US internet task force criticised for having ‘subversive intent’

29th January 2018

A decision by the US Government to create a Cuba Internet Task Force to promote ‘the free and unregulated flow of information’ has been criticised by Cuba’s state media for having subversive intent.

In an announcement, the US State Department said on January 23 that it is convening a Cuba Internet Task Force composed of US government and non-governmental
representatives. The new body, it said, will promote the ‘free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba’ and will examine ‘the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media’. It said it was doing so in response to President Trump’s June 16, 2017, National Security Presidential Memorandum ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba’. The new body will have its first public meeting on February 7.

Responding, Granma said that the Internet Task Force was ‘aimed at subverting Cuba’s internal order’, noting that in the past Washington use of phrases like ‘expanding access to the internet in Cuba’ had been a pretext for schemes using new technologies to destabilise the country.

It reminded readers that the most well-known example was the USAID funded ZunZuneo project, first reported on in 2014 by Associated Press, which involved the creation of a messaging platform similar to Twitter aimed at Cuban youth (Cuba Briefing April 3, 2014).

The members of the new task force have yet to be named but are expected to include the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB) that oversees TV and Radio Martí, entities which Cuba also regards as subversive.

Over the last eighteen months Cuba has gradually been expanding access to the internet, offering a broad-band home service in Havana and some other cities. However, most Cuban access to the internet is through around 500 public wi-fi hotspots in urban areas, in post offices, or through computing youth clubs. Costs remain high at CUC$1 per hour for international access and CUC0.10 for Cuba’s own intranet, both significant sums for those Cubans whose only source of income is the average state monthly wage of US$30 (CUC30).

The US announcement came six days after the publication of a lengthy article in Granma in which Ernesto Rodríguez, the Director General of Information Technology at the Ministry of Communications spelt out the objectives of Cuba’s policy on computerisation and internet access.

In what was billed as a Granma exclusive, he made clear that that the development of the internet in Cuba was primarily a weapon for the defence of its revolution, and to ‘ensure sustainability and technological sovereignty’, with cybersecurity being an inseparable element.

The internet, Rodríguez said, was about much more than checking emails and communicating with friends. It was ‘a means to contribute to education, personal and professional growth, interaction, public debate, to raise the quality of life of people’. It was also, he observed, ‘an expression of development and growth in the institutional order’, with priority (being given to) sectors with the greatest impact on the development of the country: education, science, health and culture.

In the interview he said that work was underway to update the regulatory framework relating to cybersecurity and to create national awareness of the need to ensure software is up to date and individuals keep their personal details secure.

Rodríguez also spoke also about business and e-government applications and the need for government to use the internet to inform the population and address their concerns.

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s weekly editorially independent publication, Cuba Briefing, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in Cuba and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in Cuba find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region

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