Monday, November 28, 2005

Surfing in Havana

As you might expect, the internet in Cuba is not exactly up to speed.

Private persons in Cuba cannot legally buy computers or sign up for regular Internet service without government permits that are almost impossible to obtain, so the nation’s 335,000 desktops and laptops belong largely to the government, state enterprises and special individuals such as trusted doctors.

Internet cafes aimed at foreigners charge up to a month’s wage — $15 — for an hour of surfing and ban locals. But a black market for illegal passwords has emerged, where users “rent” time slots from friends.

“We, for instance, used to have a connection between the horrendous hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., but it was better than nothing,” anthropologist Katrin Hansing, an associate with Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute, who lives in Havana, said in an e-mail.


The Cuban government acknowledges that it blocks websites that it considers to be terrorist, subversive or pornographic. Attempts to view blocked sites, such as the Cuban American National Foundation’s, result in generic messages such as “This page cannot be shown.”

“Even the trusted Cubans they authorize to have [Internet access] can’t see all sites,” said dissident writer Oscar Espinosa Chepe. “If they send an e-mail the authorities don’t like, they get an e-mail that says, ‘Hey, you can’t do that.’ “

That has not restricted news sites like The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, The New York Times and The Washington Post, Espinosa added in a telephone interview from Havana.

To get around the controls, homemade computers using smuggled parts are growing in popularity, and government workers with legal Internet access are selling passwords and log-on hours on the black market for up to $50 a month.

“Like everything else in Cuba, it’s resolved through friendships,” Espinosa said. ‘As we say in Cuba, ‘Invent as you go along.’ “

Somehow I doubt that there are any bloggers in Cuba, but I could be wrong.

I predict that the two most successful businesses in Cuba after Castro will be the first NAPA car parts distributor and the first computer geek shop.