be implemented throughout the caribbean.

      Until Americans in general learn to stop believing their own propaganda, to set aside ethnocentric blinders and to accept that other ways of life on this planet are as valid as their own, they will continue to operate in the dark. That’s a problem, too: since they have the money and power (both militarily and culturally) to do some (more) serious damage.

    • alberto

      mark rushton,

      and my friends imprisoned in las UMAP in Camagüey because they were gay? and those who were beaten and tortured in detainment centers because they would not sign a paper saying their homosexuality made them the scum of the earth? and those who killed themselves in these concentration camps because of the repeated torture and rape?

      “ridiculous”?

      you make a good point about american propoganda re:cuba, and certainly the north is woefully uninformed about cuban technology and media. and certainly the u.s. has committed far worse atrocities in many more places than has fidel castro.

      but do not dismiss or scorn the experience of persecuted cuban gays, who even today suffer discrimination, violence, and prejudice.

      thank you.

    • Mark Rushton

      Alberto: No doubt Cuba has had a difficult history in the acceptance of gay equality, but we’re talking *history*. And I daresay Cuba fared even in those years far better than some of its neighbours fare today (I’m looking at you, Jamaica). I don’t dismiss the things that happened – but in the context of a macho latin society, it is not like Cuba was the only place where things like that happened (and let’s not forget that these things still happen everywhere and should be condemned).

      Modern Cuba has a vibrant gay scene, surgical rights for persons becoming transsexual, and a strong advocate in Mariel Castro, Raúl’s daughter, head of CENESEX (National Sexual Education Centre). Like racism, discrimination against gays in Cuba is not institutionalized: it is an unfortunate cultural legacy which only education and legislative action can tackle.

      Cuba’s enemies took its treatment of HIV-positive citizens (one of the lovely side-effects of opening to tourism in the 1990s) as an opportunity to attack, when the policy was in fact humane and implemented for the greater social good – a policy which has been recognized as one of the few successful efforts undertaken in the region.

      This, like Cuba’s information technology experience, remains distorted and intentionally misrepresented in, primarily, western media. It is surprising that the article above, coming from an academic working in communication development, perpetuates that ignorance.

    • Frederico da Silva

      I would like to add one more point, if this is ok. Cuba has many bloggers but is strange to me that the “free press” only talks about bloggers who are not only against some things Cuban Government does but want complete “transition” in Cuba to non-socialist government.

      Yoani Sanchez says she is innocently for “free expression” and because of attention she gets, she has the opportunity to link people to all of Cuban blogosphere but her link list is careful to only include blogs that support complete “transition” — the blogs that support Helms-Burton concept of “transition”. I believe is intentional, to support the myth that if Cubans are “permitted to speak” they will only have negative things to say. Is not true.

      Cubadebate.cu is one of many thoughtful blogs about life in Cuba and has articles that talk about good things in Cuba but also bad things that should be reformed. But, Cubadebate.cu is not qualified as “free expression” for simple reason: it does not advocate “complete transition” for Cuba. This hypocrisy is obvious, no?

      Why is long-time Cuban feminist, anti-racist and thoughtful blogger negracubana.nireblog.com never linked to or talked about?

      Why is afrocubana.wordpress.com Cuba blog never linked to or talked about?

      Why is English-language blog from Cuba by journalist Elsy Fors never linked to or talked about?

      Or even the Catholic Church’s blog from Cuba?

      There are many more like this and why they don’t receive attention? Why Yoani is not interested? Is because, I believe, that these are Cubans who are not “dissidents”, who have ideas and lives and thoughts and feelings and show that Cuba has many civil organizations, many diverse groups, a thriving hip-hop community, a thriving art community, and they are not “Communist Robots” but real people and they destroy the myth that, in Cuba, exists only “dissidents” and “brainwashed or compliant masses”.

      There is a technologia revolution for Cuba but includes much more than Yoani Sanchez. Includes important programs from Cuba Government to address digital gap, includes Cuba Government plan for universal access and, even without internet access like other countries are allowed to have, includes a vibrant blogger community outside of those who demand a radical transition in Cuba, those who are supported by Miami, those who are honored by Time Magazine for repeating their propaganda against Cuba for them.

      Why this can not be the story about Cuba’s blogosphere? Why the story can not be that Cuba’s blogosphere has US/Miami-suported dissidents on one end, communist-suported party members on other end, and MANY MORE people in between who can not be easily classified? Again, I already can decide is because these “many more” Cubans can not exist for US “free press” narrative about life in Cuba.

    • Mark Rushton:

      I spoke with Anne Nelson on the panel and I was the one who spoke about the Venezuelan-Cuban bandwidth deal and the Brazilian-Cuban telecentros project. That makes me one of the “American do-gooders” you were talking about!

      I’d like to clarify some points about these projects and why they’re so important since you wonder “what Brazil could possibly be ‘exporting’ to Cuba in that regard.”

      First, it should be noted that these projects are bilateral agreements exclusively between Latin American governments: Cuba, Brazil & Venezuela. The United States is not involved in any way. If any “American do-gooders” participate at all, it’ll be as software/hardware vendors providing specific components of the overall project.

      Second, the youth-run computer clubs that you refer to were part of our panel presentation and this video about the clubs was made available to the audience:

      It was made clear that some 160 computer clubs like these were active in Cuba at the time this video was created. These computer clubs will form the basis of part of the Brazilian telecentro project.

      Third, what Brazil has to export to Cuba is their expertise in building open source telecentros for a wide range of locations, from the urban favelas that surround Brazil’s major metropolitan areas to remote locations of the Amazon, only reachable via boat.

      Brazil has become the global leader in open source software adoption after President Lula da Silva ordered (via presidential decree) a mandatory migration for all government agencies and state-owned firms. In addition, Brazil has implemented probably the most ambitious initiative in the world to combat the social problem of the digital divide (Inclusão Digital). Amongst a number of programs, Brazil has committed to building 52,000 telecentros, serving some 52 million students (and others in the community). These telecentros use open source and free software to optimize cost efficiency and provide the most technologically advanced platforms for the telecentro users. The telecentros offer trainings and cooperative knowledge exchange — São Paulo’s telecentros have some of the most disadvantaged youths in the world able to get in dissect the most fundamental parts of computer software, including the operating system kernel. Meanwhile, most students in the United States are still stuck using old Windows machines bogged down with spyware and pop-up ads. This video gives a glimpse into the telecentros in Brazil (note that the subtitles are slightly delayed):

      Many of the telecentros use a sophisticated and cost-efficient architecture with one main server running anywhere from 15 to 20 “dumb terminal” work stations running open source desktops. It is this expertise and architecture that Cuba wants to import from Brazil. Many of the Cuban computer clubs are not running open source software and they don’t use the Brazilian architecture, so the collaborative project will transfer this knowledge and help upgrade Cuba’s computer clubs and establish new telecentros, both for public and industrial use.

      Cuba has already begun participating in the Latin American free software movement, by releasing their own educational distribution of Linux along with a number of education-based games for Linux. Cuba is a key participant in this regional technology movement, along with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and more.

      This is an exciting collaboration — Cuba is the first Latin American country to officially adopt the Brazilian model with the assistance of Brazilian tech veterans. This cooperative venture was planned at the new, annual GOSCON (a conference dedicated to using free software within governments) held in Brasilia, Brazil. The upgrade of Cuba’s computer clubs with the latest-and-greatest open source technology in a partnership that is exclusively Latino should be something that is exciting to anyone interested in seeing Latin America continue to become a global leader in the widespread use of open source software. It is certainly exciting to both the Brazilian and Cuban governments (which is why they’re embarking on this project together).

      Fourth, for years, Cuba has been excluded from the global online community by the embargo restrictions imposed by the United States, as pointed out in this article. Since Cuba has been forced to exclusively use expensive satellite uplinks for their internet, they’ve been put at a major disadvantage. After accounting for the bandwidth that is absolutely necessary (government, universities, the computer clubs, medical facilities, tourist hotels), there is very little left over for Cuban citizens.

      This unfortunate internet rationing will come to an end once Venezuela finishes building its fiber optics cable this year. Cuba will not only be independent from US internet uplinks but they will have an extraordinarily fast pipe with Venezuela. Every online facility in Cuba will be drastically improved by this enormous upgrade in Cuba’s internet infrastructure. In addition, Cuba will no longer be put in a position where they are suspected of censoring the internet, when much of the problem is the bandwidth rationing forced on the island by US law.

      Given these additional details, I hope that I’ve shown that what we talked about on the panel was not a “do-gooder” project from the US. Instead, we were discussing collaborative projects amongst Latin American countries that increases their independence and strengthens their sovereignty. So, I don’t think the conclusions that you’ve drawn about these projects are fair and I hope you can see that this is actually a huge initiative for Latin America as a whole, and Cuba, in particular.

      I’d be happy to clarify or give more information about anything I’ve discussed here — I’ll continue to watch this comments board for any replies. NorthxSouth runs the only English-language news website dedicated to covering the free software movement in Latin America at http://news.northxsouth.com/

      Even within the IT community in the US and Europe, the amazing innovations happening in the Latin American tech sector don’t get enough attention. Thanks should go to Anne Nelson for sharing this information with the PBS MediaShift readership.

      Thanks,
      Ryan Bagueros
      North by South (San Francisco, US | São Paulo, Brazil)

    • Anne Nelson

      It’s interesting to see that many of these comments fall into the tired old trenches of the Old Cuba Debate. Most of them ignore the point of my piece. Ryan Bagueros and his colleagues are doing work that will transform the Cuban media environment. We would all be well-advised to think about the implications, opportunities, and possible pitfalls of the future.

      In bumping along in the Cuban blogosphere, I see a painful reminder that this is a society that has spent 50 years without a profressional independent journalism culture. Factual reporting, analytical reporting, reporting that considers two sides of an issue — these are lacking in the traditional news media, and it’s not surprising that there’s no template online.

      I’ve studied (first-hand) how this problem has played out in other societies, and I’ll be very eager to watch Cuba over the next few years.

      This article is not about Cuban government abuses or misguided U.S. policies of the past — those have boh existed in abundance, but they’re simply a point of departure for this piece. As I told the group at Cornell, the real question is how to move forward. The new technological initiatives are an incredibly important step. Now they must be complemented by some serious thought about what kind of content can help to discourage political violence, and support the human rights of everyone involved.

      Oh — and the name’s “Nelson.”

    • Mark Rushton

      Ryan Bagueros: Many thanks for expanding on the article with your info. I am critical of Nelson’s article for what I see as some dated information and incomplete context. Perhaps we (and she?) could go into that in a more effective forum than this comments section (and its teeny-tiny window!!).

      I’m not aware of the Cuba-Brasil agreement, and would appreciate being pointed toward more information. I am rather surprised that Cuba would import a telecentro model from abroad, given its long history and extensive experience.

      Cuba does indeed have a thriving open source community, exemplified by the good folks at InfoMed (http://www.infomed.sld.cu) – the techs were those behind the creation of http://www.linux.cu (which doesn’t seem to be loading at the moment…?). It would be helpful to understand Cuba’s IT development for those interested to look at the origins of Cuba’s first UUCP connection to Canada over a 14.4 modem back in the mid-1990s (search NirvCentre, RedDavid and TinoRed).

      I was on-hand at TinoRed the day (mid-1990s) Cuba was hit by a large “e-bomb”, when some kind folks in Miami decided to overwhelm Cuba’s email servers with hateful messages, after a “kind soul” in the U.S. decided to “help” Cuba by posting EVERY valid email address of Cuban using the network on a U.S. server. Sigh…

      And that video you posted from YouTube: Well, that was a surprise. I still have the Beta-SP original sitting on my bookshelf. I directed that shoot on behalf of Canada’s IDRC for their [email protected] project in Latin America. The wonders of the internet, eh?

    • Don Podesta

      As a former Latin America correspondent who rorked for a major U.S. newspaper and reported from and wrote about Cuba, I can only say that Anne Nelson’s blog post and the commentary by panelist Ryan Bagueros are spot on. In my second career I’ve gained some experience in international media development. From that perspective, anything that sheds light on the transition (however slowly) to a wired and more open Cuba is all to the good. The same is true for large swaths Latin America in general.

    • Don Podesta

      I mean “worked.”

    • Mark Rushton

      Respectfully, I am skeptical of endorsements from anyone affiliated with the National Endowment for Democracy, whose record in Latin America has been less than stellar.

    • Liz Burn

      All the ‘academics and American citizens…’ visiting Cuba speaking for the rest of us Cubans who have family there or left Cuba because we were against its regime; please stop.

      If you are FOR Castro you get what ever you want there, if you are against him God help you. It is the reason Cubans place their children and elderly on makeshift boats in shark infested waters.

    • Liz Burn

      Thank you Alberto, they know not of what they preach to those of us who know the facts. The voices of truth like yours will prevail.

      So many gullible willing to
      swallow propaganda hook line and sinker because they are just simply against this administration.

    • Liz Burn

      As for ‘free press’ vs blogs; the world recently had a bird’s eye view of what Iran’s people are going through to achieve freedom thanks to blogs and twitter and even though I am a supporter of democracy I am fully aware that in a capitalist society even the ‘free press’ has deep pockets.

      The big difference is that I can post my opinion without fear that some day someone is going to haul me off to prison for it.

    • Mark Rushton

      Liz: The balseros are a phenomenon of geopolitics and economics first, politics second. One doesn’t look at the hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans who cross the Mexico / US border illegally and say “gee, they must be escaping an evil capitalist society”. An economy restricted (primarily by external forces – the embargo) combined with the “instant citizenship” magnet of the U.S. 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act goes a long way to explaining the balsero phenomenon.

      My first career was as a journalist. My academic work with Cuba began with economics, moved on to ICTs, and presently is with Human Development matters. I’m well aware of propaganda (on both sides).

      It is unfortunate that the Cuban voices heard in the media in North America are those of the community descended from those who chose to leave the island – it is to be expected that those voices will be critical. But Cuban voices that support their country’s right to choose a different path are dismissed as “commie dupes” or “manipulated / controlled”, which does a disservice to their lives, work and is an insult to their collective character.

    • Liz Burn

      Mark, to compare people who put their lives in danger in shark infested waters vs people who cross a land border is apples and oranges.

      The problem with this statement ‘Cuban voices that support their country’s right to choose a different path are dismissed as “commie dupes” or “manipulated / controlled”, which does a disservice to their lives, work and is an insult to their collective character’

      Is that if it walks like a duck…

      My mother, who was a teacher in Cuba, was ordered to do as follows: teach your children to ‘close your eyes and pray to God for candy’ open eyes = no candy, now ‘close your eyes and pray to Castro for candy’ surprise! candy

      If you don’t call that manipulation and control what exactly do you call it?

    • Frederico da Silva

      Ok I understand now more what is said in the article. Thank you to Anne Nelson and Ryan Bagueros for these update.

      But, would like to make the point that is hard to judge Cuba because la revolución cubana has never been at peace.

      Yes, is true, Bay of Pigs is from Cold War Era. But am I not wrong to say that Helms-Burton Act came more than half a decade after Soviet Union was collapsed? Was it still the Cold War in 1997, 1998, 1999 when CIA was putting bombs in Cuban hotels to destroy tourism market? Is today the Cold War when US government continues violating Cuba soveregnty to “destabilize” the government for “transition plan”?

      I would like to know how the critics would respond to attacks like this if they were running Cuba government. How a tiny island defends itself against the military superpower of the world that, in last ten years, attempted a coup d’etat in Venezuela and executed a coup d’etat in Honduras?

      The threat of undemocratic coup d’etat in Cuba is very real and I would like critics of Cuba to tell how they would defend their own homeland against a real threat such as this.

    • Frederico da Silva

      Liz:

      Is unbelievable that you repeat this absurdity of story about “close your eyes and pray to God for candy”. This story does not come from your mother. It comes from a terrible propaganda film against Cuba made by Christian psychotic named Reverend Estus W. Pirkle. Here is video:

      Liz, you are “Busted”!! Liz, what I call “manipulation and control” is this terrible and fake propaganda that you spread.

      Liz, is also disgraceful to say Mexicans face no risk crossing border, in honor of all the Mexicans who die trying to escape the economic conditions in Mexico , where narco-tyranny silences press and corrupts all forms of government.

      Mexicans also cross water, maybe you heard of the Rio Grande and many deaths are from drowning. Many other deaths are from exposure in the desert terrain, or dying in back of a truck, or killed by corrupt “coyotes”, I refer you to the No More Deaths group who give humanitarian aid to migrants from Mexico to US, and who has been harrassed and arrested by US Immigration police:
      http://www.nomoredeaths.org/

      The point of Mark is correct, thousands of Mexicans risk their life, separate from their families, and live a clandestine life of fear and hardship in the US, and yet never do I hear a Cuban exile proclaim that Mexico is a “totalitarian state”.

      Hypocrisy and propaganda is not going to make life better for Cubans.

    • Liz Burn

      The story came from my mother who LIVED IT. My mother who died in the USA after teaching in Cuba and teaching here until she died. Are you calling my mother a liar?

      My father was not a Castro supporter but my mother was, until she was told to do that with her children, she was a devout Catholic and after that happened to her she couldnt wait to get out of there. My father always told us how she came home crying from school that day.

      All of our relatives, those who survived, are still there. My aunt was anti Castro, a diabetic, because she was known as anti Castro she was refused medicine and died. I guess that’s a lie also, according to you, right? My relatives letters were always read by inspectors before they left Cuba and when my mother sent letters to our relatives many of the letters were censored, either cut in places, whole sentences cut out or marked off with black magic marker.

      Go ahead and continue making excuses for dictators and calling all of us who tell the truth ‘liars’ if that makes you feel better but you will not silence us like Castro tried to. I live in a free country now.

    • Liz Burn

      I don’t know what goes on in Mexico because

      1. I’m not an international expert

      2. all I know is the Mexico I have seen when I travel just like the Cuba Americans see when they travel as tourists.

      I cant speak for the Mexican people but I can speak for the Cubans in my family that have suffered under Castro’s regime.

      I guess I am fed up with people telling me that they think people in Cuba place their lives at risk for ‘things’ as if they see America as a ‘new car’ and that’s why I replied to Mark in the manner in which I replied. I was not saying that Mexicans are not struggling in their own country or putting them down in any way.

      BTW, That video you posted
      is an extremely poorly made parody and if I were you I wouldn’t use youtubes to try to prove someone a liar.

    • Liz Burn

      Frederico, I just did some ‘internet sleuthing’ of my own. Very convenient of you to ignore the first link that came up, the one where so many people posted experiences
      same as our parents told us happened my mother.

      http://www.babalublog.com/archives/003759.html

      I guess they must all be lying also.

    • Rogelio Ramos

      I have heard for years people talking about us and I am really afraid. Everybody is trying to think we gotta be as they want.
      I do live in Cuba. In Santiago de Cuba and I want things to be better but not to be as Yoanis Sanchez says, she is supposed to be as Cuban as anyone here , now she is not.
      Who has gone across the country to know how we really think, Today I have been talking to many friends of mine about this article and they were laughing because everybody is talking abut a country they don´t know very well , Not even Yoanys has come deeply to the Oriente and Talked to people from Songo -La Maya, Segundo Frente, Tercer Frente or Contramaestre. We are also Cuban and many, many of us think differently. We do exist. Give us a chance to live on peace, try us without the embargo

    • Mark Rushton

      Bienvenido, Rogelio! En mis investigaciones con el Joven Club de Computación, visité las comunidades de Tercer Frente, Segundo Frent, Songo La Maya, Contramaestre y otros – unas comunidades muy bonitos. La gente me recordaban de mi propio pueblo en Canadá (soy de tierra de campesinos).

      I am in complete agreement. The world (principally the USA) should stop trying to tell and force Cuba to be a certain way. Cuba has more than earned the right to walk its own path, without a cruel and inhumane economic blockade. Cuba has problems, but they are Cuba’s to solve.

    • Frederico da Silva

      Liz: Make some more “internet investigate” and you see the story many places that share a common characterism, is either a evangelical or right-wing Miami website. Is an urban myth that this is standard Cuban curriculum, everyone knows the Pope has been to Cuba, people practice their faith.

      What can I tell you from my experience is Catholic School and being beaten by nuns with rulers if I didn’t pray or sit straight or look at them the wrong way, and this is a truth easy to confirm everywhere, and is this the reason we should hate Catholics?

      I am with agreement of Rogelio and Mark — leave Cuba alone, stop infiltrating Cuba, stop trying to kill the Castros, stop forcing a tiny island to maintain an insane war budget, and THEN you can judge Cuba. Until now, the only country who can be judged is United States and in particular the Miami exiles (who are not Cuban by now, clearly they are a unique part of USA) who have illegally attack Cuba for decades.

      You say you know nothing about Mexico … now … but you presume to start off by instructed us to not compare Cuba migrants and Mexico migrants. But when you are backed into a logical corner, all of a sudden you no longer can talk about Mexico. With my background, I do not feel ashame to talk about Cuba or Mexico and I tell again, Cuba migration is the concept as any other migration from a post-colonized victim of imperialism to a country with a history of being the colonizer. Same as Cuba to US, Mexico to US, Africans to Europe.

      Let Cuba be in peace, if you are going to fight for something, fight for this.

    • Liz Burn

      Rogelio, welcome! Mi familia es de Guanabacoa y Santa Marta/Varadero.

      I beg to differ with you when you state ‘that Yoanis is not as Cuban as anyone there’ like it or not, she is Cuban and yes, she may think differently than you but just because she does it doesnt make her any less Cubana.

      I agree she does not have a right to speak for you but the world is listening to her and those who give her a voice.

      Cuba’s problems belong to all Cubans not just to the pro-Castro or only to those who are standing on the island. Thanks to Castro we are everywhere.

      Folks who are not Cuban don’t have a right to tell us that just because we don’t live there we have to turn our backs or quit feeling, thinking, voicing our opinion about our loved ones. Just because you may be living in another country does not mean you don’t love your people any less.

    • Liz Burn

      I also would like to take the time to thank anyone responsible, including Ryan Bagueros who posted here as well, for helping out the Cuban people with the internet project, my parents, had they been alive, would have been as delighted, despite all of the political stigma.

    • Liz Burn

      Frederico, it is obvious that in your world only your opinion and your experience counts. Duly noted.

      I loved the ‘spam filter’ words

      disabled speculation lol!

    • Rogelio Ramos

      Liz: when a painter o any artist notices their work sells they keep working the same way, That’s why I say Yoanis is not the same Cuban she way five years ago. Of course I can´t say who is or not Cuban , but Gloria Stefan doesn’t think as I do, so she is Cuban in a different way and she thinks as she is right now.
      Thanks Federico if you are back I would like to help you on your investigaciones.

    • Liz Burn

      I hope this internet Cuba project truly succeeds in giving a voice to everyone, on all sides of the equation but in a country where government imprisons independent journalists for contributing reports through the internet regularly I am not holding my breath. I am a realist. Of course, people will continue to find ways to get around the walls because where there’s will there will always be a way despite the oppressors. Power to the people.

    • Mark Rushton

      Returning to the topic of this piece… I’m all for an expansion of the global internet. But it is far from a “human right” as it has been promoted by some.

      As one who was trained as and worked for over a decade as a journalist in Canada, I always approached the job as professionally as possible – that it was imperative to be, or attempt to be, unbiased, factual and truthful.

      It troubles me that many who work in global communications seem to not care about whether the Cuban bloggers are being truthful – it is more important, apparently, that they are heard.

      What’s the old saying? “Your right to free speech does not include shouting ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theatre”? Cuba’s geopolitical context, a country attempting to pursue a non-capitalist path which has led it to be attacked for over half a century – invaded, bombed, biological warfare, assassination attempts against the leadership, blockaded and embargoed… that’s a pretty crowded theatre, in my mind.

      No-one talks of the responsibility to take ownership for their words. Those who hold the same ultimate objectives for Cuba as the U.S. State Department (the utter destruction of the island’s independence) cannot expect to be welcomed with open arms.

      One can be constructively critical, as many cubans are doing – on the island, with their neighbours, through their mass organizations, etc. Those who work daily to make Cuba a better place within the historical constraints it is under are those we should be celebrating.

      Those who have not set foot on the island in the past 20 years (or never) are criticising a Cuba that has passed into history. Contemporary Cuba is far from the hell-hole as portrayed in North America media.

    • Liz Burn

      To the Mark Rushtons who are posting on this article; for someone who claims to be ‘unbiased’ you seem to continue to keep pushing your propaganda on us but we will continue to push back.

      I am beginning to wonder if you are in Castro’s payroll.

      Do us all a favor, stop painting dictators as ‘innocent saints’, telling us not to care or communicate with our loved ones who regularly tell us, despite censorship in Cuba, how they suffer. Quit telling us how we should not care about them or try to help them and we wont tell you how to do your job, what ever that may be.

    • scott

      If it is a matter of “doing us *all* a favor”, Ms. Burns, I vote with Mark Rushton (the most civil,
      experienced, and factual of the non-indigenous commentors on this thread.)

      Why not do *us all* a favor and stop spouting
      banal slurs from your gusano family.

    • Liz Burn

      Thank you for confirming what I suspected “scott”

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