Thursday, December 17, 2015

Alan Gross press coverage a year after we moved to restore relations with Cuba

Today marks a year since President Obama issued his statement on Cuba policy changes. (You can see a statement of our policy and his 15-minute speech announcing the day he announced the policy shift here).

It is also a year since Alan Gross was freed and he reflects upon his time in prison and US policy in this interview. You can read the complete interview, but here are a couple of things I picked up on:
  • Gross has "absolutely no bitterness whatsoever toward the people of Cuba" -- he feels like they are his "family."
  • He would visit Cuba "in a heartbeat" if the government would promise not to arrest him.
  • He says normalizing relations between Cuba and the US will take years, both governments are working towards that end and "we need to be patient to see this relationship evolve."
  • Gross considers the U.S. trade embargo "stupid" and "a complete failure."
  • His broken teeth have been repaired and he has regained 40 of the 110 he lost while in prison.
If you'd like to read more, check out the posts I've written on the technology and politics of the Alan Gross case.

Alan Gross arriving home a year ago and today

Of course, Alan Gross is just part of the story. The most extensive Cuba coverage I have seen on the anniversary of our policy change is a week-long series of posts on Yahoo U. S. and Cuba, One Year Later.

The series features dozens of posts on various aspects of Cuban culture and the political situation. Most are human interest stories on tourism, fashion, baseball, etc., but the following are three Internet-related posts you might want to check out.

Cuba Unplugged: An Island Still Stuck in Airplane Mode -- a look at the public WiFi hotspots and the ways people are using them. There is nothing that would be new to readers of this blog, but the post is well written and accompanied by a short video and photos. My favorite snippet was this exchange between the interviewer and an about 65 year-old Cuban woman who uses Airbnb to rent rooms in her house:
“What if I told you that in America we use the Internet mostly to watch videos of cats?” There was a long awkward silence. “How terrible,” she said.
The 21st Century Is Coming to Cuba, One Hotspot at a Time -- an overview of the present state of the Cuban Internet and plans for expansion. It covers the WiFi hotspots, home connectivity plans, the presence of US companies in Cuba, early Internet-based efforts of American companies, Cuban tech startups, political and economic barriers to Cuban investment and modernization, etc. Again, nothing we have not covered on this blog, but well written for a general audience.

Despite obstacles, Instagram offers a new window into Cuba -- the way Cubans and, to a greater extent, expats are using Instagram to document life on the island. You can see a slide show here and there are links to the Instagram accounts of Cubans and foreign journalists and professional photographers. My favorite is the account of Havana-based Reuters photographer Desmond Boylan, but I'd recommend checking them all.

Strolling in Havana by Desmond Boylan

The series does not focus on the Internet, but the Internet figures in many of the stories. In general, this is timely news coverage of an important story a year after it began. The posts are not detailed or technical, but they are well written for a general audience -- like newspaper readers. (Remember newspapers)?

Update 1/24/2016

The Havana Times reports that USAID has allocated $6 million to support civil society and promote the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people with the goal of "empowering the Cuban people to decide their own destiny."

They prefer that grantee's personnel traveling to Cuba be fluent in Spanish, possess a solid understanding of Cuban culture and have prior experience on the island. It is noteworthy that "grant recipients will be going to Cuba at their own risk and may not hold USAID responsible for what might happen to them." The same goes for project staff based in Cuba.

It looks likes they have learned from the Alan Gross affair -- Gross sued the government, claiming he was unaware of the risks he was taking on behalf of USAID. The disclaimer also sends a message to conservatives in the US that the administration still considers Cuba repressive. I think they will have a hard time recruiting people to work on these projects.

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