The Internet Is Widely Accessible in Cuba. Why Is the US Insisting It Isn’t?

Sitting at an outdoor café, Alian Rojas deftly thumbs the small keyboard on his iPhone as he calls up The New York Times website. Then he shows a reporter how easily he can use WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube.

“I can access any website I want,” says the 30-something tour guide.

Over the past 10 years Cuba has made great progress in internet accessibility. Nevertheless, U.S. government officials, right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami, and conservative human rights groups assert that Cuba intentionally limits internet access.

Freedom House, a conservative think tank, argues that the Cuban government keeps the country technologically backward and censors dissident websites as part of repressing political dissent.

“Cuba remains one of the world’s least connected and most repressive environments for information and communication technologies,” according to a Freedom House report on internet usage.

That claim plays well to those who assume that governments led by communist parties must, by definition, be totalitarian. As Rojas’s ready access to a wide array of sites shows, however, Cuba’s reality is far different.

As part of enforcing the unilateral embargo of Cuba, the U.S. government prohibits Cubans from using hundreds of commercial websites, including Amazon, computer companies and banks. The U.S. government blocks more websites than the Cuban authorities, says John Nichols, a Cuba expert and professor emeritus at Penn State University.

wifi cuba

“The U.S. government has long criticized Cuba for violations of human rights,” he tells Truthout, “yet the U.S. policy response restricting the right of both U.S. and Cuban people to freely communicate via the internet is both hypocritical and counterproductive.”

The Cuban government would like to expand internet usage as part of a plan to develop new computer-related industries. Cuba’s free education system has produced high-caliber computer scientists anxious to compete with their peers worldwide. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who came into office last year, has been promoting computer sciences.

In the early 2010s, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, the U.S. government agency in charge of propaganda broadcasts to Cuba, smuggled in smart phones loaded with apps called ZunZuneo and Piramideo, which sought to mobilize Cubans to create a Cuban version of the Arab Spring.

“My students started getting text messages on their cell phones with news reports about demonstrations that never happened,” said Nestor Garcia, former head of Cuba’s Mission to the UN. “The U.S. is trying to create a climate to protest against the Cuban government.”

The social media apps failed to spark rebellion, but that didn’t stop the U.S.

In 2018 the Office of Cuba Broadcasting funded creation of phony Facebook pages designed to appear as if they were posted by Cubans discontented with the government. When Russian hackers carried out similar activities during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, U.S. politicians across the political spectrum expressed outrage.

U.S. actions against Cuba are similar to Russia’s actions against the U.S., according to Nichols. “It’s covert interference in the communications system of another country for the purpose of changing the relationship of the government and people,” he said. “If we do not like others interfering in our domestic affairs, it only makes sense we shouldn’t do the same to other countries.”

Needless to say, the phony Facebook pages also failed to spark an anti-government rebellion.

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US wrestlers compete in Cuba despite frayed relations

Two dozen athletes from the U.S. flew to Cuba despite rising tensions between the countries to participate in the island’s most important Greco-Roman and freestyle annual wrestling competition.

The athletes came from states including New York, Minnesota and Wyoming and included several Olympians.

“We’re down here to compete in one of the greatest sports in the world,” said Robby Smith, a 2016 Olympian from Danville, California.

He said he was too focused on the sport to think about political issues. “When it comes down to it — sports — it gets rid of all that. It’s a peaceful thing. It’s not political.”

The visit comes several months after the U.S. government imposed major restrictions on educational and recreational travel to Cuba as President Donald Trump continues to roll back Obama-era efforts to restore normal relations.

Luis Alberto Orta, a Cuban wrestler in the 130-pound (60-kilogram) category, brushed aside those issues.

“It’s essential that athletes from all countries be able to fraternize with us,” he said.

A total of 14 countries are participating in the Granma Cup and Cerro Pelado competition in Havana, among them Canada, Honduras, Argentina and Hungary. The Granma Cup hosts Greco-Roman wrestlers and takes place Monday and Tuesday. The Cerro Pelado is for freestyle wrestlers and is scheduled for Feb. 15-16.

Manuel Rodríguez, a member of Cuba’s National Wrestling Commission, said it is the event’s 53rd edition.

“Trump can have those policies, but we are always going to receive all those athletes who want to come and compete with us,” he said.

The American athletes are visiting at the same time as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York. Dolan was invited by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and has said he seeks to build bridges between the people of both countries.

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President of Cuba receives the archbishop of New York

The president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, received the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who visits Cuba invited by the authorities of the island and the Cuban Catholic hierarchy.

Cardinal Dolan arrived in Cuba on February 7 on a pastoral and spiritual visit, accompanied by the Bishop of Brooklyn, Monsignor Octavio Cisneros; the executive director of the Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, and the director of the Hispanic Ministry of New York, Wanda Vásquez.

The priests Leopoldo Pérez, Christopher Ljungquist, and Richard Coll, members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also accompany the archbishop of New York.

The New York Catholic hierarchy’s activities agenda included a meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio in Cuba, Monsignor Giampiero Gloder, visits to various Catholic charities and the local Catholic seminary, and a tour of the University of Havana, where the remains rest of the priest Felix Varela (1788-1853).

In turn, Cardinal Dolan was received by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

During his visit to Cuba, Dolan officiated masses in the Minor Basilica of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, and in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Havana.

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Trump Puts More Pressure on Cuba, Targets Cuban Doctors Program

The campaign against the doctors aims to strangle the revenue they bring in, much of which goes into Cuba’s health and social services, according to analysts.

Donald Trump’s administration is targeting the Cuban medical program that has helped some of the most impoverished communities worldwide, in a bid to exert more pressure on Cuba’s economy, according to a report published Tuesday by the Guardian.

RELATED:

Cuban Doctors Arrested, Harassed In Bolivia Return Home Safely

Washington is using a whole host of allegations to thwart the program. It has been accusing Havana of undermining democracy and interfering in the internal affairs of the countries where the doctors operate.

Among other allegations, the U.S. claims that the Cuban government is “exploiting” the medical staff deployed on the missions.

Officials in Cuba, backed by analysts who studied the work of the medical missions, retort that the U.S. is using this claim to enforce further its policy of asphyxiating Cuba’s economy in the hope of bringing down its regime.

The campaign against the doctors, which includes attempts to convince them to defect, is little more than an effort to strangle the amount of foreign revenue that they bring in, much of which put back into Cuba’s health and social services, the Guardian cited critics as saying.

“The [U.S. policy] is targeting the two main sources of external income for Cuba, first tourism and now medical services,” explained Pavel Vidal Alejandro, a Cuban-born academic at the Xavierian University in Colombia.

RELATED:

Bolivians in Poor Communities Suffer Lack of Healthcare

“Medical services represent around 60% of Cuba’s total foreign income. It’s the old policy of applying a high-pressure cooker strategy in the hope it will produce social protests. That didn’t happen in the past and is not happening now.”

U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo is leading the campaign against the Cuban program. He has described the presence of Cuban doctors in countries from Venezuela to Brazil and Ecuador as a “sinister” interference in their affairs and praised countries like Bolivia that have expelled them.

Recent political changes in Latin America exacerbated Washington’s campaign against the Cuban doctors, leading to the withdrawal of the missions from several countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador, where far-right regimes aligned with Trump took over left-wing governments. The departure of Cuban doctors from these countries saw severe consequences for the most vulnerable populations.

USAID, the leading U.S. development agency, has also played an important role, offering to fund organizations to expose negative aspects of the Cuban scheme.

The program is known as “Cuban doctors” was founded more than 50 years ago after Fidel Castro’s revolution. It is currently active in over 60 countries.

It has provided healthcare across the globe, from indigenous Amazon peoples to impoverished areas in Africa to the victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

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Fifty-eight years later, Cuba continues to resist U.S. blockade

The blockade is real and has lasted more than five decades. Generations of Cubans have suffered its consequences. Its impact is felt in all sectors of society and constitutes a flagrant violation of the human rights of our people, an act of genocide and of economic warfare, the main obstacle to our development, violating international law, the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the principles of free trade.

The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States began February 7, 1962, reaching increasingly extreme dimensions recently. At current prices, the accumulated damages over almost six decades of this policy, through March of 2019, reached the figure of 138,842,400,000 dollars and, taking into account the depreciation of the dollar as compared to the price of gold on the international market, the blockade has caused quantifiable damages of more than 922,630,000,000 dollars - although its cost within households, neighborhoods and communities is incalculable, given the harm caused to human lives every day.

Yesterday, February 3, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, tweeted: "We condemn the genocidal, cruel, murderous blockade. The blockade violates our human rights," on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's signing of Presidential Proclamation 3447 (27 fr 1085), imposing the blockade on trade between the United States and Cuba.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla likewise posted a message stating: "58 years after its imposition, the U.S. blockade against Cuba constitutes the most unjust, severe and prolonged system of unilateral coercive measures ever applied against any country. It is genocidal, violates the human rights of an entire people, and must end.

The blockade persists and harms families, but it has failed to achieve its central objective of defeating the Cuban Revolution. The unity, perseverance and dignity of our people, our unbreakable spirit has resisted all coercion and pressure.

Twelve U.S. administrations, since 1959, have only managed to isolate themselves, as evidenced by universal rejection of the blockade, evident in many sectors of U.S. society that favor respectful, mutually beneficial ties, and in the international community’s rejection of the hostile policy, including 28 consecutive resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly, since 1992, condemning the blockade.

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Shirkey and other Michigan lawmakers fly to Cuba, a potentially lucrative market for Michigan

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and several other members of the Legislature flew to Cuba Monday and will not be in Lansing Thursday for the presentation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's second state budget, officials said.

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, joined Michigan Agriculture Department Director Gary McDowell and several other state lawmakers on a trade mission organized by the Michigan-Agri-Business Association. The delegation returns Saturday.

Cuba, which imports more than $2 billion worth of agriculture annually, is considered a potentially lucrative market for Michigan growers.

But Michigan farmers currently do not export to Cuba because of ongoing trade restrictions first imposed in 1962, after Cuba forged strong ties with the former Soviet Union.

"We want to continue to build relations so that when things change at the federal level, we'll be able to capitalize on them," said Jamie Zmitko-Somers, who leads the international marketing team for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

It's legal for Michigan farmers to sell their product to Cuba, but only if payments go through a third party, such as a bank in a European Union country, Zmitko-Somers said. It's an extra hoop farmers have to jump through, and although some farm corporations have used third-party payments in the past, none are currently doing so, she said.

Cuba is seen as a good potential market for beans apples, pork, and dairy products, among others, she said.

Also on the trip are Rep. Julie Alexander, R-Hanover, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee; Sen.Roger Victory, R-Georgetown Township; Sen. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway; Sen.Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte; Rep. Brian Elder, D-Bay City, and Rep. Scott VanSingel, R-Grant.

While in Cuba, the delegation is expected to meet with several government ministries, including those responsible for agriculture and trade. Meetings are also planned with cooperatives and individual farmers.

It's not the first time state agriculture directors and lawmakers have made trade missions to Cuba, Zmitko-Somers said. Mitch Irwin, who headed the department under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, made a similar trip, she said.

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China Accuses US of Creating Panic Over Coronavius

Since the start of the new year, nearly 15,000 cases of the coronavirus have been reported across the world, with the vast majority of them in China.

China has accused the United States of creating panic across the world over the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has caused over 360 deaths since early January.

RELATED: China Completes Emergency Hospital in 9 Days For Virus Outbreak

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the U.S. has caused fears over the spread of the virus by imposing travel restrictions and evacuations from China.

In particular, China accused the United States of spreading fear by pulling its nationals out and restricting travel instead of offering significant aid. This move by the U.S. comes just weeks after the two countries reached an historical trade agreement.

Washington has “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, noting that the WHO had advised against trade and travel curbs.

“It is precisely developed countries like the United States with strong epidemic prevention capabilities and facilities that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to WHO recommendations,” she added, saying countries should make reasonable, calm and science-based judgements.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva, again said travel bans were unnecessary.

“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he told the WHO’s Executive Board. “We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent.”

Chinese delegate Li Song said the international community needed to treat the new virus outbreak objectively, fairly and not “deliberately create panic” among the general public.

Li said China had shared information about the virus with self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as sovereign territory, but he criticised the Taiwanese authorities for what he described as their “lies and excuses” for not attending WHO meetings.

The death toll in China from the newly identified virus, which emerged in Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei, rose to 361 as of Sunday, up 57 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last week declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and it has since spread to 23 other countries and regions, with the first death outside of China reported on Sunday, that of a 44-year-old Chinese man who died in the Philippines after travelling from Wuhan.

Wuhan and some other cities remain in virtual lockdown with travel severely restricted, and China is facing increasing international isolation.

  • Published in World

Olympics: Groups, schedule announced for Americas baseball qualifier in Arizona

• The eight-team tournament will be played in Surprise and Tempe

• Group play is scheduled from 22 -24 March, with the Super Round 25-26 March

• Winner will advance to the Tokyo 2020 Games • 2nd and 3rd Place teams will play in the final Olympic qualifier in Taiwan

The World Baseball Softball Confederation today announced the groups, schedule and location of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualification Event for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020. Hosted by USA Baseball, the qualifier will be staged in Surprise and Tempe, Arizona, USA, where eight nations will compete for an Olympic spot over 16 games.

Group A: No. 2 USA, No. 10 Dominican Republic, No. 11 Puerto Rico and No. 15 Nicaragua.

Group B: No. 8 Cuba, No. 9 Venezuela, No. 12 Canada and No. 14 Colombia.

Game Schedule (all times local)

Sunday, 22 March-Surprise

1 pm Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic
7 pm USA-Nicaragua

Sunday, 22 March-Tempe

1 pm Venezuela-Cuba
7 pm Colombia-Canada

Monday, 23 March-Surprise

1 pm Colombia-Venezuela
7 pm Canada-Cuba

Monday, 23 March-Tempe

1 pm Nicaragua-Puerto Rico
7 pm Dominican Republic-USA

Tuesday, 24 March-Surprise

1 pm Nicaragua-Dominican Republic
7 pm Puerto Rico-USA

Tuesday, 24 March-Tempe

1 pm Canada-Venezuela
7 pm Cuba-Colombia

After group play concludes, the top two finishers from each group will advance to the Super Round, where they will each play two games. Head-to-head contests among these teams from the opening round will carry over into the Super Round standings.

The team with the best Super Round record will be declared the winner and become the fifth National Team to advance to the baseball tournament of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, joining world No. 1 Japan, No. 3 Korea, No. 5 Mexico and No. 18 Israel.

The runner-up and the third-place team in the Americas Qualifier will play the Final Qualifier, scheduled from 1 to 5 April in Taichung and Douliou City, Taiwan. They will battle for the last spot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, along with No. 4 Chinese Taipei and No. 20 China, who both qualified through the Asia Championship, the runner-up from the Europe/Africa Qualifier, No. 8 Netherlands, and No. 7 Australia, the Oceania representative.

Venues

Surprise, Arizona, is located approximately 45 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix. The stadium (cover picture) is the Spring Training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. It opened in 2002 and has a seating capacity of 10,714. Surprise Stadium was rated as the top Spring Training facility in Arizona by USA Today.

Diablo Stadium -- located in Tempe, in the East Valley of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area -- is the Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Angels. The 9,558-seat facility opened in 1969 and was renovated in 2002.

  • Published in Sports
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