Cuba cutting Internet access
In a move seen as aimed at anti-government bloggers, Cuba is further limiting access to the World Wide Web
By Ray Sanchez
Cuba is further limiting access to the World Wide Web for its citizens, in what many believe is an effort to rein in a small but increasingly popular group of bloggers who are critical of the government.
Only government employees, academics and researchers are allowed their own Internet accounts, which are provided by the state, but only have limited access to sites outside the island. Ordinary Cubans may open e-mail accounts accessible at many post offices, but do not have access to the Web. Many got around the restrictions by using hotel Internet services.
But a new resolution barring ordinary Cubans from using hotel Internet services quietly went into place in recent weeks, according to an official with Cuba's telecom monopoly, hotel workers and bloggers.
There was no official announcement of the change. Cuba has the lowest rate of Internet access in Latin America.
"Internet use is only for foreigners for the time being," said a worker at the Hotel Nacional's business center. "According to a new order from ETECSA [Cuba's telecom monopoly] only foreigners can surf the web at hotels."
An ETECSA official confirmed the change but said he was not authorized to comment.
Internet access is a delicate issue for the communist state: About 200,000 Cubans, or less than 2 percent of the population, have access to the World Wide Web. Cuban officials say the U.S. trade embargo and economic limitations prevents the majority of Cubans from accessing the Internet.
For Cubans, who only last year were granted the right to stay at tourists hotels and obtain cell phone contracts in their own names, the ban is one of many frustrations of life on the island.
Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of popular Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and a blogger himself, said he was recently denied use of wireless Internet service at the Melia Cohiba Hotel.
"The government did not expect that the blogosphere would make use of the Internet the way it has in Cuba," Escobar said. "They thought the costs would be prohibitive and few would use it. But a group of Cubans is using the Internet to project their opinions and now they are reacting."
Internet use at hotels is pricey by Cuban standards: $5 for a half hour, $10 for an hour. The average monthly salary for many state workers is about $20.
Escobar believes authorities hope that bloggers turn to the free Internet services offered by the U.S. Interest Section or other embassies in order to later accuse them of being mercenaries financed by foreign powers.
Dagoberto Valdes, the editor of an online magazine in western Pinar del Rio province, said he and his son also were turned away at the Melia Cohiba.
"It is a new form of Cuban apartheid for surfers of the web," Valdes said. "It is another sign of change by Cuba's government. But instead of giving the people a green light, they're putting up another big red light, saying, 'Do not pass.'"
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