Cyber-police and Firewalls to Control Cuban Internet

Palacio Central de la Computación frente al Parque de la Fraternidad (14ymedio)
Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana

Only a few weeks after Barack Obama’s decision to allow American telecommunications companies to offer their services on the Island, Raúl Castro’s government is making it clear that the virtual world will not exist without limits. Lately, official spokespersons have taken on the task of explaining to the general public that low connectivity in the country is not due to a government decisions, and this seems to be the purpose of the First National Computerization and Cyber Security Workshop, which is scheduled to take place on the 18, 19, and 20 of February.

According to the official newspaper  Granma, more than 11,000 Cuban computer scientists will participate in the event, “the majority connected through videoconferences.” The quote is directed to sketch out a countrywide regulatory cyber-police in a moment in which pressures for full access to the web have gained force. Alternative phenomena, like the distribution of audiovisual material in the so-called  “combos or packages” (flash memories containing foreign TV shows, etc.), have also been pushing authorities from the Ministry of Communication to make decisions in this respect.

On February 19 and 20, around “260 specialists will share their opinions in commissions centered on four fundamental topics,” noted the Communist Party’s official media. The agenda includes “the human and scientific resources available in the country, electronic governance, cyber security, and economy and legality.” Throughout the Island, 21 headquarters will be made available for users interested in taking part in the debate and accessing the discussions. By visiting the website www.mincom.gob.cu, they will be able to share opinions and ask questions about the topics discussed, announced Ailyn Febles Estrada, Vice Dean of the University of Information Sciences of Cuba (UCI), on the web portal  Cubadebate.

One of the most unique results of the event lies in the development of a new social organization that will group together the country’s ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) professionals, into which recent graduates from diverse backgrounds like Information Technology, Computer Science, and Telecommunications could be incorporated. It is a clear attempt to centralize Cubans who have ICT knowledge, many of whom provide services in the private sector repairing computers and smartphones.

The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined

The words  cyber-security in the title of this article have also set off some alarms, since in recent years the government has augmented its ideological combat on the Internet. The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber-police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined as a priority for Cuban authorities.

The announcement of this workshop is added to the recent promise made by directives of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) that 136 new “internet cafés” will be opened in the year’s first trimester. The majority of them will be found in the  Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing), where users will pay for connection time in Cuban Pesos. On the close of 2014, 155 collective Internet cafés operated throughout the country, with a total of 573 available computers offering web access, a service that must be paid in Convertible Pesos.

According to the recently published report  Freedom on the Net 2014, which analyzed 65 countries between May 2013 and May 2014, Cuba is the only country in Latin America designated “not free” in regards to Internet access. The study points out the limitations in accessing the world-wide-web as well as the censorship of certain webpages and the high prices for connecting from public places.

Translated by Fernando Fornis

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