Ideas and Issues International

Havana, Cuba: It takes more imagination than I have to understand how a policy of deliberate isolation for the Cuban people advances any of the articulated governmental interests of the United States.   Two examples come easily to hand:  television and the internet. 

During the last month the work has taken me to El Salvador, Mexico, and Peru – three very disparate parts of the larger sense and stride of Latin America, not even counting the fact that I was in Toronto, Canada only a few days ago.  Through the ubiquitous and pervasive power of television, one cannot escape American culture in any of these countries.  The culture screams about an almost dysfunctional level of individual freedom of expression and style, which lures millions, especially among the young, to constant imitation.  In Cuba the plethora of voices only 90 miles away does not exist.  The stations are few and none bring the US on the beam.

Internet from my experience today seems inaccessible in a way that one can rarely find anywhere in the civilized world.  Name the city and one can usually find cyber cafes routinely and at very low prices.  In Havana – a city of more than 2 million people – one was hunting for hen’s teeth.  I spent the morning finishing work that the clock had run out on Friday night before leaving – especially the facts and figures needed for discussions about an amalgamation with other organizations to organize home child care workers in the United States.  Upon finishing the work and transferring it to disk, I assumed it would be a trivial matter to local a computer with a connection and send the work through the wires to continue its labor.  Wrong! 

Our hotel, the Girasol, is owed and operated by the Cuban labor federation, but is certainly a tourist hotel in most respects.  One hears French, German, and English with Canadian and British accents in the restaurant.  But, our hotel is not on the internet.  Neither was the more old, famous, and large, Hotel Lincoln only a few blocks away.  When I finally located one in the regal Hotel Seville – known as the Biltmore Seville before the revolution 45 years ago, I was relieved, but only temporarily.   Availability had been a keen issue, and it was joined by price.  To use the internet the rate was $8.00 US per hour, $2.00 for a mere 15 minutes.  In El Salvado for example one can get on for $1.50 per hour virtually anywhere.  In Mexico City of course $1.00 an hour almost seems high.  In Toronto the price is the price of a local phone call, and even in the most expensive hotel, that would only be $2.00 per hour. 

If the US policy is to broadcast the allure and inevitability of freedom, I wonder how well blocking access so effectively through hardware and price and locking up the people and their visions within the lush soil surrounded by blue water is really working?