Cuba’s really terrible internet, explained

The internet in Cuba is so bad that Cubans had to invent their own.

A few years ago, some computer gamers based in Havana strung a small web of ethernet cables from house to house so they could play video games together. The network continued to grow quietly, and today it’s called StreetNet: a bootleg internet for Havana with more than 10,000 users. It was an innovation forged by necessity in a country where only 5 percent of citizens have access to the uncensored internet. Watch the video to learn why Cuba’s internet is stuck in 1995.

Internet desert

Cuba has some of the worst internet access in the world, with just 5 percent of Cubans able to access the uncensored web.

Since the communist revolution of 1959, the Castro regime has enforced a strict ban on all forms of information flow that challenge official policy and history. Enforcing such censorship has been relatively easy for an island nation that has a monopoly over all media outlets. But when the internet arrived in the ’90s, it complicated matters for the Castros.


Cuba’s first 64KB/s internet connection came to life in 1996, making it one of the first countries to connect in the Caribbean region. Cuban technicians were resourceful, educated, and motivated to connect the country, which led to a surge in initial infrastructure development.

That surge soon stalled as the government realized the ramifications of allowing such a decentralized and uncontrollable network into the lives of the Cuban people. “The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled,” warned Communications Minister Ramiro Valdés in 2007, summing up the regime’s policy toward technology over the previous decade.

Getting online in Cuba

Connecting to the web in Cuba has historically been a matter of money and power. Some government insiders have dial-up internet in their homes. But for the rest of population, getting online has meant paying around $9 for one hour of internet access in state-run internet cafes. This in a place where an average salary is just over $20 per month.

Alternative methods include poaching wireless internet from hotels, which can be done if one person gets his hands on the wifi password and shares it. Many hotels in Havana now have security guards whose responsibility consists of shooing away these internet parasites from the sidewalks and benches surrounding the hotels.
Baby steps

“Cuba is like a pressure cooker. Frustration builds from all the lack of basic freedoms, and eventually the regime has to let out a little steam to keep everyone happy,” says Jose Luis Martinez of Connect Cuba, an advocacy group based in Miami.
In July, the regime let out a little steam by installing 35 wifi hotspots throughout the island. Now, to connect, you can buy an access card for $2, which will give you one hour of access to the uncensored internet. These access cards are usually sold out, which has led to an informal street market where cards go for $3 or $4.

Is this an improvement? Perhaps. But 35 expensive hotspots for 11 million people is certainly not a significant step toward a freer internet. “Imagine if you told the island of Manhattan that they could only access the internet with 35 wifi hotspots. There would be riots in the street,” says Martinez. “This is not progress.”
The hotspots are located in tourist-dense downtown parks, not in places where typical Cubans spend their time. Martinez thinks the regime is creating the facade of progress to quell international criticism. “They are good at playing the international PR game, but this is still a very, very small step,” he says. “I’m not hopeful.”

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Obama doesn’t understand why Raúl bites his hand


Carlos Alberto Montaner via Capitol Hill Cubans

In his United Nations speech, Raúl Castro attacked “the blockade,” demanded the return of the base at Guantánamo, and asked for an end to the Radio Martí broadcasts. He defended Nicolás Maduro and Rafael Correa. He sided with el-Assad’s Syria, Iran, Russia, and Puerto Rican independence. He criticized the market economy and, in a heavy-handed flourish, closed with a quote from his brother Fidel, an obligatory gesture in Cuba’s unctuous revolutionary liturgy.

Shortly thereafter, he met with the U.S. president. According to The Washington Post, a somewhat disappointed Obama mentioned to him the overlooked matter of human rights and democracy. There wasn’t even a glimpse of a political opening.

Obama doesn’t understand that, with the Castro brothers, there is no quid pro quo or give-and-take. To the Castros, the socialist model (they constantly repeat this) is perfect, their “democracy” is the best in the planet and the dissidents and the Ladies in White who ask for civil liberties are merely salaried servants of the yanqui embassy, invented by the media, people who deserve to be thrashed.

The Cuban government has nothing to rectify. Let the United States, that imperial power that abuses other nations, rectify. Let capitalism, that system that spreads misery worldwide with its free market, repulsive competition, hurtful inequalities and lack of commiseration, rectify.

To the Castros and their troops of battle-hardened Marxist-Leninists, indifferent to reality, the solution to all evils is in the collectivism managed by army officers, with the Castro family directing the puppet show.

Raúl, Fidel, and all those around them are proud of having created the greatest subversive core in the 1960s, when they founded the Tricontinental and nurtured all the terrorist groups on earth who knocked at their doors or forged their own intelligence services.

They worship the figure of Che, dead as a result of those bloody goings-on and recall with emotion the hundreds of guerrillas they trained or launched against half the planet, including the democracies in Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay.
Continue reading Obama doesn’t understand why Raúl bites his hand

The Washington Post: The one-sided relationship with Cuba


The Washington Post

Since December 17, President Obama has been engaged in a sweeping overhaul of U.S.-Cuba relations at the heart of which are conciliatory gestures by Washington; more travel by dollar-spending Americans to the impoverished island; a pledge to deal with differences, including on human rights, through diplomatic channels rather than confrontation; and a presidential call for the end of the U.S. trade embargo. In calling for “reform” in Cuba this week at the United Nations, Mr. Obama made no use of such provocative terms as “liberty” or “democracy.”
President Raúl Castro’s regime, by contrast, “seems to have done little beyond reopening its Washington embassy,” as The Post’s Karen De­Young reported Wednesday. Mr. Castro’s son-in-law, an army general, still controls the dollar-earning tourist industry, the Internet largely remains unavailable to ordinary Cubans, and, most important, dissidents remain subject to arbitrary arrest and detention — including several snatched off the streets for daring to approach Pope Francis during his recent visit.
Mr. Castro has in fact appeared to pocket Mr. Obama’s concessions — and raise his demands. His speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday read like one of his brother Fidel’s old jeremiads from the 1960s, complete with a call for Puerto Rican independence and condemnation of alleged NATO encroachment on Russia. More pertinent for Mr. Obama’s normalization project, Mr. Castro cast bilateral reconciliation as a long, complex, process which can only reach fruition once the United States ends the “economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba,” and the “return” of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. These conditions, as Mr. Castro knows, range from politically difficult (lifting the embargo) to impossible (Guantanamo). The true practical relevance of lifting the embargo, at a time when it already exempts food and medicine, and travelers from the United States brought $3.5 billion worth of goods to Cuba in their luggage during 2013, while Cuban Americans sent $3.1 billion cash in remittances, was not seriously discussed.
Nevertheless, Mr. Obama staged yet another photo opportunity and private meeting with Mr. Castro at the U.N., after which Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, was pleased to chide the U.S. president for failing to use his executive powers even more aggressively to circumvent the embargo law. Mr. Rodríguez said: “He has not done so. I expect him to do so.”
When it began, Mr. Obama billed his opening to the Castro regime as a more effective means of bettering the lot of the island’s impoverished and repressed 11 million people. So far, it’s raised their hopes, but not their prospects. Perhaps it’s time Mr. Obama started reciprocating the Cubans’ offer of advice and tell Mr. Castro more plainly what he expects Havana to do, starting with allowing the Cuban people freedom of speech, press and assembly. After all, Mr. Castro’s executive powers, accumulated over more than half a century, are much, much more extensive than Mr. Obama’s.

Sun Sentinel Investigation: U.S. welfare flows to Cuba



Sun Sentinel

“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.”
Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and returning to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home.
Some stay for month

s at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying.
Cubans’ unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it’s helping some finance their lives on the communist island.
America’s open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread.
Fed-up Floridians are reporting their neighbors and relatives for accepting government aid while shuttling back and forth to the island, selling goods in Cuba, and leaving their benefit cards in the U.S. for others to use while they are away.
Some don’t come back at all. The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.
Regulations prohibit welfare recipients from collecting or using U.S. benefits in another country. But on the streets of Hialeah, the first stop for many new arrivals, shopkeepers like Miguel Veloso hear about it all the time.
Veloso, a barber who has been in the U.S. three years, said recent immigrants on welfare talk of spending considerable time in Cuba — six months there, two months here. “You come and go before benefits expire,” he said.
State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah hears it too, from constituents in his heavily Cuban-American district, who tell of flaunting their aid money on visits to the island. The money, he said, “is definitely not to be used … to go have a great old time back in the country that was supposed to be oppressing you.”
The sense of entitlement is so ingrained that Cubans routinely complained to their local congressman about the challenge of accessing U.S. aid — from Cuba.
“A family member would come into our office and say another family member isn’t receiving his benefits,” said Javier Correoso, aide to former Miami Rep. David Rivera. “We’d say, ‘Where is he?’ They’d say, ‘He’s in Cuba and isn’t coming back for six months.’”
“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.’”

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End the fraud in Cuban immigration

Cuban migrants are seen on a raft before being rescued by members of Mexico's Navy (SEMAR) in Progreso, in the state of Yucatan

Sun Sentinel Editorial

Providing a free ride on welfare is not why our country opened its borders to Cuban immigrants.
You can understand why, during the height of the Cold War, America granted special privileges to Cuban refugees who risked their lives to flee the Communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
But five decades later, the dynamics have changed. And given what we now know about some of those leaving Cuba, so should the laws be changed that give Cuban immigrants special status, including immediate access to welfare.
In truth, the growing number of Cubans arriving today has little to do with political persecution and everything to do with our nation’s better economy, better jobs and, as we learn today from a Sun Sentinel investigation, better government handouts.
For not only are Cubans given easy access to legal residency and citizenship, they’re also immediately eligible for welfare benefits unavailable to most other legal immigrants for at least five years.
Our reporting shows an alarming number of Cuban immigrants are using their American welfare checks to return to the island for a better lifestyle or regular family vacations, giving lie to any fear of persecution.
By many accounts, this revolving-door fraud is widely known, yet largely overlooked. On the streets of Miami, Hialeah and elsewhere in South Florida, people disgusted by the abuse have called their congressmen, state officials and anyone who will listen. “Stop the fraud please!” one person cried to the state.
By our accounts, taxpayers spend more than $680 million per year on welfare to Cuban immigrants, not counting the cost of Medicaid health care benefits, a number that couldn’t be discerned. For until now, no one has tallied the costs, let alone the abuses.
“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country,” Javier Carreoso, aide to former Miami Rep. David Rivera, told our reporters.
When welfare beneficiaries leave the country for more than 30 days, their benefits are supposed to be suspended, but remarkably, our government relies on people to self-report. Now consider that in Cuba, people learn to skirt the rules to survive a government that says it will take care of you, but doesn’t. So without proper oversight here, expecting Cuban immigrants to self-report is folly.
Along with welfare fraud, the preferential laws for Cubans also have given rise to another perfectly legal, yet unintended, consequence. That is, aging Cubans are coming to Florida not to flee oppression, but to live near their children in an easier retirement.
“It wasn’t that bad in Cuba,” said Jose Angel Rodriguez, 81, who now gets food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income payments at his daughter’s home in Miami. “But here, I’m better.”
“This is the greatest country in the world,” said Juan Fleites, 62, who visits Cuba every two to three months on money saved from his American welfare checks.
A free ride is not why our country opened its borders to Cuban immigrants. Today’s abuses demand redress.
So let our eyes be opened. Let our members of Congress be put on notice. And let our presidential candidates be informed that on the issue of immigration, changes also are needed in the laws that give preferential status to Cubans.
For starters, let’s match the travel records of people who go to Cuba against those receiving welfare benefits. For 12 years, government auditors have urged Social Security and the Department of Homeland Security to share such data. And 12 years later, it still hasn’t happened. Get it done.
Second, let’s put some real muscle into pursuing fraud complaints. It doesn’t matter if the fraud is only a few thousand dollars and costs more to prosecute. A message must be sent.
And third, let’s change the laws, starting with the welfare law that tempts Cubans to come for a quick and steady handout. Then let’s address the sacred cow — the wet-foot/dry-foot law that largely lets Cubans stay if they make it to our shores on the assumption they are fleeing persecution.
For let’s not kid ourselves. The big driver behind this year’s uptick in Cuban arrivals is not the fear of persecution back home, but the fear that detente will close the door to a better life in America.
Will our leaders demonstrate political backbone, especially in an election season?
For the Obama Administration, it’s all about expanding ties and making friends, and a lot of Cubans would be upset if our country did away with the generous benefits given their families, friends and countrymen. Because Florida is a swing state in presidential politics, taking a stand would be risky, even though a lot of Cuban-Americans are disgusted by the fraud, too.
For people like U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican generally given deference on Cuba matters, the focus is always on human rights and punishing the Castro government. To address the fraud that flows between Miami and Havana would undermine the narrative she seeks to highlight. And facing a newly drawn political district this year, she notes that it’s the hard-liners who win elections.
But for taxpayers footing the bill and witnessing the abuses, enough is enough. So today we join that person who cried: “Stop the fraud please!”
Cubans facing persecution because of their race, religion or political opinion deserve the same safe harbor America affords other persecuted people, no more, no less. Same goes for those who seek to emigrate for economic or family reasons.
But the laws that give Cubans preference on immigration and welfare benefits are Cold War relics whose time have come and gone.
With members of South Florida’s congressional delegation standing strong against normalizing relations with Cuba, we urge them to similarly stand strong in safeguarding the public purse.
End the fraud in Cuban immigration. Now.

Want to Do Business in Cuba? Prepare to Partner With Raul Castro’s Son in Law


From an article in the November issue of Bloomberg Markets

Things are changing rapidly in Cuba, and people from around the world are eager to get in on the action. Wait until they learn all roads lead to Raúl Castro’s son-in-law.
Omar Everleny Pérez is eager to show me how far Raúl Castro’s overhaul of Cuba’s socialist economy has advanced, and so, on a muggy evening in August, the 54-year-old economist invites me into his home in Havana’s Marianao neighborhood. Above his cramped desk, shelves sag under the weight of economics books and monographs, including more than a dozen that Pérez wrote.
“Just look at this,” he says, pointing to the screen of his wheezy black desktop PC. He clicks on a file, and scenes of Havana’s colonial-era port appear. A female narrator with a soothing voice describes a 14-part government plan to replace the gritty piers with cruise ship terminals, restaurants, and hotels, all to be bankrolled by foreign investors. Run-down warehouses fade digitally into luxury apartments, shops and offices, and marinas crowded with yachts. Little virtual people jog and bike along greenways where an oil refinery now sits, and a ferry glides into a modern glass-and-steel terminal.
“It’s really visionary, what they want to do, if you think about it,” says Pérez, a professor at the University of Havana and a researcher at the influential Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.
Later, a few steps from the port in Old Havana, I see the city’s redevelopment in progress. Near El Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway once knocked back daiquiris, the hulking Manzana de Gómez building is being transformed into a five-star hotel. Stylish boutiques sell perfume and stereos. Inside an old warehouse is a microbrewery teeming with people drinking lager made in huge steel tanks imported from Austria.
What isn’t immediately apparent to a person taking a walk on a warm Caribbean night is that all of this—and anything else that stands to make money in Old Havana, and much of the rest of the country—is run by a man who is little known outside the opaque circles of Cuba’s authoritarian regime. A quiet general in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba’s multibranch military, he has spent his life around the communist elite that served Fidel Castro’s revolution. Yet he is chairman of the largest business empire in Cuba, a conglomerate that comprises at least 57 companies owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and operated under a rigid set of financial benchmarks developed over decades. It’s a decidedly capitalist element deeply embedded within socialist Cuba.
This is Luis Alberto Rodriguez. For the better part of three decades, Rodriguez has worked directly for Raúl Castro. He’s the gatekeeper for most foreign investors, requiring them to do business with his organization if they wish to set up shop on the island. If and when the U.S. finally removes its half-century embargo on Cuba, it will be this man who decides which investors get the best deals.
Rodriguez doesn’t just count Castro as a longtime boss. He’s family. More than 20 years ago, Rodriguez, a stocky, square-jawed son of a general, married Deborah Castro, Raúl’s daughter. In the past five years, Castro has vastly increased the size of Rodriguez’s business empire, making him one of the most powerful men in Cuba. Rodriguez’s life is veiled in secrecy. He’s rarely been photographed or quoted in the media, and his age isn’t publicly known. (He’s thought to be 55.) Rodriguez and the other Cuban government officials in this story declined multiple requests for comment.

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Raúl Castro gives his orders to Obama: Close Gitmo, end the embargo and stop asking me to do anything in return!


Raul Castro again told President Obama that full normalized relations cannot be resumed until the United States lifts the economic embargo on his country and abandons its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, officials said Tuesday.
Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla told reporters that the Castro-Obama meeting “took place in a respectful and constructive climate,” and the two leaders agreed to “work on the agenda that both countries will be discussing in the next few months towards the normalization of relations.”
In order for that to happen, however, Castro told Obama that the “embargo that has caused damages and hardships to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens must be lifted and the territory occupied by the US naval base in Guantanamo should be returned to Cuba,” according to Rodríguez Parrilla.
Obama, in his speech Monday to the United Nations General Assembly, also called on Congress to lift the decades-long embargo on the former Cold War rival. But the administration opposes abandoning Gitmo, which also serves as a prison for detainees in the war on terrorism.
A White House statement on Tuesday’s meeting did not mention the embargo or Gitmo, saying only that Obama “highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

Continue reading Raúl Castro gives his orders to Obama: Close Gitmo, end the embargo and stop asking me to do anything in return!