Who is Blockading Whom?
Atilio A. Boron
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
The nervousness which has gripped the Latin American right after the announcement of the "normalization" of relations between the US and Cuba has sparked a series of demonstrations that astonish because of the impunity with which they distort reality.
An example is Andres Oppenheimer’s Tuesday, February 2 column in La Nacion whose lead says it all: "The key to freedom in Cuba is access to the Internet". The journalist, known for his visceral rejection of the whole work of the Cuban Revolution, wonders if "Cuba’s regime will accept US help to expand access to the Internet."
Shortly afterwards he recalled that in his speech on December 17, 2014, Obama said that "Washington will eliminate various regulations that prevent US companies from exporting smartphones, Internet software and other telecommunications equipment; but judging from what I'm told by several visitors who just returned from the island, there are good reasons to be skeptical that the Cuban regime will allow it."
The punch line of his article is anthological: "Washington should focus on the Internet. And if Cuba does not want to talk about it, the US and Latin American countries should denounce the Cuban regime for what it is: a military dictatorship that has already run out of excuses to continue to banning Internet access in the island ".
I prefer not to waste time in refuting the unprecedented characterization of Cuba as a military dictatorship that in a test of Introduction to Political Science would deserve the immediate flunking of the student who dared to express such a notion (which is not the same as an idea, more respect for Hegel, please!). Oppenheimer is not one of those rabid fanatics who swarm in American television, serial violators of the most basic rules of journalism. But the nervousness and despair that has gripped the increasingly small and lacking prestige of the anti-Castro groups in Miami must have infected him and driven him to write a note full of falsehoods. I will just mention three.
First, he cannot ignore that, because of the blockade, Cuba only entered partially and late into cyberspace. When the rapid expansion of broadband and Internet began, the White House brutally pressed those who offered these services to the island so they would interrupt them immediately. This order, of course, could not be disobeyed by the small countries of the Caribbean Basin. Therefore, until the arrival of the underwater cable from Venezuela, a little over a year ago, the Internet connection in Cuba was made only by satellite. Now there is this physical link, but unfortunately the bulk of the growing Cuban traffic must still navigate through slow and expensive satellite links, and with an absolutely insufficient bandwidth. These problems are not due to a decision of Havana but the stubbornness of Washington.
Second, before wondering if Havana would accept the help that Obama promised, Oppenheimer should investigate whether Washington will accept ending the information technology blockade against Cuba. His argument seems out of a children's song by Mary E. Walsh: "The Upside-Down Kingdom".
It was not Cuba who, at the advent of the communications revolution, decided to make computer hara-kiri. It was the Empire who, aware of the importance of these new technologies, extended the scope of its criminal blockade to include the Internet.
Anyone who has visited Cuba knows that you cannot access many websites or make use of the main instruments of navigation in cyberspace. If you try, almost invariably a fatal message will appear: "Error 403" reading something like "From the place where you are you cannot access this URL" or another more eloquent: "Accessing this page is forbidden for the country where you are". You cannot use Skype, Google Earth, or collaborative development platforms such as Google Code and Source Force, or freely download Android applications. And when you can, the low bandwidth makes it virtually impossible to work with a minimum of speed and efficiency.
Is all of this the Cuban government’s fault? In the middle of last year, Google CEO Eric Schmidt led a delegation which visited Cuba in response to accusations that the software giant was blocking access to their services. After confirming that several Google products were unavailable, Schmidt pointed obliquely to those responsible when he said that "US sanctions against Cuba defy reason."
Third, perhaps Oppenheimer is correct in his skepticism, but not because of Cuba but of the United States. How can we forget that, early in his first term, Obama had promised what he again promised a little over a month ago: "to soften" some sanctions on IT companies doing business with Cuba? What happened then? Little or nothing. Hopefully now it will be different.
The Torricelli Act of 1992 had allowed the Internet connection via satellite with a decisive limitation: that each provision be contracted with US companies or their subsidiaries only after approval from the Treasury Department. This imposed strict limitations and established special sanctions –for example, fines of $50,000 for each violation– to those who facilitated, within or outside, the United States, the Cubans' access to the network.
What Obama did, in March 2010, was to remove some of these sanctions; especially for companies that provide free e-mail applications, chat and the like. Nevertheless, in 2012, the Ericsson company branch in Panama had to pay a fine of nearly two million dollars to the United States Department of Commerce for violating communications equipment export restrictions to Cuba. As always: I give you one, and take away two. Thus, unrestricted access to the network continues in the shackles of the blockade.
The "cyber war" declared by Washington against Cuba, a country that remains shockingly included in the list of "state sponsors of terrorism" continues its course. Will Obama fulfill his promise this time? Who is "prohibiting" access to the Internet in Cuba?
Atilio A. Boron. Senior Researcher at CONICET and Director of PLED (Latin American Distance Education Program in Social Sciences)
Rebellion has posted this article with the author's permission through a license from Creative Commons, respecting their freedom to publish elsewhere.
¿Quién bloquea a quién?
Atilio A. Boron Rebelión
El nerviosismo que se ha apoderado de la derecha latinoamericana con la “normalización” de las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Cuba ha desatado una serie de manifestaciones que asombran por la impunidad con que se desfigura la realidad. Un ejemplo lo ofrece la columna de Andrés Oppenheimer en La Nación del Martes 2 de Febrero cuyo título lo dice todo: “La clave de la libertad en Cuba es el acceso a Internet.” El articulista, conocido por su visceral rechazo a toda la obra de la Revolución Cubana, se pregunta si “ el régimen cubano aceptará la ayuda estadounidense para expandir el acceso a Internet.” Poco más adelante recuerda que en su discurso del 17 de Diciembre del 2014 Obama dijo que “Washington eliminará varias regulaciones que impedían a las empresas estadounidenses exportar teléfonos inteligentes, software de Internet y otros equipos de telecomunicaciones, pero a juzgar por lo que me dicen varios visitantes que acaban de regresar de la isla, hay buenas razones para ser escépticos respecto de que el régimen cubano lo permita.” El remate de su artículo es de antología: “Washington debería centrarse en Internet. Y si Cuba no quiere hablar del tema, Estados Unidos y los países latinoamericanos deberían denunciar al régimen cubano por lo que es: una dictadura militar a la que ya se le acabaron las excusas para seguir prohibiendo el acceso a Internet en la isla.”
Prefiero no perder tiempo en rebatir la inaudita caracterización de Cuba como
una dictadura militar, que en un examen de Introducción a la Ciencia Política
merecería el fulminante aplazo del estudiante que osara manifestar una
ocurrencia (que no es lo mismo que una idea, más respeto a Hegel, ¡por favor!)
de ese tipo. Oppenheimer no es uno de los energúmenos que pululan en la
televisión norteamericana, violadores seriales de las más elementales normas del
oficio periodístico. Pero el nerviosismo y la desesperación que se ha apoderado
de los grupos anticastristas de Miami -cada vez más reducidos y desprestigiados-
lo deben haber contagiado e impulsado a escribir una nota pletórica de
falsedades. Me limitaré a señalar tres.
Atilio A. Boron. Investigador Superior del Conicet y Director del PLED (Programa Latinoamericano de Educación a Distancia en Ciencias Sociales)
Rebelión ha publicado este artículo con el permiso del autor mediante una licencia de Creative Commons, respetando su libertad para publicarlo en otras fuentes.