It should harden, but without losing the connection. This could be Cuba’s new maxim. At the start of 2020, the island already had 7.1 million people connected, or 63% of the population. And that connectivity played a key role in Sunday’s protests (11), the largest in the country in decades.
The first marches started in San Antonio de los Baños, an hour south of Havana, apparently spontaneously. Now also connected via 3G on cell phones, Cubans in at least 50 cities quickly joined in the call, until Cuban exiles in Miami, New York and even Europe joined in the uprising, which demands to food, medicine and freedom of expression.
Cuban society has changed since 2015, when the internet was opened to the public by Raúl Castro.
That year, wireless Internet was offered at public points and was accessible with a prepaid card. In the squares and doors of hotels, users spoke without headphones, using the loudspeaker, transforming the street into a polyphony of family business. These were Cubans expressing their nostalgia for expatriate family members and, from time to time, asking for money or small consumer goods.
The connection was still poor, and in the dramatic heat of Cuba, the experience of typing in the user’s 12 digits plus the 12-digit password every five minutes made the experience a bit overwhelming.
The scenario changed for good at the end of 2018, when the public telephone company ETECSA, which holds the monopoly on the connection, began to offer 3G Internet on cell phones, even though the prices of the data plans are excessive for Cuban average salary of US $ 30. (BRL 155).
Journalist Abraham Jiménez was one of those who felt the bittersweet flavor of connectedness. Founder of El Estornudo magazine, he saw the publication’s website grow in size and importance, until it was blocked for access within the island. Today, he works for the American newspaper The Washington Post and sometimes the police show up in front of the house where he lives with his wife and their one-year-old baby to intimidate him. Yet a dozen new independent journalism websites have sprung up in Cuba since then.
Here and there, Cubans have started to test the power of mobile connectivity. Although small, the increasingly politicized protests have shown the cracks in the Cuban wall. In early April of the same year, around 100 people demonstrated against the mistreatment of animals. And it worked. In February of this year, the government issued the Animal Welfare Decree Law.
Also in 2019, the LGBT + community used social media to challenge the government’s order to cancel March 11, World Day Against Homophobia. The march was eventually reprimanded by police and at least three people were arrested.
It did not take long for the regime to promulgate new laws providing for sanctions against those who “disseminate, via public data transmission networks, information contrary to social interest, good morals, good morals and the integrity of persons ”. Even so, it was not possible to stop the social effervescence. In this context, the pandemic and the disruption of tourism which supports the local economy “fueron candela”, that is to say the fire.
Yes, there is the draconian US embargo and the 240 restrictive trade and financial measures against Cuba. But the government’s rhetoric that dissidents are infiltrating from the United States is less and less flawed. It’s worse now that the protesters you see in the streets are your lifelong neighbors.
The truth is that the vaccines and the money are lacking. The US Coast Guard has already recorded an 80% increase in attempts to immigrate by sea between January and April of this year. As the journalist Abraham puts it, “a country without food, medicine or freedom is simply a country where no one wants to live.”
More than food and medicine, freedom is the claim that overwhelms the regime the most. And that crack started to turn into a crack that’s hard to plug in late 2020. In mid-October, rapper Denis Solís tattooed “Cambio Cuba Libre” on his abdomen, and the photos roamed social media. Days later, a police officer entered his home without a warrant and the artist broadcast the ensuing discussion via Facebook – something unimaginable until another day. Appraisal: Solís was sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt.
Members of the San Isidro movement, of which the rapper is a member, went on hunger strike to demand his release, but were evicted from their headquarters by police. Some of them also ended up in prison. The next day, 300 artists were already demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana. And the name of the movement had conquered the world.
Precisely on Monday (12), following the demonstrations, the government released Denis Solís. Maybe to try to bring down the temperature, because internet access in Cuba seems to be a point of no return. Of course, this was not the plan of Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, who aimed for a Chinese model, with citizens as connected as they are in control. It may have, however, awakened a Cuban spring.
This Sunday, after spending the day covering the protests in Havana and the arbitrary arrests, Abraham returned home unharmed, despite an agent trying unsuccessfully to grab his cell phone. On Twitter, he posted: “Having lost so much, this country is even losing fear.”