In less than three years, the panorama in Cuba changed. The mobile Internet was on Sunday, July 11, the great ally of the protests against the Government and it is not surprising that its access has been quickly interrupted.
“Everything that happens in Cuba from some time to here and what will continue to happen, because obviously things will continue to happen, everything is from the Internet,” Abraham Jiménez, an independent journalist and columnist for ‘Washington Post ‘.
On Sunday, when the inhabitants of the small town of San Antonio de los Baños, some thirty kilometers from Havana, began to march shouting “down with the dictatorship!”, Those images were broadcast live on Facebook.
And they spread immediately. “Suddenly, as people began to see that, (…) they began to take to the streets in the rest of the cities,” adds Jiménez. In a few hours, some 40 protests were counted across the island and all were widely publicized on social media.
Three years ago, those scenes would have been unimaginable.
For decades, Cuba was one of the least connected countries in the world and only allowed the mobile network to enter until December 2018.
By then, a minority of the island’s inhabitants had the Internet in their homes. The rest could only connect in internet cafes or Wi-Fi parks, with an hourly rate.
The success was amazing. Of the island’s 11.2 million inhabitants, 4.4 million were browsing from their phones at the end of 2020.
“It is a window to the outside world”
For the communist government, improving connectivity was a priority to modernize the country. Now any Cuban can transfer money from his cell phone, pay his bills or make purchases online.
But Pandora’s Box was also opened.
“It is a window to the outside world”, says the American sociologist Ted Henken, co-author of the book ‘The digital revolution in Cuba’.
When “the government allowed 3G, it was a response to citizen demand, and of course a key source of funds due to its monopoly (that of the state operator Etecsa),” he adds.
“But it certainly allowed a series of mobilizations, protests and demands that have all increased in scope” in recent months.
November 2020 marked a before and after. For 10 days, the protesting San Isidro movement barricaded itself in a house to demand the release of a rapper and broadcast its protest via Facebook, gaining a large international audience.
After they were evicted by the police, some 300 artists demonstrated on November 27 in front of the Ministry of Culture, summoned by social networks, to demand more freedom of expression, something unprecedented on the island.
In April, the image of a dissident raising one of his handcuffed arms before a crowd, after an arrest attempt, went viral on the networks.
“Cuba is awake”
Finally, last week, the #SOSCuba label multiplied on the networks demanding humanitarian aid for the island, facing a double economic and health crisis, a product of the pandemic. For some, this episode was the trigger for the demonstrations on Sunday.
“Yes, it all started on social networks with a simple #SOSCuba,” Internet user Rafa commented on Twitter.
“Do you still believe that social networks are useless? We are the generation of the telephone, but with the courage that our parents and grandparents lacked,” he said.
In that same social network, Saily de Amarillo wrote: “Do not stop tweeting, gentleman, let the world know that #Cuba is awake and asking for freedom.”
For its part, the Government attacked Internet users who “describe a situation on the networks that does not correspond to reality”, and accuses the United States of having launched the #SOSCuba campaign.
“I urge Twitter and the US government to recognize or deny that political operators actively used collective labels or groups of robots, trolls (…) in this operation against Cuba,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.
In recent days, numerous accounts from abroad have published images of demonstrations on social networks that do not correspond at all to Cuba, AFP journalists confirmed.
Since Sunday noon, the mobile Internet was inaccessible on the island, and continued to be interrupted Monday night.
“Disrupting the internet means silencing the people who protest in Cuba,” denounced the NGO Access Now.