Cuban Solidarity Day should make us renew efforts to extend a little more freedom to the Cuban population, which is still effectively imprisoned under their creaky Communist autocracy.
May 20 marks the 110th year of Cuba’s independence, of which 53 long years have been spent under the Castro brothers’ dictatorship. Public events such as The Heritage Foundation’s program Friday, May 18, will demonstrate that the Cuban people are not forgotten.
As important as this is, there are other, more concrete measures that can and should be taken as well. One critically important step is introducing the communications revolution to Cuba.
The Internet, mobile phones, and social media are fast changing the way the rest of the world shares information. Today, Latin America accounts for 8 percent of the world’s Internet usage, with 25 million daily users in Mexico alone. Over 80 percent of these users access social media for communication. Regionally, Cuba presents a unique case.
The Castro regime is expert at controlling communication internally and externally. According to Freedom House, Cuba is the only country in the Americas that consistently makes the list of the Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies for widespread abuses of political rights and civil liberties, including control of digital communication. In Cuba, only the privileged few have access to the Internet, and they are heavily monitored. All other Cuban users are limited to the Cuban “intranet,” which was created with Chinese technology.
Still, small cracks in the Castro regime’s censorship of communication are appearing and should be exploited. Since the accession of Raul Castro in 2008, ordinary Cubans have been able to own cell phones if they have the dollars to pay for them. Though there are over 1 million cell phones in Cuba today, the catch is that calls are prohibitively expensive, particularly international calls. Sending a tweet from a mobile phone can cost more than many Cubans earn in a day.
Yet mobile technology offers a way forward. In March of this year, dissidents with video-capable cell phones were able to smuggle out images from one of Cuba’s most notorious prisons. This kind of activity has shaken other hard-line autocracies—Iran comes to mind—and led to uprisings all over the Middle East.
As recommended by Heritage’s Ray Walser, various actions are open to the U.S. government. We can help Cubans acquire mobile phones and expand access to computers at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. We should also explore satellite Internet coverage of Cuba, similar to that which cover rural areas of the U.S. Not only do Cubans deserve U.S. solidarity; they deserve our help as well.