Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why now?

There has not been much Cuban Internet news lately, but on November 2, Granma published a statement by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs targeting the U. S. Interests Section's Internet activity. (Spanish, English)

The statement accuses the Interests Section of doing illegal training and establishing illegal Internet connections and networks.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington that "We are absolutely guilty of those charges. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana does regularly offer free courses in using the Internet to Cubans who want to sign up. We also have computers available for Cubans to use. Obviously this wouldn't be necessary if the Cuban government didn't restrict access to the Internet and prevent its own citizens from getting technology training."

This activity has been going on for some time -- my question is "why publish this statement now?" Does it signal a coming crackdown on the Interests Section? Is it an attempt to influence the U. S. election somehow?

Let us know if you have any knowledge of the Interests Section classes and Internet access. Are the classes political as Cuba claims? Do they only offer access to anti-government activists?

Update 5/31/2015

On May 12, Raúl Castro spoke out against the classes being offered at the US Interests Section in Havana, saying we were offering illegal classes -- "graduating independent journalists." He said some of the training was delivered via teleconferences from the United States and we gave students a "corresponding monthly payment."

I asked the Interests Section whether we were indeed paying people to take these courses, and received no reply.

A week later, the we agreed to change our pro-democracy programs, which include courses in journalism and information technology

This seems to have removed a stumbling block on the path to diplomatic relations.

Update 6/1/2015

This video (2:14) has excerpts from interviews of two Cuban's who regularly access the Internet at the US Interests Section in Havana. One says that Raúl Castro's claim of people being paid by the US Government is untrue, but does not say which classes, if any, she has taken.

Update 6/3/2015

An Associated Press story reports on the journalism classes offered at the US Interests Section in Havana. Students who have taken the classes say they are taught over a video link by professors from the International Media Center at Florida International University and the professors avoid politics, stopping discussions that get close to political.

The students echo the sentiments of Cuban blogger Carlos Alberto Pérez, saying they are not interested in in overthrowing the government, but in improving it. One of them, Hildebrando Chaviano Montes, ran as an opposition candidate in a recent local council election in Havana -- a first since 1959.

Local election tally -- oposition candidate Hildebrando Chaviano is fourth with 105 votes.

Retired diplomat John Caulfield, who headed the Interests Section in 2011-14, said the classes were always full despite the fact that some students reported being roughed up, detained and having equipment stolen by security agents.

The story does not address Raúl Castro's claim that the students were paid by the US government.