Thousands of Cubans have been protesting the economic crisis, the Cuban government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and infringement on civil liberties. Cuba’s government responded by cutting off power to the island, denying access to social media and communication platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp.
As a Cuban-born American, I am outraged by what the Cuban government is doing to stifle its people. This is a great misuse of power by the communist regime. I want to take the opportunity to dispel some misconceptions about what is happening in Cuba, the impact of the U.S. embargo on Cuban citizens and the role technology plays in protecting human rights.
Internet Access and Censorship Circumvention
Access to the internet allows for Cubans to share their ideas and frustrations and organize protests. It is also the only window many of us have into what life is like for the Cuban people — that includes human rights advocacy organizations.
Getting Cubans back online isn’t a technology problem. The U.S. has the technology available to provide internet access to the island from afar and we urged President Joe Biden to provide “free and open” internet access for Cubans using technology engineered by U.S. tech firms like Google. There are solutions available that circumvent internet censorship, such as Psiphon. This free censorship circumvention tool has helped nearly 1.4 million Cubans gain access to websites. According to Reuters, the Toronto-based company’s Psiphon Network receives U.S. government financial support and also helped people in other countries, including Iran and China, overcome governmental restrictions on internet access.
How the Embargo Impacts the Cuban People
The Cuban-American community is somewhat divided on the U.S. embargo of Cuba, as are the Cuban people. However, it is not the embargo that is keeping Cuban citizens from being able to run a business, fish for commerce and food, or have access to clean water and sewage systems. It is the Cuban regime that is blocking those advances.
The regime takes a cut of everything sold from the island. The point of the embargo is to slow the economy and stop the regime from having the resources and leverage to move forward with policies that are hurting the Cuban people. The embargo is not the problem, the regime is the problem.
My family left Cuba when I was 10. It was far from easy. During the Mariel Boatlift, the government discouraged people from leaving by filling boats to near capacity with inmates, so that only one or two other people could board. That meant families had to separate from each other for the long and often dangerous journey. There were limits on where we could travel as well. My family spent two years in Spain, without my father, before we could emigrate to the U.S. It was another five years before my father could join us.
I am far from alone. There are many like me in the Miami community whose families share similar or worse stories, whether they are from Cuba or other places with oppressive regimes. We can debate the impact of foreign policy on these countries. What isn’t debatable is that internet connectivity is a necessary tool for those inside the regime to have a voice — and those outside of it to be able to listen (and respond with aid).
Supporting Internet Access for Cubans
Maybe I see this issue differently because of my role at Internos. Every day, we are helping small and medium-sized businesses leverage their technology for growth. Every day, I see the impact that our managed services and cloud infrastructure has on their business resilience. We need to support the Cuban people in achieving the most basic component of this change — internet access — so that they can get the news and information out that will empower the UN and other groups to provide humanitarian relief.
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