Information Technology in Cuba
Transborder Data Flows
Cuba has been governed as a Communist dictatorship for nearly 40 years. There is tight control over information and dissent, and Cuban mass media and education stress the hostility of the United States and its economic embargo, and the considerable achievements of the revolution in education, health care, and equality (61).
In 1996, the Executive Committee of the Cuban Council of Ministers issued a decree regulating the use and development of information networks and Internet services within Cuba. The decree states that it is necessary to insure that information transmitted from Cuba is truthful and the information Cuba receives is "in accordance with Cuba's ethical principles and not harmful to the country's interests and security." Network access priority is given to "institutions considered the most significant in the country's life and development".
While Cuba has allowed the Internet to progress, it has done so carefully. Users must be authorized, and nearly all access is through work. Users, their institutions, and network administrators are responsible for reporting transgressions if they are discovered. These restrictions have been motivated by economics and political concerns. Similarly, all international traffic is now carried by CENIAI, whereas CENIAI, Infomed, TinoRed and CIGBnet all had international UUCP links in the past. While this makes economic sense, it also provides a single point of control for content or access. It also facilitates efforts to guard against hackers attempting to steal or corrupt information.
Cuba does not allow the free flow of information from, to, or within the nation, and the fear that the Internet may lead to greater freedom of expression and thought has caused resistance to it. At the same time, there is recognition that the Internet can be a source of economic productivity, improved health care, education, and quality of life.
Cuba has moved slowly out of concern for the preservation of the values of the nation. This has limited pervasiveness, and may have been a consideration in the decision to consolidate connectivity in CENIAI. Many nations share Cuban concern over the erosion of cultural values by communication media, including the Internet. Concerns and regulations on the use of local languages and pornography are common in many nations, and these are present in Cuba as well. However, Cuba is further concerned because of its socialist economy and political philosophy. A CITMA Official stated that Cuba must learn how to "use the Internet's capabilities and advantages while reducing its risks and disadvantages as much as possible ... The First World uses the network to introduce viewpoints that work to the detriment of the ethical and cultural values of developing nations."
Cuba has experienced Internet propaganda. For example, in the Fall, 1993, the US Interest Section in the Swiss Embassy in Havana obtained an account on TinoRed, enabling them to send email to many Cuban accounts. They used this to send material about the United States and US government policy on Cuba to lists of Cubans. This was no more welcome by the Cuban government than Radio or TV Marti broadcasts, and the account was canceled. Such activity puts Cuban networks at risk, since the Cuban government will shut them down if they feel the threat is greater than the benefits (62).
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Government also face the dictator's dilemma. Communication technology is an important resource for economic growth, yet it opens the door for freedom of internal and external expression which could threaten the regime. Some governments have chosen to suppress information technology regardless of the economic cost, but Cuba is more positive toward computer networks. However, the question remains - how do you give people access to information for health care, education, and commerce while keeping them from political information?