Cuba's wait for Wi-Fi

Cuba is in the midst of a social, political and cultural evolution. The historic thawing of relations with the U.S. combined with the recent passing of their much loved leader, Fidel Castro, have forced the infamously isolated country to begin to embrace the 21st century. This has catalysed the breaking down of the austere borders that have characterised the past 50 years there, introducing the most modern force of nature to the nation: the internet.

Up until a few years ago, the island was essentially a black hole in regards to the web, with a complete lack of infrastructure to support it and distinct hesitancy from the government to relinquish any control of its population. In 2015, the change began. 35 Wi-Fi hot spots appeared across the country, supported by ‘ETECSA’, establishing a vital step towards Cuba getting online.

Free and easy the service most certainly is not. To log into the network, an ETECSA Wi-Fi card is needed. These can be purchased from select places such as one of the company’s few offices or at an airport for an equivalent of $1.50 (USD) but only 3 of these cards, each giving 60 minutes of internet access, may be purchased at a time. Inevitably a lucrative black market has opened up, as it had for most sought after products such as big name American brands like Coca-Cola which are forbidden on the regime, where these tickets to the internet sell for three or four times the price.

Queues are always long and never fast. Walking past one, you’ll doubtlessly see some exasperated tourists that are completely baffled by the process- but not enough to give up on the pursuit of their Facebook notifications. The locals on the other hands will remain cool and quiet, even after standing in line for an hour that has not moved whatsoever. As people are let into the building one-by-one, it becomes clear why the wait is so long. Proof of identity is needed as all the purchaser’s details are meticulously recorded. This process ensures the internet rationing is adhered to and it also provides a means of monitoring and censoring who looks at what, along with the well-known monitoring of emails and internet searches.

Due to this tedious method of procuring internet access and the lack of privacy it offers, the internet is far from being an everyday part of the Cuban life. Instead it has provided a novel and highly valued method of contacting relatives or friends that have fled the country or were exiled, for them a goodbye may not be for forever anymore.

26th April 2017