Internet Restrictions in Cuba
May 13, 2010

For the last two decades the spread of the Internet has become global. The popularity of the Internet has been increasing year by year in such a way that people no longer seem to be in control such that its effect on humanity cannot be predicted. We now, it seems, need to be part of the virtual world as well as the real one if we want to live full lives. But how can this be justified when half of the world’s population does not have online access?


Trying to find out conscious answers and important facts of how some people can live without web access, I decided to embark on an investigation with the Canadian journalist Sheena Rossiter. Sheena produced a documentary, Defying Castro 2.0, for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Cuba. I also had discussions with Cuba’s foremost writer Leonardo Padura and Dr Stephen Wilkinson (Director of the Centre for Caribbean Research and Consultancy at London Metropolitan University, who has been travelling and researching the country since 1986) in order to discover why Cuba is considered one of the countries with more Internet restrictions than any other in the world, and why Cuban citizens are not participating in what we call the“virtual revolution”. And why half of the Earth cannot live anymore without web access yet Cubans do. Internet access is extremely restricted in Cuba. Cuban’s economic limitations prevent the majority from having access to the Internet. Even people, who have access, still have limitations by the constant monitoring for political disagreement expressed on the Internet, which leads to a kind of self-censorship.

“There is a lot of self-censorship because of cultural cold war fear, they kind exists these days within people’s mentalities. They’re afraid to be seen. People do censor themselves,” explains Sheena Rossiter. Censorship is considered – for most people – a designation to prevent them from knowing or doing what they like – more linked with political controls to keep people under Governmental strategies. This is a broad approximation to what happens in Cuba. But what people never mention is that Internet censorship in Cuba is more due to the economic situation that the country has been facing for years than a description of what censorship really is.

“Most Cubans only make about 20 US Dollars a month. If you want to buy a computer for example – a computer is like 700 Dollars. So, if you make 20 Dollars a month you can’t buy a computer for 700 Dollars.” declares Sheena. “And besides that, to go online is seven dollars an hour – for dial up Internet – really slow! So, if you make 20 Dollars, 7 Dollars is like a third part of the salary of the whole month. Internet is just not a priority. And that is why they restrict it to perceive economics,” add the Canadian journalist.

Dial-up-connection - Copyright ©2007-2008 RatesDirect Financial Services (Pty) LTD

Accessing the Internet in Cuba is more or less just a dream for its citizens. The economic situation is one of the causes that prevent them from having this facility and it seems that the Government is not really at fault here. “Their constrictions arise quite heavily from the fact that Cuba doesn’t have a cable link to the outside world.” says Dr Stephen Wilkinson. “There is no broadband access in Cuba. They have to access the worldwide web on the Internet through a satellite connection, which they have to hire on the satellite, and the band that they have is very narrow. So, it’s not the fact that people are restricted from having access politically, but there is a restriction in terms of the capacity that people have. The Cuban state, or the Government basically runs basically rationing of access, so that people that are professionals who need the access to the web to do their job, like academics, doctors and so forth – they get connection to the web, but ordinary people haven’t got it because there simply isn’t the capacity to give to them yet. But the Government has said they will make it available to people, once they have the capacity,” explains Dr Wilkinson. But will Cubans citizens have the possibility of a broader access in future?

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela was building a cable that will link Cuba to Venezuela, which should come online either later this year or earlier next year. And then the situation may change, and then you will get more people having quicker access, and more people having access,” says Dr Stephen. “So, the reason why the Internet is restricted is to do with the capacity not really to do with the political will of the Government. The Government has actually said initially they would like to give everybody access to the web, but they haven’t got the capacity to do so. Now, that’s not to say that, there is no actual blocking of sites. There has been some suggestion that they slow down access to some sites,” reveals Dr Stephen Wilkinson.

Cuba has approximately 480,000 email accounts and 190,000 regular Internet users (less than 2 percent of the population). Most Cubans illegally access the Internet through black market connections or illegally shared authorized connections, which is a risk and not a secure way of having access – which can also put people in jail.

“There are ways of getting Internet access that you have to pay for, but of course it is on the black market,” says Dr Wilkinson.” The illegal way they access the internet is basically so foreigners can have access to the internet in their home in Cuba, but Cubans can’t have internet access in their home,” explains Sheena. “For example: I am Canadian, if I marry a Cuban and get a foreigner resident CIA in Cuba, I could get internet access in my home because I am not actually Cuban, so what people like me will do is they will sell our rights to have access to the server to a Cuban. And then you sell to them for a certain price every month – and they can have access to the Internet. If you get caught with illegal internet connection in your house – you go to jail for 5 years,” revels the Canadian journalist.

Cuba has a satellite connection with a 65 Mb/s upload bandwidth and a 124 Mb/s download bandwidth for the entire country. Meanwhile a broadband Internet connection is up to 2.0 Mb/s. But how do Cubans access the Internet? And how the Internet connections work there?

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Internet Café in Cuba

“How the connections work are in a few ways, so basically the only way you can access the Internet is accessing the intranet, which is an Internet that is only based in Cuba. An Internet that you can only access certain pages – emails – which is “Correos the Cuba”, which is run by the Government,” says Sheena. “You can go to the internet café “Correos the Cuba internet café”, where you can send and receive emails, all over the world, but is only emails, and any attachment send together can’t be bigger then 2k, which is not a lot, because it’s a dial up internet connection you can’t rend a video, you can’t send an audio, so basically the general population do “Correos the Cuba”. They only have limited number of those cafes, and there was a café that they had 9 computers and only 7 worked, and people work for hours on the computers. So the access of the Internet, if you are member of a club, or an art society, they do have Internet connection but again you can only access some of the pages. You can also access the seven dollars an hour, like tourists can access and you have to buy a card, and then you can access in some hotels, but in some hotels you have to show your passport to use the Internet, but they ban Cubans from using the Internet. My main interviewee in my documentary has an illegal Internet connection at his house, and he gets it because he buys it from a foreigner basically. Yes – you can go to jail for 5 years and it still is a dial up connection – it’s not even a good internet connection, because it’s a dial up connection you can’t go to photo sites; he can’t go to video sites, because the internet that works everywhere else in the world does not exists in Cuba. Even if you do have access to the internet they don’t have a fibre optic cable that runs to the Island,” explains the Canadian journalist.

The government also restricts Internet use by filtering all legal Internet traffic through the state-run ISPs – where all the information is detected. This filtering also monitors e-mail messages – even before they are sent. However, websites are not constantly monitored and just very few of them are restricted, but e-mails automatically close for “state security reasons” when detecting inappropriate messages relating to political issues. Knowing that people’s emails are constantly monitored, how does the famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez blogs her messages to the world from Cuba?

Sheena Rossiter in an informal interview with Yoani Sánchez discovered how she blogs to the outside world: “I interviewed her in a back part of a bar. And it was basically we put the recorder on top of a beer can and put a person in front of it and I did the interview for 20 minutes. Basically what she does, she has a computer because somebody gave her a computer, because she has friends abroad, so they gave a computer to her, so she can get her message to the world. So she writes her pots off line on a word document and then she saves on a USB stick and then she basically backlog her posts, and then she goes to the Dutch embassy where she can access the Internet for free. She is there like one or twice a week, and then she puts her USB key in and sends her blog posts to her friends who live abroad – and then they upload her blog for her,” explains Sheena.

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Yoani Sánchez

But how doesYoani Sánchez blogs from Cuba having the totally freedom of expression if it is not permissible in Cuba?
“Yoani has an important and influential paper internationally. The Cuban Government decided to leave her alone.” reveals Leonardo Padura. “She is under pressure, but she is not behind bars. She is at home working on her blog with more freedom than in the past. I believe that it has occurred due to changes politically in this sense,” says Padura. Also, as Dr Stephen has said: “Yoani is a especial case, because Yoani has a lot of support from outside the country, her website is in 17 languages, and is located in a server in Germany.” Yoani Sánchez’s Blog is named “Generacion Y”.

Cuba does not have the resources to provide Internet access for all of its citizens. Therefore, “Internet access is very limited in Cuba. Cubans can only use it at determinate work establishments, in studies centres, and some particular individuals. But the Internet access is very limited, even more technologically. There are still a lot of difficulties preventing the country from having a fast access,” explains Padura.

The Government monitoring, the risk of being arrested, and the self-censorship prevent its citizens from participating equally with other people in the world of the Internet culture. Government filtering preventions may also limit even the ones who have Internet access. Cubans are literally restricted from having freedom of information and freedom of expression. However, Cuba citizens still have hope for their country and still think that Cuba is where the best to live.

“I met a girl who was Yoani’s friend, she complained about Cuba in her blog and then I asked her where would you live, if you don’t like Cuba? And then she said: ‘I’ll never leave Cuba’ – there is so many places in Latin-America where you might want to escape to – ‘I’ll never leave Cuba! I love Cuba!’ Yoani’s friend said,” ends Sheena.


by Tabata Mazzochin.



Amaury E. Del Valle, Estados Unidos Bloquea Internet en Cuba (I):…

Los Angeles Times, “Cuba inches into the Internet age,”:,1,2828501.story?c…

Reporters Without Borders, Cuba:

Geoffry L. Taubman, Keeping Out the Internet? Non-Democratic Legitimacy and Access to the Web:

The World Behind a Word!
February 11, 2010