RedCuba: Strides to Internalize and “Revolutionize” the World Wide Web

Although the contract was finalized in 2006 for the Venezuela-to-Cuba undersea fiber optic cable, so aptly named Alba-1, meaning dawn, it took eight-years to activate, making it the slowest “sunrise” to ever upload since … well, the “dawn” of the 21st century. From 2006 until Alba-1 was ready for internet access in 2013, the rest of the wired world has seen WikiLeaks launched and wreak happy-whistleblower-havoc, the launch of the first touchscreen smartphone and its subsequent cultural disruption, the death of analogue television in the United States, and the literal “launch” of the first privately built and operated rocket to make a roundtrip voyage into space. Needless to say, eight years is a long time. So what has Cuba been doing to prepare for a wired society?

Before probing into the political, economic and infrastructural trials Cuba has faced in implementing “its” internet over the past decade, this snapshot of articles from then and now, might be more explanatory:

From 2008: “Cyber-Rebels in Cuba Defy State’s Limits” published the New York Times

Under a picture of blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez, who today is still in the headlines for her bravery of asserting a voice through her Generación Y blog from within communist Cuba, author James C. McKinley writes:

“Cuban officials have long limited the public’s access to the Internet and digital videos, tearing down unauthorized satellite dishes and keeping down the number of Internet cafes open to Cubans. Only one Internet cafe remains open in Old Havana, down from three a few years ago. Hidden in a small room in the depths of the Capitol building, the state-owned cafe charges a third of the average Cuban’s monthly salary — about $5 — to use a computer for an hour. The other two former Internet cafes in central Havana have been converted into “postal services” that let Cubans send e-mail messages over a closed network on the island with no links to the Internet.”

To 2015: “Connection in Havana: Surfing the Internet is a Complete Odyssey in Cuba” published

For a perspective on the same issue from a different hemisphere, in a different language, and with a seven year gap, this article by Peruvian journalist Ramiro Escobar is subtitled, “Cuba has not yet entered the computer age. The internet is scarce, slow and expensive: five dollars an hour.”

“The big and relatively recent innovation is the opening of public internet centers [sans WiFi]. More than 100 were inaugurated in the middle of last year, which is a historical step; almost like another revolution. But in the centers, paying for the damn access card is just as slow as waiting in line for the ‘cybernauts’ in the making.”

Escobar also expanded on what Cubans are doing to suffice for the lack of home internet access.

“Several young people stealthily connect thousands of computers to a secret network that stretches for several kilometers across the length and breadth of Havana. They can now chat, play and download movies. In-house internet connections are prohibited for everyone except a few Cubans, and the government charges the equivalent of a fourth of the Island’s monthly salary to connect to the global network for an hour.” (Translation by Brienne Thomson)

To add a recent app addition to Cuba’s underground network of tech-tool sharing is IMO – a text, voice and video application that hasn’t been blocked or deemed useless by Cuba’s slow connection speeds, like Skype.

“IMO has achieved that which the insularity and politicians limited for so long: contact with the world,” claim Yoani Sánchez on her Generación Y blog. (Sánchez, 2015, Translation by Brienne Thomson)

However aside from these rare leapfrogging apps that occasionally land in Cuba, governmental progress has been undeniably slow. And to displace blame for the stagnancy in the development of the telecommunications infrastructure and subsequent internet inaccessibility since the turn of the century, the Cuban government has been continually claiming that this lack of efficiency lies with the prolonged struggles they encountered as a result of the “Special Period” and because the U.S. embargo limits their access to technological innovations. *  

*The “Special Period” in Cuba began in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba was not only an ally of the USSR, but even more so, economically dependent on the exorbitant prices it could garner for the exportation of sugar and the low prices it would pay for an abundant supply of oil. The Soviet collapse caused a similar devastation in Cuba and instigated a prolonged economic rebuild that lasted through the 90s.

During the inaugural Conference on Computers and Cybersecurity in February of 2015, Cuba’s Vice President of the Council of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez – a potential successor to the Castro regime when Raúl steps down in 2018 – was recapped by the online journal,, as saying that “the enormous human capital formed by the Revolution is undeniable and is the principle strength to face obstacles and future challenges, and that [the struggle to institute the internet] has highlighted this potential. He called attention to the fact that the U.S. Embargo on Cuba – although some don't want it to be – has limited access to financing, technologies, systems, infrastructure, and software and applications.” (Elizalde, 2015, Translation by Brienne Thomson)

The online journal,, is also published in English, Italian, French, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic. Its slogan, “Contra Terrorismo Mediático,” or “Against Media Terrorism,” is an aggressive way of saying ‘propaganda,’ which happens to be a word used in both Spanish and English.

And while Cuba has indeed “faced” challenges obtaining technological resources due to the embargo, in 2014, prior to Díaz-Canel’s above statement, the White House released a Fact Sheet – subsequent to President Barak Obama’s December 17th speech about lifting some of the outdated and ineffectual embargo restrictions – that relinquished the ban on trade between the U.S. and Cuba of, “consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.” This includes the ability for private U.S. telecommunications companies to provide infrastructure and internet services.

However, aside from some recent agreements between Verizon, Sprint and Cuba’s telecom monopoly, ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.), who are working to establish cellphone roaming capabilities, for the past year, Cuba has been unresponsive to the rollback of these telecom restrictions. (Gleyo, 2015) Cuba was even approached twice this year by Google who offered to institute a leapfrogging wireless internet infrastructure for little cost to the Cuban government. But there were no takers.

In a question posed by Cuba’s online journal Juventud Rebelde, or “Rebellious Youth,” José Ramón Machado Ventura, a Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party of Communist Cuba, responded to a question about whether the internet might ideologically “soften” Cuban youth.

“This is supposedly a great opportunity, as well as a great challenge, because new technologies are innovative and vital, not only for communication between people, but also for development. Everyone knows why there isn’t more internet in Cuba, because it has a high cost. There are some who want to give it to us for free, but they’re not doing it with the aim for the people of Cuba to communicate, but with the objective of infiltrating us and doing ideological work to achieve a new conquest. We have to own the Internet, but in our own form, knowing that it is the intention of imperialism to use it as another way to destroy the Revolution.” (Romero, 2015, Translation by Brienne Thomson)

This may sound a bit extreme from the western perspective, but if your president was the target of multiple assassination attempts and coups instigated by a superpower just 90-miles to your north, the noted defensive measures might just be a bit more validated. And thus, Cuba is indeed making efforts to launch their own internet. As noted on the site, some of the organizations and software Cuba is in the process of implementing are as follows:

Grandma was originally the name of the boat that the Castro brothers and Ernesto “Che” Guevara sailed back on from Mexico to launch the Cuban Revolution in 1956. Subsequently in 1965, the name was used again to launch the Órgano Oficial del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba, or the Official Media of the Central Committee of the Party of Communist Cuba.

The Council for Computers and Cybersecurity was formed to control, coordinate and propose everything to do with policies and strategies related to the implementation of the internet in Cuba. (La Sociedad, 2015)

The Cyberspace Security Center who has the responsibility of ensuring the security of internal ICT networks. (La Sociedad, 2015)

The Computer Union of Cuba was established as a voluntary union of thousands of professions and provincial committees who work within the Information and Communication Technology industry with the goal of creating an active network in the development and institution of beneficial technology for the society and economy of Cuba. (La Sociedad, 2015) In July of 2015, the Joven Club de Computación, or the Youth Computer Club began working on the first Cuban search engine called C.U.B.A., Contenidos Unificados de Búsqueda Avanzada, or Unified Content of Advanced Search. Its objective is to search for solely .cu addresses and reduce the dependency on foreign search applications. (La Sociedad, 2015) This e-mail service through ETECSA, is geared to be used only within Cuba’s network of .cu websites. It is possible to send international emails, but the cost is exorbitant and generally beyond the reach of the average Cuban. (Tamayo, 2014) In December of 2010, Cuba began compiling and digitizing thousands of articles for an internal encyclopedia. (La Sociedad, 2015) Although EcuRed is only up to 150,000 articles since its inception, compared to Wikipedia’s Spanish compilation of 1.2 million, it does comes in a mobile version, on DVDs, and on USB sticks.

Ecumóvil: Fortunately, the application Ecumóvil was searchable on EcuRed since it’s only accessible through the .cu intranet. Ecumóvil is the EcuRed encyclopedia app for mobile devices that utilize Android 2.2 or greater systems.

La Tendedera: Meaning, “The Clothesline,” La Tendedera is a Cuban social media site, similar to Facebook, but only accessible from within the .cu intranet. (Jordán, 2014) Likewise Reflejos, meaning “Reflections,” is an inside .cu-domain blogging site.

NOVA Lightweight: Students at the University of Computer Sciences have also created an Ubuntu Linux-based open-source operating system named Nova Lightweight 2015, with the objective of catering to older computers and squeezing Microsoft Office off of Cuban motherboards. (Nestor, 2015)

Being a closed society, the majority of these organizations and intranet software implementations have been designed by Cubans for Cuba, and with the goal of utilizing the manpower “of the Revolution.” This ideology is demonstrated through the Computer Union of Cuba and all of the aforementioned World Wide Web-free internal programs. Cuba is essentially trying to “inform” its society through rehashed programs that are available for free externally, in order to both appease social demands and maintain social control. And while the government’s purpose of preventing an externally influenced political “spring” is obvious, on a more positive note, Cuba is making an effort to provide informative and educational software to it citizens by educating and utilizing its youth in the creation of its .cu intranet.

Computer literacy, specifically the knowledge that the internet is vastly more extensive than Facebook or Instagram, is something gravely overlooked in many developing countries, leaving its citizens to learn on their own. Often times this renders citizens thinking that the only purpose of the internet is social media, and ignorant to its use as a keyhole to information, answers, ideas and how-to guides. Needless to say, what makes the internet the “golden” key that it has the potential to be is the internationality of it and the responsibility of users to think independently and critically about the information they find.

So while this golden key remains out of reach for the average Cuban today, the government is working to rebuild Cuba’s antiquated 2G telecommunications infrastructure with more likeminded countries; Venezuela and China. China, and its state-owned telecom giant Huawei, have already financed Cuba’s Alba-1 undersea fiber optic cable as well as supplied the technology for 35 WiFi hotspots that opened throughout the country this past July; public, but at a price. (Katz, 2015) With this tech-savvy connection, the Cuban government has been making many connectivity promises, like broadband and in-home access by 2020. But based on the state of Cuba’s current infrastructure, it looks like the dreams of Cuba’s youth for home access and smart phone data plans might only be realized by their children.

According to and a computer science and electrical engineering professor and student team from Northwestern University who decided to measure Havana’s sever speeds, “It takes so long that it's almost useless," noted Professor Fabián E. Bustamante. "You can start loading a webpage, go have coffee, then come back and maybe you'll find it." (Morris, 2015)


1. McKinley, James C. "Cyber-Rebels in Cuba Defy State’s Limits." The New York Times. March 6, 2008. Accessed December 4, 2015.

2. Escobar, Ramiro. "Conexión En La Habana: Navegar En Internet Es Toda Una Odisea En Cuba." Translated by Brienne Thomson. February 5, 2015. Accessed December 4, 2015.

3. Elizalde, Rosa Miriam. "Díaz-Canel: Existe La Voluntad De Poner La Informatización Y La Internet Al Servicio De Todos ( Video)." CubaDebate. Contra Terrorismo Mediático. February 20, 2015. Accessed December 4, 2015.

4. "Fact Sheet: Charting a New Course on Cuba." The White House. December 17, 2014. Accessed December 4, 2015.

5. Gleyo, Fritz. "Sprint Follows In Verizon's Footsteps, To Offer Roaming Service In Cuba." November 2, 2015. Accessed December 4, 2015.

6. Romero, Yuniel Labacena. "A Los Jóvenes, La Verdad Argumentada y No El Dogma." Juventud Rebelde. Diario De La Juventud Cubana. July 11, 2015. Accessed December 5, 2015.

7. "La Sociedad En El Camino De La Informatización." Granma. September 18, 2015. Accessed December 4, 2015.

8. Jordán, Rouslyn Navia. "Una Tendedera Para Interconectarnos, Informática, Suplementos." Translated by Brienne Thomson. Juventud Rebelde. Diario De La Juventud Cubana. December 3, 2014. Accessed December 5, 2015.

9. Nestor, Marius. "Cuba's National Ubuntu-Based GNU/Linux OS to Get a Gorgeous Lightweight Edition." September 17, 2015. Accessed December 5, 2015.

10. Tamayo, Juan O. "Cuba Allows Phone Access to Some Email." MiamiHerald. March 8, 2014. Accessed December 5, 2015.

11. Sánchez, Yoani. "IMO, El Personaje Del Año En Cuba." Generación Y. November 28, 2015. Accessed December 5, 2015.

12. Katz, Jonathan M. "Havana's Hotspots: Cuba Is Coming Online, but Who Will Control Its Internet?" The Verge. October 15, 2015. Accessed December 5, 2015.

13. Morris, Amanda. "Research Shows Cuba's Internet Issues." October 31, 2015. Accessed December 5, 2015.


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