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POSTED: March 17, 2007 5:12 a.m.
A while back, while researching my family history for a magazine article on genealogy, a cousin gave me the e-mail address of our mutual third cousin in Cuba.
With Internet access highly restricted by the Castro regime, I was at first surprised that he had an e-mail address. After learning he is a surgeon, I figured that doctors get privileges other Cubans don’t.
We exchanged a couple of messages. I had more information about our family than he (his great-grandfather and mine were brothers who immigrated from Spain to Cuba, probably in the 1870s), so he was very interested in reading my article. After it was published, I e-mailed him the Web address where it appeared.
He wrote back asking me to send the article via e-mail. The Cuban government, he explained, gives him an e-mail account at the hospital where he works, but he gets no Web access there or at home.
The absurdity of telling a surgeon that he may not use the World Wide Web to keep up with the latest medical advances is only matched by the absurdity of keeping practically an entire country offline.
Yet such is state policy in Cuba. A report this year by Reporters Without Borders says that less than 2 percent of Cuba’s population is online, making it “one of the most backward Internet countries.”
To go online, most Cubans must use “public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and ‘youth computer clubs,’ where activity is more easily monitored" and computers “contain software installed by the Cuban police that triggers an alert message whenever “subversive” keywords are spotted.”
Want to avoid political cybercops? Connect illegally, and you face five years in prison. And that’s just for the average Jose who wants nothing more than to surf the Web for last night’s Yankees-Bosox score. Writing counter-revolutionary articles for foreign Web sites can get you 20 years in prison.
The regime reaffirmed its restrictive Internet policies recently in a speech by Ramiro Valdes, minister of informatics and communications.
Valdes opened an international conference on communication technologies by insisting Cuba must restrain “the wild colt of new technologies” because the Internet is “one of the tools for global extermination” wielded by the United States.
Well, maybe Valdes is so hard-line he prohibits himself from browsing the Web. Only someone who does not go online often can possibly believe the Bush administration — or anybody, for that matter — controls the wildest, freest, most open medium that has ever existed.
The marvel of it is that among admirers of this party line are people who live in democracies and call themselves defenders of the oppressed. I remember reading with amusement a couple of years ago that the pro-Castro group Pastors for Peace was asking Americans to donate computers “destined for disabled Cuban children.”
Ah, yes. Make a gift of your old PC, and those disabled Cuban children finally will have the technology Yanqui imperialists cruelly deny them. The regime will be thankful. Just don’t try checking the Yankee score, kids.
Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
 

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