Thursday, September 15, 2016

US-Cuba diplomacy is picking up.

This is somewhat off the subject of this blog, but it seems that US-Cuba diplomacy might be picking up steam. It may be coincidence, but three meetings have been scheduled:
Perhaps the Obama administration is accelerating negotiations before they leave office.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Criticism is not subversive

"Write criticism, the party will support you."
Raúl Castro, addressing the union of Cuban journalists, March 1980.

Josefina Vidal, Director General of the Department of the United States at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the Internet Freedom Conference next week is subversive -- "The illegal use of radio and television against Cuba is not enough for them, they insist on the use of the Internet as a weapon of subversion."

Her statement is based upon the fact that the conference is sponsored by the US government, but, if she would look beyond that, she would have a more nuanced view. (Note that I have been invited to participate in the conference and will have my travel expenses paid, but will not be compensated for the four days I spend).

For example, if she would read my blogs, reports and papers, she would see that I have been critical of the politics and Internet regulation and policies of both Cuba and the United States, but I am not trying to subvert either government. She would also see that I have recognized Cuban achievements and made many suggestions for improving Cuba's Internet infrastructure and policy. Whatever I have written or done has been pro-Internet, not anti-Cuban government.

As Cuban blogger Carlos Alberto Carlos Alberto Pérez said "I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system."

There are hard-liners in Cuba and the US, but after many years they seem to be following bureaucratic, party-line protocols, which call for rote repetition of tired sentences. I am confident that there are Cuban technicians and policy makers who realize the possibility of leapfrogging today's technology and policy just as there are many in the US who realize that our Cuba policy has been unproductive. It is time to look to the future.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Check out this report on Cuban digital media

Anne Nelson has written a report entitled Cuba’s Parallel Worlds: Digital Media Crosses the Divide. It is based on her earlier work in Cuba and a subsequent graduate seminar and field work in Cuba. The report is organized as follows:
  • Cuba’s Traditional Media
  • The Fiber Optic Cable: Cuba’s Big Little Bang
  • China’s Role
  • Enter the Americans
  • Who Makes Cuba’s Digital Policy?
  • Cuba’s Hacker Culture
  • Conclusion
The following are a few quotes that caught my eye:
  • "Cuba’s landlines, print culture, and broadcasting market have not only failed to advance beyond the mid-twentieth century standards, they have actually eroded."
  • "Cuba’s decades of news blackout will have a dramatic impact on the shape of the information culture in Cuba. It is entirely possible that Cuba could skip over the fact-based journalism models of the late twentieth century, straight into a digital maelstrom of rumor, data, marketing — and, somewhere amid the tumult—news." (See also William Davies' "post-truth news").
  • "Even as the regime’s controls appear to be loosening, its members have positioned themselves, their relations, and their supporters to reap the benefits." (This sounds a bit like the Russian transition -- Estonia provides a better model).
  • "Cuba has many features that make it an effective laboratory for ICT4D innovations: a highly literate, educated workforce; a manageable geography; and the urgent incentive of a broken system."
  • "We should not discount what the Cubans have to offer. Vast regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America struggle with erratic electrical grids and low bandwidth. The Cubans’ ingenious approach to offline apps might suggest solutions in these areas, just as Cuban doctors have proved helpful in low-resourced medical emergencies."
The report also shines a little light on the obscure production and distribution processes of El Paquete Semanal:
The production of the service is somewhat secretive. According to the Columbia research team, the content is downloaded by small teams across Cuba that receive passwords and usernames from the “Paquete owners,” who then pay to download content by the hour. The local managers download the content that will appeal to their specific audiences; university students might want to read the week’s New York Times, the Economist, and the BBC, while rural audiences might prefer South American telenovelas and variety shows. Most local managers download the content directly from the Internet, then copy and distribute it to a larger network that dispatches couriers to deliver it by public bus throughout the country. Customers pay around $2 to download the material to external disks and flash drives, often plugging them directly into a port on their flat screens; then returning for new content.
It also includes the following diagram, summarizing ETECSA's monopoly over all telephony and fixed and mobile Internet access:


My one question on the diagram has to do with the often quoted statement that ETECSA is entirely state owned. I am confused on the relationship of the state to the ETECSA stockholders and the division of decision making authority between ETECSA and the Ministry of Communication.

This post is the tip of the iceberg -- you should read the full report.

In addition to their field work, Nelson's students also compiled a project wiki, which is informative and also serves as a cool example of the use of the Internet for collaboration in education.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Impressions of the first Cuban Android community meetup

It would be great if Cuba could find a sustainable middle ground between the economy and culture of the early hobby and academic days and the dominance of money and advertising we have today in the US.

The first meeting of the Cuban Android community was held last Saturday. OnCuba Magazine reported on the meetup and you should read their coverage, but here are a couple of things I noticed:

The meetup was organized by the people who contribute to the TuAndroid blog, which they insist is not a blog, but a family.

The meetup tagline was "For a technological culture accessible to all."

Ailyn Febles, president of the Unión de Informáticos de Cuba, a State professional society with 8,000 members, called for an exchange between academia, state professionals and the non-state tech community.

TuAndroid founder Jorge Noris also called for cooperation between the state and non-state tech communities -- maybe this signals a policy change.

One of the speakers was Phillip Oertel, a Google engineer who worked on the Play Store. I was hoping he would say something about mirroring the Play Store on SNET or somewhere else in Cuba via, say, weekly batch updates, but evidently he did not. (It seems he is now working on a different project, Android Instant Aps, which, when launched, would be useful in a low-bandwidth nation like Cuba.

The meeting was held at the studio of the artist Kcho, which has a hands-on space with Google Chromebooks, Cardboard and phones, sponsored in part by Google. Kcho said his was a "space of sovereignty and freedom, which shows the daily struggle against the blockade" -- perhaps a necessary dollop of political correctness.

People helping each other after the formal talks

When the talks finished, there was an open session during which people helped each other -- answering questions, installing apps, upgrading Android, jailbreaking phones, etc. This sharing and assistance was done without charge and with a spirit of community building. It sounds like the days of the hobby computer clubs in the US. People helped each other freely and openly -- even the early businesses like Apple. The early academic and research days of the Internet felt the same.

It would be great if Cuba could find a sustainable middle ground between the economy and culture of the early hobby and academic days and the dominance of money and advertising we have today in the US.

Some related posts.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Si hablas mal de internet, Hablas mal del gobierno...

A guest post by Damián Fernández Suárez
(internet1.cubava.cu)

Los contenidos referentes a la Internet en Cuba son tan espinosos que difícilmente encontramos espacios (sitios webs) dentro de la Isla que convoquen al debate directo y con criterios libres sobre lo que se piensa del tema en la actualidad. Tanto el especialista como los interesados en el tema que se atrevan a escribir en esta rama deben rebuscar palabras que no afecten los intereses de aquellos que ponen la tecnología (por ejemplo, blogs) en función de cualquier forma de hacer periodismo, no aceptando para ello críticas que crucen la línea que han hecho llamar lo admisible… ¿pero alguna vez se han preguntado por qué? 

Lo admisible en Cuba es propiciar mediante criterios un ambiente positivo de conectividad que disfrace la realidad, ya una vez que se aventuran en violar esta propuesta, entonces caes en lo que se denomina “comentarios molestos” a los que se le trata de aplicar el MUTE. Claro está, “ el poco internet que se distribuye entre las universidades y organismos estatales las administra el gobierno” y por tanto, si criticas la internet, su infraestructura, la forma en que se veda para el pueblo… estás criticando al mismo gobierno, y por mucho que se intente hacer creer que se respete la libertad de expresión o derechos universales, está bien claro que distamos mucho de vivir en un país que se respeten los “criterios molestos” y muchos menos se nos escuche como quisiéramos que fuera. De ser así, el tema de Internet para los Cubanos ya fuera historia.

Sé que un día llegará en que dispongamos en los hogares de este preciado servicio, y la desconexión será parte del pasado, y no tendrán sentido este sitio y otros donde se alzan las voces para pedir lo que nos pertenece, pero hasta entonces emitiré mis criterios como especialista en el tema.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

IBM's SoftLayer cloud infrastructure service blocks Cuba -- why now?

Cachivache Media recently reported that the Bitly URL-trimming service had stopped working in Cuba. Cubans had been using the service for several years, so this resulted in many broken links.

Cachivache did not know what had happened, but published a traceroute that timed out at an Akamai router. I contacted Akamai, and they said they could not say anything -- they would only talk with their customers -- Bitly in this case.

This traceroute from Cuba to Bitly times out in the Akamai network.

So I contacted Bitly and had an email exchange with one of their support people. (The press and operations departments failed to answer my emails and I could not find a phone number to call). This is a transcript of my email conversation with their support representative:

Larry: My colleagues in Cuba are unable to reach their bit.ly account. They say it failed some time ago, worked yesterday and is now broken again. I attach a traceroute.

Support: Unfortunately, Bitly links do not function correctly in Cuba. This is not an issue on our end – I believe that Cuba and Iran are both unable to access Bitly links, due to government regulations.

I wish I had more info! Let me know if you need help with anything else.

Larry: Cubans have been using Bitly for years and they are no longer on the list of state sponsors of terrorism -- it just recently became unreachable. It was back up for a day earlier in the week then went down again. There is some sort of intermittent failure.

Could you follow up with Akamai on this? Or, if it is a change in your company policy, could someone confirm that?

Support: Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately there is not much I can do here, we’ve had reported problems with our links in Cuba, and are working diligently to rectify the issue.

Larry: I am confused -- are you now saying that it is a technical issue rather than policy? If so, by when do you expect to rectify it? The traceroute times out at an Akamai router -- have you filed a help ticket with them?

Support: I wouldn’t necessarily say this is an issue on our end. We know that our links don’t always work in Cuba – we’re not in touch with the Cuban government about this however.

I really wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t unfortunately! I hope you still find value in our free tool.

Larry: Are you doing it in compliance with a request of the US government? Is Akamai?

Support: As I mentioned, we’re aware of this issue, our engineers are aware and are working to solve the problem.

I can’t provide any more additional info at this time, I apologize for the inconvenience.

Well, that was inconsistent, but I guess a tech support person does not have authority to answer such questions.

Next, I heard from a friend in Cuba who told me it was not only Bitly -- other sites that used Bitly to trim their URLs were also blocked. Confused, I asked a colleague, Doug Madory, who monitors the Internet at Dyn Research, what he thought was going on. It turned out Doug had also been looking into this case. He told me the culprit was Softlayer, Bitly's hosting service, and that he would be providing more technical detail soon.

I checked with SoftLayer and the answer was on their Web site -- they block traffic from countries that are subject to U.S. trade and economic sanctions -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The rationalle for the SoftLayer policy is found in a Commerce Department guidance document.

So, we know what happened, but the real question is "Why now?"

Did Bitly know Cuba and the other sanctioned nations would be cut off when they moved to SoftLayer? (It looks like Bitly moved rather recently).

It turns out that SoftLayer began blocking Iran (and presumably the other countries) last February. Was that triggered by SoftLayer (or parent company IBM) lawyers exercising caution or were they pressured to change by government officials? Are they applying for an exception to the sanction?

Regardless, cutting Cuba off seems inconsistent with the policy of the current US administration. The Commerce Department page on the sanctions refers to "the President’s policy to chart a new course in bilateral relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people, announced on December 17, 2014."

This change inconvenienced a lot of Cubans -- does the US Government really want to do that at that time? Sanctions like this are a blunt instrument -- harming "good guys" like Cuba's new, Internet media as well as "bad guys."

This incident also reminds us of the fragility of Internet applications with dependencies -- the company or service your application depends upon can change its price or terms of use or just turn it off as in this case.

I'll see if I can get a better answer to the question why now? and will let you know what Doug's analysis reveals, but for now, we at least know what happened.

-----
Update 8/9/2016

I've asked IBM and SoftLayer why they made the decision to start blocking Cuba in February. IBM said they had no comment and SoftLayer did not return my phone call or email. I asked Amazon Web Services -- another cloud hosting company -- whether they blocked Cuban traffic and did not receive an answer to my email or phone message. (At least IBM had the courtesy of telling me "no comment").

Hitting that blank wall, I did a Google search and learned that:
  • IBM acquired SoftLayer in 2013.
  • In September 2015, the Treasury and Commerce Departments announced amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. "These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances." The announcement states the desire to loosen sanctions on telecommunications & Internet-based services in order to enhance "the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba."
  • In January 2016, Treasury and Commerce announced further amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. Treasury Secretary Lew said "We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans" and the announcement goes on to say that Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security "will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people."
  • Shortly before President Obama's trip to Cuba in March 2016, a related announcement stated that "The Cuban assets control regulations currently authorize the importation of Cuban-origin mobile applications. The Office of Foreign Assets Control will expand this authorization to allow the importation of Cuban-origin software."

The administration has increasingly relaxed Cuban sanctions on telecommunication and Internet services. So, I am still wondering why, in February 2016, SoftLayer decided to start blocking Cuban traffic.

-----
Update 8/11/2016

Bitly CEO Mark Josephson has posted an article addressing the blocking of their site. He reiterates the fact that the decision to block Cuba was not their's and speaks in favor of an open Internet -- an "Internet you can see across," which has been a Bitly tagline since the company was founded.

He concludes that "We understand the rationale behind the rules in place from our partner and are working with them to change this. I’m confident that we’ll be able to address this with our partner, and if we can’t, we’ll try to find another way."

-----
Update 8/18/2016

Amazon Web Services and Rackspace allow Cuban traffic and Google Cloud Platform and IBM/SoftLayer block it. (All of them seem to be in similar businesses).

Iroko Alejo says Envato, Themeforest, Attlassian and Schema.org are also blocked.

Paypal allows remittances to Cuba, but they stopped a message accompanying a payment because it contained the word "Cuba." (I wonder what other words they filter for).

Reading the US policy statements on Cuban sanctions (above), it seems like the administration favors Internet communication with Cuba and would be unlikely to prosecute any of these companies for sanctions violations.

I wonder why some companies are more cautious than others.


-----
Update 8/27/2016

PayPal froze the account of Nathaniel Parish after he bought a Cuban cigar while he was in Mexico. In the article he summarizes the US administration policies on purchases of Cuban goods, which, like our communication policy, favors exchange.

Note that his purchase of Cuban cigars was legal.

-----
Update 8/29/2016

I have no way of estimating the number of Web sites blocked in Cuba, but we can get some idea of the number by looking at the numbers of Web sites hosted by known blockers Google and SoftLayer.

Builtwith.com tracks the number of sites served by hosting companies. Here are their current statistics for SoftLayer and Google:


As you see, Google hosts more than twice as many sites as SoftLayer, but SoftLayer hosts more of the top 10,000 sites than Google. (Follow the links above to interactive graphs of the history of these hosting platforms).

An interesting side note -- I was surprised at the amount of information Builtwith gathers on the hosted sites. For a fee, you can order a list of the sites hosted by a particular service along with the following data on each of their clients:
Domain name, Location on Site, Company, Vertical industry, Alexa and Quantcast statistics, phone numbers and email addresses, accounts on Twitter and nine other services, names, titles and email addresses of several employees and more.
For example, I could now give you information about 14 people who work for chronotrack.com.(but I won't).

Privacy is indeed dead.

IBM's SoftLayer cloud infrastructure service blocks Cuba -- why now?

Cachivache Media recently reported that the Bitly URL-trimming service had stopped working in Cuba. Cubans had been using the service for several years, so this resulted in many broken links.

Cachivache did not know what had happened, but published a traceroute that timed out at an Akamai router. I contacted Akamai, and they said they could not say anything -- they would only talk with their customers -- Bitly in this case.

This traceroute from Cuba to Bitly times out in the Akamai network.

So I contacted Bitly and had an email exchange with one of their support people. (The press and operations departments failed to answer my emails and I could not find a phone number to call). This is a transcript of my email conversation with their support representative:

Larry: My colleagues in Cuba are unable to reach their bit.ly account. They say it failed some time ago, worked yesterday and is now broken again. I attach a traceroute.

Support: Unfortunately, Bitly links do not function correctly in Cuba. This is not an issue on our end – I believe that Cuba and Iran are both unable to access Bitly links, due to government regulations.

I wish I had more info! Let me know if you need help with anything else.

Larry: Cubans have been using Bitly for years and they are no longer on the list of state sponsors of terrorism -- it just recently became unreachable. It was back up for a day earlier in the week then went down again. There is some sort of intermittent failure.

Could you follow up with Akamai on this? Or, if it is a change in your company policy, could someone confirm that?

Support: Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately there is not much I can do here, we’ve had reported problems with our links in Cuba, and are working diligently to rectify the issue.

Larry: I am confused -- are you now saying that it is a technical issue rather than policy? If so, by when do you expect to rectify it? The traceroute times out at an Akamai router -- have you filed a help ticket with them?

Support: I wouldn’t necessarily say this is an issue on our end. We know that our links don’t always work in Cuba – we’re not in touch with the Cuban government about this however.

I really wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t unfortunately! I hope you still find value in our free tool.

Larry: Are you doing it in compliance with a request of the US government? Is Akamai?

Support: As I mentioned, we’re aware of this issue, our engineers are aware and are working to solve the problem.

I can’t provide any more additional info at this time, I apologize for the inconvenience.

Well, that was inconsistent, but I guess a tech support person does not have authority to answer such questions.

Next, I heard from a friend in Cuba who told me it was not only Bitly -- other sites that used Bitly to trim their URLs were also blocked. Confused, I asked a colleague, Doug Madory, who monitors the Internet at Dyn Research, what he thought was going on. It turned out Doug had also been looking into this case. He told me the culprit was Softlayer, Bitly's hosting service, and that he would be providing more technical detail soon.

I checked with SoftLayer and the answer was on their Web site -- they block traffic from countries that are subject to U.S. trade and economic sanctions -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The rationalle for the SoftLayer policy is found in a Commerce Department guidance document.

So, we know what happened, but the real question is "Why now?"

Did Bitly know Cuba and the other sanctioned nations would be cut off when they moved to SoftLayer? (It looks like Bitly moved rather recently).

It turns out that SoftLayer began blocking Iran (and presumably the other countries) last February. Was that triggered by SoftLayer (or parent company IBM) lawyers exercising caution or were they pressured to change by government officials? Are they applying for an exception to the sanction?

Regardless, cutting Cuba off seems inconsistent with the policy of the current US administration. The Commerce Department page on the sanctions refers to "the President’s policy to chart a new course in bilateral relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people, announced on December 17, 2014."

This change inconvenienced a lot of Cubans -- does the US Government really want to do that at that time? Sanctions like this are a blunt instrument -- harming "good guys" like Cuba's new, Internet media as well as "bad guys."

This incident also reminds us of the fragility of Internet applications with dependencies -- the company or service your application depends upon can change its price or terms of use or just turn it off as in this case.

I'll see if I can get a better answer to the question why now? and will let you know what Doug's analysis reveals, but for now, we at least know what happened.

-----
Update 8/9/2016

I've asked IBM and SoftLayer why they made the decision to start blocking Cuba in February. IBM said they had no comment and SoftLayer did not return my phone call or email. I asked Amazon Web Services -- another cloud hosting company -- if they blocked Cuban traffic and replied no answer to my email and they did not return my call.

Hitting that blank wall, I did a Google search and learned that:
  • IBM acquired SoftLayer in 2013.
  • In September 2015, the Treasury and Commerce Departments announced amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. "These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances." The announcement states the desire to loosen sanctions on telecommunications & Internet-based services in order to enhance "the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba."
  • In January 2016, Treasury and Commerce announced further amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. Secretary Lew said "We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans" and the announcement goes on to say that Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security "will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people."
It sounded like the administration was increasingly open to telecommunication with Cuba.

So, I am still wondering why, in February 2016, they decided to start blocking Cuban traffic.

-----
Update 8/11/2016

Bitly CEO Mark Josephson has posted an article addressing the blocking of their site. He reiterates the fact that the decision to block Cuba was not their's and speaks in favor of an open Internet -- an "Internet you can see across," which has been a Bitly tagline since the company was founded.

He concludes that "We understand the rationale behind the rules in place from our partner and are working with them to change this. I’m confident that we’ll be able to address this with our partner, and if we can’t, we’ll try to find another way."

-----
Update 8/18/2016

Amazon Web Services and Rackspace allow Cuban traffic and Google Cloud Platform and IBM/Softlayer block it. (All of them seem to be in similar businesses).

Iroko Alejo says Envato, Themeforest, Attlassian and Schema.org are also blocked.

Paypal allows remittances to Cuba, but they stopped a message accompanying a payment because it contained the word "Cuba." (I wonder what other words they filter for).

Reading the US policy statements on Cuban sanctions (above), it seems like the administration favors Internet communication with Cuba and would be unlikely to prosecute any of these companies for sanctions violations.

I wonder why some companies are more cautious than others.


-----
Update 8/27/2016

PayPal froze the account of Nathaniel Parish after he bought a Cuban cigar while he was in Mexico. In the article he summarizes the US administration policies on purchases of Cuban goods, which, like our communication policy, favors exchange.

Note that his purchase of Cuban cigars was legal.

-----
Update 8/29/2016

I have no way of estimating the number of Web sites blocked in Cuba, but we can get some idea of the number by looking at the numbers of Web sites hosted by known blockers Google and SoftLayer.

Builtwith.com tracks the number of sites served by hosting companies. Here are their current statistics for SoftLayer and Google:


As you see, Google hosts more than twice as many sites as SoftLayer, but SoftLayer hosts more of the top 10,000 sites than Google. (Follow the links above to interactive graphs of the history of these hosting platforms).

An interesting side note -- I was surprised at the amount of information Builtwith gathers on the hosted sites. For a fee, you can order a list of the sites hosted by a particular service along with the following data on each of their clients:
Domain name, Location on Site, Company, Vertical industry, Alexa and Quantcast statistics, phone numbers and email addresses, accounts on Twitter and nine other services, names, titles and email addresses of several employees and more.
For example, I could now give you information about 14 people who work for chronotrack.com.(but I won't).

Privacy is indeed dead.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Railroad communication and Internet backbone -- trenches with fiber

The Cuban railroad network

The Global System for Mobile Communications - Railway (GSM-R) is an international standard for wireless railway communication and applications. GSM-R base stations installed along the sides of railroad tracks allow for voice and data communication between the trains and railway regulation centers. (The base stations are from 7–15 km apart and the trains can be travelling up to 500 k/h)!

GSM-R has been installed in a number of nations and is now coming to Cuba. This year, they expect to install GSM-R from Havana's Central Railway Station through Santa Clara to Camagüey and subsequently to extend the system to Santiago de Cuba.

A wireless base station
The $40 million project is apparently being implemented in cooperation with a Chinese company, Jiaxun.

Why am I telling you this?

I assume that ETECSA is working with the railroad on this project and that the trench and fiber connecting the wireless access points will be used to augment and "future proof" Cuba's Internet backbone.

(Sprint, one of the major mobile ISPs began as the Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony system -- a communication system built along side the tracks).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Cuban Journalism on the Internet -- an overview

The Knight Center at the University of Texas, which studies journalism in the Americas, has published a long blog post on new Cuban journalism on the Internet. The post surveys Cuban media and profiles a number of outlets, categorized as follows.

State media controlled by the Communist Party: the newspaper Granma, Web sites Cuba Debate and Juventud Rebelde, Televisión Cubana and the radio stations Radio Rebelde, Radio Reloj and Radio Taíno.

Non-state media on the Internet, which are not opposed to the system -- criticizing the leadership, but relatively in favor of socialism: Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo and Cachivache.

Non-state media on the Internet, which are opposed to the system and want an end to socialism: 14ymedio, Martí Noticias and Damas de Blanco.

Foreign press: ccorrespondents of Reuters, Russia Today, The Associated Press (AP), Agencia EFE, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and dozens of other international mainstream media.

The Center also holds an annual International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), and Yoani Sánchez was a keynote speaker this year. She spoke of the technical and legal constraints faced by her publication 14Ymedio and some of their workarounds. For example, since journalist is not one of the occupations approved for self-employment in Cuba, they have registered their writers a typists. For more on her talk click here and here.

Yoani Sánchez (r) during her ISOJ 2016 presentation. Photo: Mary Kang, Knight Center

Friday, July 29, 2016

Old Havana fiber trial to begin August 20th? Many unanswered questions.

Old Havana (red area)

Last February, ETECSA announced a pilot connectivity project in two Havana neighborhoods. The Associated Press report said Cubans in Old Havana would be able to "order service through fiber optic connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei."

I'd not heard anything more about this until the other day when a friend sent me the transcript of a chat between him and someone familiar with the project.

His friend said a two-month free trial will begin August 20th. During that time ETECSA and Huawei will test speed and presumably tune the system. The free trial will only be available in parts of Old Havana and they may be rolling the service out to other areas in 2017, but neither the prices or locations are set.

This leaves many questions. They refer to "fiber-optic connections" -- does that mean fiber to the premises? Fiber/coax hybrid? Fiber/wireless hybrid? How large is the trial? After the trial, where will the service be available? What will it cost? What will the speed be? What are the plans for the possible 2017 rollout? What is the relationship of this project to the earlier plan for providing access to DSL to fifty percent of Cuban homes by 2020? Etc.

We might get answers to some of these questions when the trial ends, but I'm not counting on it.

Here is the transcript of the chat between my friend (YO in the transcript) and his friend (AMIGO in the transcript) who is familiar with the project:

AMIGO:
se va a dar gratis aquí en la Habana vieja
en la parte del casco histórico
rompemos el 20 de agosto
oh

YO:
se va a dar gratis por 2 meses?
ese es el famoso plan piloto…

AMIGO:
Asi es…
estoy completo en eso
aun no se saben los precios
para cuando se vaya a hacer completo pal que lo quiera comprar
ahora se va a dar gratis el montaje y dos meses

YO:
pero en cuba entera o el mismo Habana vieja?

AMIGO:
gratis va a ser solo en la Habana vieja

YO:
dame esos detalles para tirar los chismes en mi blog jejejeejje
AMIGO:
gratis solo en el casco histórico
si claro eso es para probar la velocidad

AMIGO:
más adelante se va a comercializar como un servicio cualquiera
en cuba entera
así es... esto va a ser una prueba piloto para saber cómo se comporta la velocidad y la conectividad

YO:
cojone pero eso será para el 2017
ojala que llegue
AMIGO:
te digo que rompemos el 20 de agosto en la habana vieja

YO:
si pero no eso del plan piloto
sino para la inter que me llegue a mi...

AMIGO:
bueno no se luego de este plan cuando rompen masivo para todo el mundo
eso no se ha definido aun
ni los precios para cuando se vaya a cobrar
seguimos en las mimas

YO: hay que mudarse para la habana vieja

AMIGO:
jajajajaja
tu sabes
déjame redactar un articulito simple, para que los demás no se me vallan adelante con la noticia, tranquilo que la fuente está protegida

Google Translate to English:

FRIEND:
it will give free here in Old Havana
on the part of the old town
we break the August 20
oh

I:
it will give free for 2 months?
that is the famous pilot plan ...

FRIEND:
So is…
I am complete in that
They not yet know the prices
for when you go to make full pal who wants to buy
now it is going to provide free installation and two months

I:
but in whole Cuba or the same old Havana?

FRIEND:
it will be free only in Old Havana

I:
give me those details to pull on my blog gossip jejejeejje

FRIEND:
free only in the historical district
if that's clear to test the speed

FRIEND:
later it will market as a service to any
in whole Cuba
this is ... this is going to be a pilot for how the speed and connectivity behaves

I:
cojone but that will be for 2017
hopefully arrive

FRIEND:
I say we break on August 20 in Old Havana

I:
yes but not that of the pilot scheme
but for inter I get to my ...

FRIEND:
not good then this plan when they break massive for everyone
that is not yet defined
or for when prices go receivable
We continue in mimas

I: we must move to Old Havana

FRIEND:
hahaha
you know
let me write a simple little article, for others not me vallan ahead with the news, assured that the source is protected

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Citmatel Editorial -- obsolete

Cuba's Information Technology and Advanced Electronic Services Enterprise, Citmatel, has a Web site where they offer CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, e-books and downloadable documents for sale:

Home page at the Editorial Citmatel site

I've argued that Cuba might have a future as an educational content producer, so clicked on education and found 31 courses in math, chemistry. physics, Spanish, information technology and "other." There are five information technology offerings -- an ebook on computer vision, a DVD with three videos on power supply repair and CDs with a multimedia book on the Promethean digital future and courses on Web design and Microsoft Office 2007. The Web design book features Dreamweaver C3, another 2007 product.

Five information technology titles

Next I browsed ebooks and found 57 entries, 17 of which were children's books. Several were designated as "new," but they were not yet for sale. A final search for "Fidel" turned up ten multimedia and audio-visual titles.

(Ironically, every page on the Citmatel Web site is copyrighted :-).

Offering CDs with courses teaching software from 2007 is embarrassing when the world has access to the Khan Academy, Coursera, etc. It is embarrassing in a nation with El Paquete Semanal.

I have argued that Cuba might have a future as a content provider for the Spanish speaking world -- movies, television programs, educational material, etc., but from what I have seen, the Citmatel material is of no value. It is the sad result of the stifling of information technology in Cuba. (I can't help thinking of the divergence of Cuba and China, both communist dictatorships that first connected to the Internet in the mid 1990s, but with very different policies).

This is obviously not the sort of thing I had in mind when envisioning Cuba as a content exporter. It seems that Cuba will not have a future as a content provider if they are relying on old, state owned organizations like Citmatel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cuba's intranet portal is now on the Web

Cuba should stick to things in which they have a comparative advantage -- as the saying goes, "do what you do best and link to the rest."

A year ago, a team of students and employees at the University of Information Science (UCI) launched a digital portal designed to unify all services and applications available on the Cuban intranet. Doug Madory discovered that it is now available on the international Web at Redcuba.cu, so I took a look at it.

The front page of the Redcuba portal

As you see above, the portal links to various services -- Papeleta, a "billboard" to advertise cultural events, Reflejos, a blog hosting site, Ecured, Cuba's would-be version of Wikipedia, Andariego, a Cuban map site and Cubadebate, an extensive pro-government news site. There are also links to a selection of government, health and education-oriented material.

But the centerpiece is a search engine for the Cuban intranet, so I checked that out with a vanity search on my name "larry press." It returned seven hits, dated between 2003 and 2015. Two were copies of this article on different sites and one was to this article, but none of the others worked. Three were to a Reflejos blog that had been "archived or suspended" and one returned a database error.

Well, I am evidently not a rock star on the Cuban intranet, but my friend Jesús Martínez Alfonso, who led the team that first connected Cuba to the Internet, must be -- right? Wrong. Five of his eight links were to broken pages that seemed to be trying to list committee members for a session at the recent Informatica 2016 conference in Havana. One of the good links was to this article (in which I had also been mentioned), another to this article on the early Internet and a link to a link to the previous article.

You get the picture -- this search engine cannot be compared to a Web search engine in any way, but that is not surprising. China may be the only nation that can support a search engine in competition with giants like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. The infrastructure to support such an effort is nearly unimaginable and there is no point in Cuba trying to build a search engine unless it is as a teaching exercise for students at UCI. Building a search engine rather than allowing Google or another service to index their material is goofy. (The same goes for Reflejos and Ecured).

I was not familiar with the Andariego map service, so I also checked it out. As you see below, it has a bug -- only displaying the southern half of the island when you zoom out:

Andariego, the map service

But, if you zoom in, the entire screen fills, as shown here in a search for Playa Giron:

Andariego map of Playa Giron

For comparison, I searched for Playa Giron using Google Maps and turned up this map:

Google map of Playa Giron

In this case, the Cuban map shows more detail than Google's. While they cannot hope to compete with Google search, Wikipedia or a blogging service like Blogger or Wordpress, Cuba is in a position to develop better maps of Cuba than Google.

Cuba should stick to things in which they have a comparative advantage. Content like Spanish language entertainment and educational material and applications in areas where they have special needs and knowledge like appropriate-technology medicine. As the saying goes, "do what you do best and link to the rest."

-----
Update 8/11/2016

Cuba has unblocked access to the Revolico classified ad site in parts of their domestic intranet. Does that reflect a policy change? I wonder who made the decision and why they did it. I also wonder why it remains blocked in other internal networks. Uncoordinated bureaucrats?



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The possibility of leapfrogging telecommunication regulation

I put Cuban telecommunication regulation in context in a previous post. The International Telecommunication Union defines four general generations of regulation and Cuba is stuck at the first generation. But going forward, Cuban regulation does not have to recapitulate the evolution of the last twenty years -- it is possible to leapfrog to fifth generation regulation.

At the recent Global Symposium for Regulators, Sofie Maddens presented a paper on fifth generation regulation (slides). The goal of fifth generation regulation is collaborative telecommunication regulation with other sectors to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals." She defined the role of fifth generation regulation as follows:
The interconnected nature of digital societies across the sectors means that there is a need for collaboration between government and industry operators, as well as between regulators across the sectors to provide effective responses to issues arising in networked communication flow. Today, regulators and policy makers are starting to define the foundation as well as the platforms and mechanisms for collaborative regulation with other sectors such as health, finance, education, energy.
She recognizes what Ithiel de Sola Pool told us twenty years ago -- telecommunication infrastructure planning is implicit social planning.

I am not optimistic that Cuba will skip to this enlightened position -- the entrenched bureaucracy and the power ETECSA are formidable barriers -- but Cuba does have a few things going for it.

For one thing, the party line for over 50 years has lauded equity and sharing and those values must have gained some traction in Cuban society and culture. Cubans have been sharing by nature and of necessity for some time -- before Airbnb there were casas particulares, paladares, carros particulares and el Paquete Semanal.

The historic emphasis on education and health care also bodes well for an Internet focused on sustainable development goals. About twenty years ago, my colleagues and I developed a six-dimension framework for characterizing the diffusion of the Internet in a nation, and we used our framework to study many nations, including Cuba. As shown below, one of our dimensions was the absorption of Internet technology in education, healthcare, government and business.

Summary of the state of the Cuban Internet in 1997

Although they are minimal by today's standards, Cuba now has a transportation network, a national university network, a health network, a national school network, etc. These reflect the values and priorities of the society and, along with ETECSA, could form the basis for the sort of collaboration and coordination Maddens envisions.

-----
Update 7/10/2016

A Spanish translation and discussion of this post and another on Cuban regulation in context can be found here.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cuban telecommunication regulation in context

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) publishes an annual report on "Trends in Telecommunication Reform" and in the 2015 edition, they defined four generations of telecommunicationi regulation as follows:

  • G1: Regulated public monopolies – command and control approach
  • G2: Basic reform – partial liberalization and privatization across the layers
  • G3: Enabling investment, innovation and access – dual focus on stimulating competition in service and content delivery, and consumer protection
  • G4: Integrated regulation – led by economic and social policy goals

They determine the generation of a nation's regulation as a function of 50 indicators in their database. The following figure shows the evolution of regulation over time:


As of 2013 fewer than ten percent of the nations on which they had data were stuck in the first generation and about 20% were fourth generation regulators.

It is not surprising that regulation has an impact on performance. For example, mobile broadband penetration is consistently highest and growing fastest in nations with fourth generation regulation.


Cuba was not included in the analysis shown here because of insufficient data, but, if they had been, they would have clearly been a first-generation nation. There cannot be many nations left in the world in which a single state-run monopoly is responsible for wholesale and retail fixed and mobile telephony and Internet access. North Korea may be in the same boat. (The US is rated as a third generation nation).

One can quibble with the methodology used in constructing this (or any) index -- the indicators and the way they are weighted are selected intelligently, but arbitrarily, and the data is self-reported, but there is no denying that it has some merit and Cuba is at or near the bottom of the list.

That is the bad news.

The good news is that just as Cuba could leapfrog technology generations, they could theoretically leapfrog regulatory generations -- they do not have to evolve over time, but could adopt global best practices. Cuba could opt for wholesale and retail competition and the pursuit of economic and social policy goals. (I am not optimistic, but it is conceivable).

I have advocated that Cuba should leapfrog current technology -- plan for future technology and take stopgap measures in the interim -- but that is less important than setting effective policies on Internet infrastructure ownership and regulation.

-----
Update 7/10/2016

A Spanish translation and discussion of this post and another on the possibility of Cuba leapfrogging regulation generations can be found here.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Disappointment after President Obama's trip to Cuba

President Obama meeting with Cuban entrepreneurs last March

Shortly before President Obama went to Cuba last March, I wrote a post on Internet-related announcements that might be made during the trip. It was pure speculation -- things like a Havana-Florida undersea cable or copyright and cyber-security agreements, significant infrastructure deployment -- and none of it happened.

However, The President did make some Internet-related announcements. He said Google would be announcing wireless connectivity during his visit and Stripe would offer their Atlas service to Cuban entrepreneurs -- providing a US tax ID, bank account and Delaware incorporation along with use of their global payment service. Stripe said they would be working with the Merchise Startup Circle in Cuba. The President also announced that Cisco would be offering their Cisco Academy training at Cuba's University of Information Science.

So, what has come of all this? Not much.

Google's wireless connectivity is the biggest disappointment. I've speculated on significant infrastructure and content investments Google could conceivably make in Cuba, but all they announced was a single WiFi hotspot at the studio of Cuban artist Kcho. Google supplied 20 Acer Chromebooks and a number of Nexus 5 phones with Cardboard viewers, and got a lot of publicity in return. Perhaps this is a necessary relationship-building step (Kcho is well connected), but in itself this hotspot is less than a drop in the bucket -- 99% hype and 1% substance, like Kcho's previous hotspot.

How about the deal with Stripe and their Cuban partner Merchise? In March, I contacted Merchise and Stripe to learn more about their business relationship. Merchise had nothing to say about their relationship with Stripe and Stripe said "Merchise is a partner in the the Stripe Atlas Network ... it isn't so much that we expect them to represent or market Stripe in Cuba; rather, if they know any specific entrepreneurs or businesses in Cuba for whom Stripe Atlas would be helpful, as a Network partner they can refer those entrepreneurs to us for early access to the Atlas program."

Last week, I asked Stripe if anything had come of the partnership to date and was told they had no concrete updates, but they had "been in touch with many Cuban entrepreneurs." I also asked Cisco about the status of and plans for their Cuban project, and was told that at this time they had nothing to add to what was said in the blog post announcing the relationship last March.

So far, nothing concrete and significant has come of the Internet projects Obama announced.

In addition to these announcements, The President met with Cuban entrepreneurs who described their businesses and briefly discussed them with him. During the meeting, he also introduced AirBnB co-founder Brian Chesky, praising him as a successful Internet entrepreneur and a role-model for young Cubans.

President Obama has continued his emphasis on entrepreneurship, most recently hosting 11 young Cubans at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

I've written about Cuban tech startups and support them wholeheartedly, but President Obama's upbeat tone overstates their potential impact. Internet companies focused on the Cuban market will not make a significant contribution until Internet access and the economy are improved considerably. Even then, no company will come close to the success of AirBnB with its $24 billion valuation without global reach. There is a potential market for Cuban educational and entertainment content and network services in Spanish-speaking nations, but Cuban entrepreneurs will not be able to go after those opportunities without major policy changes.

-----
Update 6/30/2016

I heard from the Merchise Startup Circle with respect to their Stripe partnership. They confirmed that they do not represent Stripe or sell Atlas membership -- their role as a member of the Stripe Network is to refer potential customers to Stripe. They are not alone in this -- they are one of over 100 incubators, accelerators, investors, and others who can refer top global entrepreneurs to the program. They do not receive a commission for the referrals and they do not hold equity in the enterprises they refer. Their payment is the satisfaction of supporting and encouraging the Cuban startup community. That is consistent with the tone of their meetings and their academic roots.

As mentioned above, Stripe says they have been in touch with many Cuban entrepreneurs and I bet most of them were referred by Merchise.

Monday, June 27, 2016

An innovative street net with Internet access

This project offers an interesting proof of concept, but could it scale up? We will probably never find out.

I've advocated Cuba's leapfrogging today's technology and planning for the technology of the future, when their political and financial situation is improved, but that leaves the question of what to do in the interim.

To date, public access points are the only stopgap measure ETECSA has employed, but I have suggested others. One of those is to legitimize and systematically support informal local area networks, street nets.

Two recent Cubanet posts point to a novel combination of street nets and ETECSA public access hotspots.

Uncomfortable public access hotspot
The first post is a summary of the history and evolution of the WiFi hotspots a year after they began. It paints a sad picture. It has taken a year to expand from 35 to 128 access points -- a drop in the bucket for a country with over 11 million inhabitants. Access is slow and dropped connections are common. The price is too high for most Cubans and the lines to buy time are long. Furthermore the outdoor facilities are crowded, lack privacy, exposed to rain and heat and attract criminals.

The second post describes an innovative street net project in Pinar del Río. Street nets are not novel in themselves, but this one has a twist -- it uses a nearby ETECSA access point for backhaul to the Internet, enabling people to access the hotspot from the comfort and safety of their homes.

The article does not go into detail on the topography of the street net, the equipment they use, the speeds and latency times the users see, etc., but the project is a proof of concept and it provides an example of Cubans devising appropriate technology -- innovation when faced with a constraint.

The users pay the street a flat fee of 4 CUC per month in addition to paying ETECSA their time online, but they can log on from home rather than sitting outside and can use a desktop computer if they wish to.

Pinar del Rio streetnet with Internet connection
The real breakthrough here is not technical -- it is the decision by ETECSA to allow this to happen. ETECSA turns a blind eye to this connection since it costs them nothing and their utilization and revenue increase without additional investment.

ETECSA is ignoring this connection for the time being, but this sort of project can not scale beyond an interesting proof of concept without system wide planning and support.

I have suggested that, if embraced and supported, street nets like this one could form a part of Cuba's interim Internet infrastructure, but that would require a major policy shift.

What stops Cuba from investigating this sort of innovation and, if it is found to be viable, scaling it up?

One roadblock might be political, having to do with "inappropriate" use of the network, but that would not be the case here since the Internet connections are made through ETECSA and they could perform whatever surveillance and filtering they do today.

Another is financial -- what sort of investment would be required and what would be the return? Since ETECSA does not reveal information on their networks or finances, only they can evaluate the technical and financial feasibility of such a project. If this sort of interim project made sense, one could imagine (dream of) the government allowing foreign investment if needed.

(The people planning a street net project at the University of Havana would be a good choice for conducting a technological and financial feasibility study for such a project).

As I have suggested previously, bureaucracy poses a third roadblock. Cuba has had over half a century to develop a rigid bureaucracy, leading to fear of competition, innovation and stepping out of line.

The following are two short videos -- interviews of WiFi hotspot users and of the young man who linked the street to the public Internet access point. Note that the young man is unwilling to show his face or give his name on camera -- that reflects the biggest roadblock of all, fear.



Monday, June 20, 2016

Cuban UN representative calls for Internet regulation

Belkis Romeu, Third Secretary in the Permanent Mission of Cuba at the United Nations spoke recently at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council.

She advocated "democratic regulation" of the Internet, saying "while we must ensure the promotion and protection of freedom of expression, there are several examples that illustrate the dire need to regulate and make appropriate use of the Internet," and went on to site governmental Internet surveillance and the "ZunZuneo project aimed at creating situations of destabilization in Cuba to bring about change in our political system."

This vague restatement of the "party line" is characteristic of a hollow bureaucracy. I do not know what sort of regulation she is advocating and I have to assume that she is smart enough to realize that the ill-conceived ZunZuneo project was never a significant threat to the Cuban political system. Like the similarly ill-conceived Alan Gross project, it would have been a drop in the bucket had it gone undetected.

In failing, these projects gave the Cuban government propaganda fodder and embarrassed the US, but they don't explain the sad state of the Cuban Internet. Don't get me wrong -- I am in no way condoning ZunZuneo or the Alan Gross effort -- there are no good guys in this post.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A thesis on El Paquete -- a step toward quasi capitalism?

I skimmed the contents of a single edition of El Paquete recently but Dennisse Calle, a sociology student at Princeton University, looked at multiple Paquetes and interviewed distributors and users in researching her senior thesis El Paquete, A Qualitative Study of Cuba’s Transition from Socialism to Quasi-Capitalism.

After a literature review and description of her interview-focused research methodology, the thesis has chapters on the content, distribution/business organization and consumers of El Paquete. She began by classifying the content by type, as shown here.

Most of the content is entertainment -- television, movies and music. The users Calle interviewed "rarely referred to" the items in the "other" category, things like The Bible in audio, software, magazines, music videos, movie trailers, karaoke and (surprisingly) Cuban Music. The one exception was the weekly download of the Revolico want-ad site.

This led her to conclude that El Paquete functions primarily as a diverse alternative to Cuban television, so she drilled down on the television content, looking at its source and category. As shown here, over half of the content is from the U. S., exposing Cubans to U. S. culture and society.

Calle also looked at the genres of the 305 television shows. Soap operas and animations each accounted for 20% of the content and comedy and sitcoms each accounted for 13%. Educational programming accounts for 9% and drama 5%, leaving 20% for "other." The "other" shows included news, reality shows, competition shows, exercise shows, food shows, and talk shows. You can draw your own conclusions as to how these allocations reflect Cuban taste and influence their view of the outside world.

She also investigated the distribution organization. The top level consists of unknown compilers who collect the content. Below them are packagers who put the weekly distribution together, inserting local content, including ads, that varies around the country. At the bottom of the organization are distributors who sell it to everyday Cubans -- from store fronts or door to door.

From the compilers to the distributors, this is a capitalist business, but the distributors blend capitalism and sharing. Calle interviewed five distributors -- three with storefronts and two who went to customer's homes. Some transactions were done at "list" price, but not all. For example, a distributor might offer a low price or free content to someone who could not afford to pay more or to family and friends.

Of the 45 people Calle interviewed, 17 paid for or at some point had paid for El Paquete and 28 did not pay for it. Those who paid were distributors, self-employed cuentapropistas, workers for state enterprises, a student, an artist and one person with family abroad. The 28 who did not pay got their content from a friend, neighbor or family member.

While not profit maximizing, this sharing and discretionary pricing builds social capital, which one day may yield monetary returns and is valuable as an end it itself. As Richard Feinberg points out, Cubans have been brought up to believe that equity and social solidarity are important goals.

Calle sees El Paquete as one factor (along with remittances, tourism, self-employment, etc.) contributing to the transformation of Cubans' sense of self -- seeing Cuba in a global perspective and seeing themselves as consumers with discretionary, luxury spending power:
In a country where materials, shopping, and consumption are limited to food and maybe clothing, El Paquete becomes a luxury, a form of asserting one’s independence from the state’s attempts to suppress individuality.
Consumer choice is not the only element of capitalism surrounding El Paquete. Advertising is another -- El Paquete provides businesses with a means of mass-market advertising. Cubans are also aware of copyright, and Calle reports that many consumers would prefer to obtain the content legally.

Competition is essential for successful capitalism and, in some cases, the retail distributors have a choice of packager and the end users have a choice of retail vendor. This leads to capital investment (perhaps a fast PC for duplicating files), good customer service and the emergence of entrepreneurship. (It is said that El Paquete is the largest private employer in Cuba).

If Cuba can exploit positive aspects of capitalism within a society that continues to value equity and social solidarity, we may see a uniquely Cuban capitalism from which we can all learn.

The thesis is not online, but you can request a copy from the author, dcapupp at princeton.edu.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Cubans and the Panama Papers


The Panama Papers is a collection of 11.5 million documents (2.6 terabytes) that was leaked by an anonymous source to Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), a German newspaper. The documents were from the internal files of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that creates anonymous offshore companies around the world. The database on 320,000 offshore companies may be accessed here.

SZ did not have the staff and resources to analyze that many documents, so they decided to cooperate with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a global network of more than 190 journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories.

(The story of this massive, Internet-based collaboration is amazing in its own right. For more on the ICIJ and the methodology of this investigation, check out this excellent 15 minute podcast, with transcript).

Three weeks ago, we learned that the leaked data revealed the existence of dozens of businesses associated with senior figures in Cuba.

Now the Miami Herald has published an in-depth story showing that the Cuban government used Mossack Fonseca to "create a string of companies in offshore financial havens that allowed it to sidestep the U.S. embargo in its commercial operations." They have identified at least 25 companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Bahamas that are linked to Cuba, enabling the Cuban government to import and export goods and invest funds abroad.

Twenty five companies linked to Cuba

For investigative reporter Nora Gámez Torres' video summary (2m 20s) of her findings click here.

I have the feeling that this story is just beginning to unravel. It is depressing.
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