Cuban Dissidents Hack for Internet Access

October 20, 2016

In Cuba, a country with restricted internet access, those who have found a way around the government’s access barriers have been labeled as dissidents. One of these, blogger Yoani Sánchez, has consistently been active in portraying and critiquing daily life in communist Cuba. She is most famous for her blog Generación Y, which she is able to maintain by emailing friends outside the country for publication. Sánchez recently announced at Festival Hay de Cartagena de Indias, Colombia that she will be releasing a new digital publication to accompany the transitional Cuban society. She stated that the blog will contain basic information as well as opinion articles, but also warned that it will be illegal on the island. Sánchez has repeatedly been a model of freedom of speech in a country where dissidence is often stifled, making clever use of technology to freely express her opinions.

Sánchez also recently participated in a hackathon based in Miami in order to help young Cubans gain internet access. The blogger participated via Skype, delivering the opening remarks of the event on January 31st. Natalia Martinez, head of technology for sponsoring organization Roots of Hope stated, “the principal purpose of this meeting is to design solutions that help Cubans break down or elude the barriers that they encounter in communication between themselves and the exterior world.” During the hackathon, those who participated produced possible apps for smartphones that would help Cubans evade problems associated with their county’s internet access. Some self-exiled Cubans joined the event hoping to provide their friends and family on the island more access to information.

The government practices strong censorship, blocking sites that pose threats to its ideas and control. In 2010, it even went so far as to publish its own version of Wikipedia, EduRed, an online Cuban encyclopedia that gives information framed by government opinion. For example, when one searches “United States” on this site they will find an entry that describes it as “recognized as the empire of this era, it is the most powerful nation of all time… It is historically categorized by forcefully stripping other nations and countries of their territories and natural resources to make them serve its businesses and monopolies.” This site is used as a primary resource for many Cuban students who need to complete research, despite the fact that it clearly aims to portray the world through the government’s persepective.  

Although internet access is limited in Cuba, the government has taken recent action to expand internet availability, facing the fact that internet access is necessary for economic growth. Last year, over 100 internet cafes were opened throughout the country. However, these cafes are costly and the typical monthly salary of USD$20 makes it difficult for many to afford the USD$4.50 per hour rate. Of course the content available through public computers is highly censored as well. For bloggers like Sánchez, the public nature of the computers makes it difficult to safely connect to outside sources. As an alternative, some dissidents have been able to use wireless internet access in hotels or embassies in order to send and publish their work. Although most locals do not have access to Sánchez’ published material, they serve as a way for the outside world to connect to issues that occur in Cuba. With her new site, Sánchez will continue to expose the reality of Cuba to raise international awareness of the struggles of those living in this transitional society.

About Author(s)

Madeline Townsend
Madeline is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing a degree in Spanish and Global Studies, with a focus on the Latin American region. She plans to present an honors thesis on visual representations of the internal conflict that occurred in Peru between 1980 and 2000. She also studies Portuguese and Film Studies as minors and works as one of the Panoramas interns.