Cuban Connectivity: The rise of free speech in the Digital Age


The virgin telecommunications market that is Cuba, has large tech corporations such as Amazon, Google, and Apple ready to invest as soon as restrictive United States sanctions are removed for the island to enter a smaller globalized world. Freedom of speech via global internet connection would give Cuban citizens an unprecedented arena to project their grievances, and access world information. An article by Freedom House labels Cuba as one of the world’s longest ranking repressive environments for information and communication technologies. The lack of digital communication on the island has also left the Cuban people frozen in time; and although around 27 percent of the people in Cuba have access to the internet, it is often through illegal streaming sites, extremely slow service and costly fees. But, through pressures being put on the Cuban government, by human rights campaigns, and the international community- the people of Cuba are growing ever more connected and facing less internet restrictions and punishments for projecting their beliefs. Rather than having the Cuban government see the internet as a tool of coercion, they should perceive it as a tool to unify the people

New technology, has been empowering individuals, in both positive and negative ways. And over the past couple year, the Cuban government has made progress to make internet access more feasible to its citizens, although recently this has become harder to accomplish due to the Trump  administrations rollback on Cuban – U.S. foreign policy, “cancelling” plans to ease cold- war tensions with Cuba, hindering negotiations being made by the government and companies such as Google. The Trump administration has not made it easier to for U.S. companies to provide commercial telecom and internet services, as well as to export cell phones, computers, and set up joint ventures with Cuban entities.

Technological corporations should not see this new U.S. policy as an opportunity to pull their small but growing investments, but as a reason to ensure the Cuban people that their voices will continue to be heard, because as the current President Raul Castro is proposed to retire in early 2018, Foreign Affairs magazine calls for in response to these difficulties, demands from centrist activists for a greater say in future economic decisions and in the coming leadership transition. The Cuban are already demanding more from their government, from better living conditions to more WI-FI. The people’s continuous effort to surpass government internet restrictions while pushing for better internet accessibility to promote progress and social changes within the country, should encourage more technological companies to invest more resources into infrastructure development. These internet spaces that create free speech promote movements can be important vehicles for social and political change, and have the potential to transform the systems of institutionalized politics in which they occur. Social movements can give us an insight into human action and why people voluntarily cooperate, mobilize and could have potential positive implications in the spread of democracy, or regime change.

A younger Cuban generation is hoping to emphasize the importance of internet connection for all, a “promise” their government is working to achieve for all its citizens by the year 2020, announcing plans to expand broadband access to 80 percent of business entities (private and state-owned), 95 percent of educational and health centers, and 50 percent of households by 2020. This level of connectivity would require significant investments in infrastructure, and with new regulations being rolled out by the Trump administration, unless the Cuban government supports heavy investing in their technological industries, change could take years longer than hoped for by the international community and the Cuban people.  

Cubans, have become much more aware of the power the internet possesses through projecting social justice projects to address their poor living condition, and shrinking gross domestic domestic through the closures of small businesses on the island. The internet is critical tool to advocate for government reform, and although the government believed that limiting access was for the safety and betterment of their people, it in fact, only hinders the progress the country is making toward government and economic reform.

The government has begun to take notice, of the positive possibilities that come from joining an interconnected world and has even increased education funding to computer software and computer sciences industries. Cuban universities have begun expanding their technology science curriculums, making it possible for grassroots efforts to provide more multimedia accessibility to the island. From these investments, emerges a generation of highly skilled graduates whose technical and abilities known as the “knowledge economy”, often go underdeveloped due to the lack of resources and support from the international community. In order to unlock the “knowledge economy”, the international community should aid in the WiFi revolution, by ending technological barriers between Cuba and its trading partners.

German Sociologist, Lorenz von Stein, introduced the term ‘social movement’ into scholarly discourse in the 1950’s. It conveyed the idea of a continuous, unitary process by which the whole working class gained awareness and power. Luckily, at the touch of a button, the Cuban working class is beginning to feel that power, along with the pressures and luxuries that come with internet exposure. While becoming more aware of how other people live and talking about their experiences to people all over the world, feeling that they are finally being given the chance to speak up and express their grievances and the actions other countries should be taking in order to facilitate a smooth transition of power from a communist regime to a more democratically based one.

Before the Obama administration began to normalize relations with Cuba, there was already an interconnected underground system that aimed to provide an alternative internet broadband. There is an entire informal job sector network growing out of these grassroots internet distributors working to provide affordable online streaming services to the people of Cuba. American corporations such as Netflix are beginning to stream to the island, but at 8 dollars a months, it is unaffordable to a majority of citizens that work at a wage between 20 and 60 dollars a month. More needs to be done by the government to support these efforts to secure the economic future of its small business and technological informal sector.

       Weak infrastructure and innovation-stifling corruption are just some of the obstacles technological companies have been facing. Investing in telecommunications towers, and creeping away from government run-wifi would be a huge step in providing accessible internet. Since 2008, when the Cuban government lifted an almost total ban on the World Wide Web, there has been a skyrocketing number of Cubans beginning to engage in internet consumption. While Cuba remains one of the world’s least connected societies, ordinary citizens’ access to the internet has exploded since 2015 due to the government’s opening of over 200 public WiFi spots in parks and street corners all over the country. With an increasing number of WiFi hotspots becoming available to the public, spending the day outside scrolling through phones is becoming a daily routine for a younger Cuban generation. We are not only seeing WiFi being provided in hotel lobbies, and internet cafe’s; today’s WiFi availability in public spaces is creating a new type of socialization among the people.When most Americans think of internet consumption they picture a recluse teenager sitting, spending the entire day inside; but in Cuba, where internet at home is a rare luxury, many people have to go outside to public spaces to get connected.

Social movements are caused changes in organizational structures such as economic, institutional and social contexts of a country occur. In this context by growing the country’s access to social media,these changes in structural conditions make movements more likely. Social movements are not created by a single variable but rather by a set of variables that create an interaction effect, but successful movements are about mobilizing people for action and when they can persuade a significant amount of people that their cause is relevant and significant to the society’s betterment.

People in parks now sharing with each other what they find on the internet and holding discussions about what they are missing out on is just a stepping stone in the reform the Cuban people are hoping to achieve.  The internet being used as a tool for mobilization is giving their cause more attention and deeply worrying communist supporters who are wary about the impact it would have on the future of their party and political life on the island.  Discovering new ways to mass organize is just as essential for the occurrence of social movements as the grievances that would intrigue the people to organize in the first place, and social media is just one of the many websites giving voices to those people who would have not had one. By having ordinary people challenge the status quo and expressing their grievances in public spaces, potentially could lead to a new social movement. This is a step up from the extremely slow internet connection, and government run websites where most of the material posted was censored, and privacy rights violated.

Improving the ability of Cubans to the connect with the rest of the world will help foster economic growth and improve human rights on the island.

By being able to engage in discussions on relevant issues facing the community in open spaces with others listening,could one day lead to a new type of government for and by the people. Freedom of expression in internet communities could potentially lead a younger more exposed generation to radicalize through exposure to centrist, capitalist policies. This new type WiFi revolution would open the people of Cuba to unlimited reproduction and instantaneous distribution of digitized intellectual property of any kind worldwide virtually without cost.

The Cuban people do not want their growing right taken away, nor do they want to abuse their newly found power. Pressuring government authorities to facilitate talks with representatives from companies such as Google and Amazon to build partnerships and secure the economic future of small businesses, would open the door to new economic endeavors and allow declining industries that have been hindered by slow or no internet connection to prospers on the island. It may take some time to see some government reforms in Cuba by the people, but the eagerness and willingness by the people is there, they just need a better outlet to form a platform and united coalition.

Charles Tilly, who also defined social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people make collective claims on others, would agree when I say, that in a competitive world; in order to succeed we must be capable of handling technology in an appropriate matter, to express those opinions that matter the most to us, in order to catch up to other leading global players and not stay trapped in the 1950’s as Cuba once was.



About Stephanie Hernandez

Stephanie Hernandez is a sophomore in the School of International Service, focusing on Latin American, Peace, Global Security, and Conflict Resolution. She is passionate about bringing about awareness to issues that do not often get covered my mainstream media. As a Hispanic woman, she aims to share a unique perspective with her readers.