Domain name : .cu
Population : 11,200,000
Internet-users : 1,310,000
Average charge for one hour's connection at a cybercafé : 1.2 euros for the national network, 4 euros for international
Average monthly salary : 13 euros
Number of private Internet service providers : 0
Number of public Internet service providers : 2
Number of imprisoned bloggers : 0
Cuban Internet users can now connect to the international network but at a crippling price. The Raul Castro government's promise in 2008 to put an end to "excessive prohibitions" has very far from been kept.
Since May 2008, Cuban citizens have been allowed to use Internet connections in tourist hotels. They can look at foreign websites that are not filtered by the authorities. But, for the minister of information science and communications, Boris Moreno, "The use of the Internet [must serve] to defend the Revolution and the principles in which [Cuba] has believed for years".
The network is in fact closely monitored by the Cuban Supervision and Control Agency which comes under the information ministry. This body awards licences, fixes prices and connection possibilities. In addition, the island only has one Internet service provider, ETEC SA, that offers one of the world's most restricted networks. Cybercafés are few and far between. The island should be connected to the network between now and 2010 thanks to a fibre optic cable via Venezuela, to get round the embargo imposed by the USA since 1962. Chinese company Huawei has financed the connection for the west of the island at a level of 40% but these works will not allow very significant web access.
The island with two networks
The Cuban Internet is divided into two networks. The "national" network only allows access to government websites and a .cu email address, carefully controlled by the authorities so that no "subversive" message gets on to it. This "collective" connection is provided free to universities and doctors for example. For others, a connection is three times cheaper than the international network.
Until May, the international network was reserved for foreigners in Cuba, who could get access to it from hotels to which Cubans were denied access. The international network however remains one of the most difficult to access, failing any means of getting round censorship. Search engines Yahoo! and Google are for example inaccessible because of the US embargo on the island. If one types "google.fr", one is redirected to the pages of the official Cuban newspaper (Granma) or of the state news agency Prensa Latina. But the information available on this network has also been selected by the Cuban government, which block access to websites such as the BBC, Le Monde, and Nuevo Herald (Miami-based Spanish-language daily).
Government administrative staff are among the very few privileged people whom the regime allows to connect at no charge to the international network using access codes they are provided with. Others have to pay from 6 to 12 dollars an hour, which is a considerable sum for a Cuban citizen.
Profile of a blogger
Despite the access problems, Cuba's few bloggers are very active, their posts relayed by the Cuban community in the United States, chiefly putting out news about the situation on the island.
Since Raul Castro took power on 24 February, it is no longer an offence to own a laptop computer or a mobile telephone. However the market price is a deterrent, often equivalent to several months' salary. Some Cuban bloggers share access codes and computers to get themselves heard but they know they are running risks.
In fact, Cuban Internet users face up to 20 years in prison if they post an article considered to be "counter-revolutionary" on a foreign-hosted website, and five years if they connect illegally to the international network. In one such case, in 2007, journalist Oscar Sanchez Madan, correspondent for Cubanet in Matanzas province, was sentenced to four years in prison "for tendency to social dangerousness". Under this provision of Cuban criminal law, any citizen, even if he has committed no offence, is liable for imprisonment in the name of the threat he could pose to society. Despite this, a score of citizens regularly post blogs from Cuba, even if they are inaccessible on the island. They are often not their own administrators because the network is too restricted and often too slow.
Since 20 March 2008, the platform Desdecuba.com (www.desdecuba.com), which includes an online magazine, Consenso, and six blogs, has been inaccessible from public connection points, although it can be accessed from cybercafés and hotels. The few private connections used for professional reasons or in secret, take at least 20 minutes to upload a welcome page, making it impossible to edit comments or to moderate them. Some dissident voices have been targeted by the authorities. The blogger Yoani Sanchez (www.desdecuba/generacionY), laureate of the Ortega y Gasset prize in the "digital journalism" category, cannot leave Cuba since the authorities refuse to give her a passport. The authorities have also used their power of dissuasion to cancel a meeting she tried to organise between the island's bloggers in December 2008. Her blog is one of the rare breaches in the information control dam, and has led to her being accused of "illegal activity".
http://www.cubanet.org: website of an independent journalist in Cuba (English and Spanish)
http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony (Generacion Y): blog by Yoani Sanchez in Havana which has helped publicise the controversy around the video made at UCI (Spanish)
http://www.granma.cu: website of the official daily Granma (French, English, Spanish)
http://www.prensa-latina.cu/: website of the government news agency (English, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, Italian, Portuguese)