A Freedom House assessment of “Freedom on the Net” reports that Cuba remains one of the world’s most repressive environments for the internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs). The Cuban government splits access to the web between a national intranet and the global internet. Most Cubans have access only to the national intranet which consists of an in-country e-mail system, a Cuban encyclopedia, websites that are supportive of the government and the like.
There are only two internet service providers, both owned by the state and surveillance is extensive. It is estimated that less than three percent of the population (mostly government officials) has access to the internet. Whatever connectivity is available costs around $12.00 per hour in a country where the average monthly salary is less than $20.00 per month.
Additionally, Cuba is also one of the few countries to have issued laws and regulations explicitly outlawing certain online activities. Decree-Law 209, states, among other restrictions, that “e-mail messages must not jeopardize national security”. Resolution 127 on network security bans the spreading of information that is against the social interest, the integrity of the people, or national security. Resolution 56/1999 provides that all material intended for publication on the internet must first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications. And Resolution 92/2003 prohibits service providers from granting acess to individuals who are not approved by the government and requires the providers to enable only domestic chat services, not international ones.
Underscoring the country’s self imposed intellectual isolation, Boris Moreno, Cuba’s Deputy Minister for Information Science and Communication, noted that “Cuba is not concerned with the individual connection of its citizens to the internet. We use the internet to defend the Revolution…”
The extent of Cuba’s political cyber police efforts and its concern with controls over information that characterize the tyrannical pursuit of intellectual autarky was vividly captured in a leaked 54-minute video of a conference identified as “Enemy Campaigns and the Politics of Confrontation with Counter Revolutionary Groups”. The video shows a June 2010 lecture delivered behind-closed-doors to an audience in military uniforms, mostly Interior Ministry officers (The Interior Ministry is in charge of Cuba’s domestic security). The topic: the dangers internet access poses to the government.
The lecturer, counter-intelligence cybernetic specialist officer Eduardo Fontes Suárez, defines the internet as a field of battle that the government must use to its advantage. He boasts of a new special section created within the Interior Ministry to work against bloggers. He warns of the dangers of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter labeling them “classic combat networks” and citing as examples how Iran’s “Green Revolution” and Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution were “created” when social networks were used to call people to street protests. He calls the internet “the field of battle” and highlights, in military jargon, the risks to the Cuban government of bloggers and youth groups.
The Cuban government has been remarkably successful in sealing the consciousness of the Cuban people from the outside world with a doctrine of intellectual isolationism in support of a self-sufficient and all encompassing revolutionary dogma of intellectual autarky. Fidel Castro made this intellectual autarky policy explicitly clear in a 1961 speech titled “A word to the intellectuals” in which he famously warned that “Within the Revolution everything, against the Revolution, nothing”.
But this pursuit of intellectual autarky has also produced a classic case of what social psychologist Irving Janis called “groupthink”, a condition that will ultimately prove to be the regime’s undoing. Groupthink is a type of thought characteristic of cohesive in-groups whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Decision-makers affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to follow irrational programs of action.
A case in point is General Castro’s economic program formulated, in his words, “to save Cuba from the economic abyss” outlined in a 32 page document that comprises the economic platform of the VI Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. A centerpiece of General Castro’s program is the firing of up to 1,300,000 government workers -something in the order of 20 percent of the workforce- and allowing them to make a living by becoming self-employed outside the government sector. In the Cuban version of Orwellian doublespeak, the measures are labeled as an “actualization of socialism.”
Apparently, the Cuban government is betting on the resourcefulness and entrepreneurship of the Cuban people to somehow make up for the inefficiencies of the state sector and to do so without acess to cash, credit, raw materials, equipment, technology or any of the inputs necessary to produce goods and services. The dismissal measure further assumes that everyone is temperamentally suited to be an entrepreneur and able to make a living in fields that may be far afar from their work experience and professional training.
Groupthink is also evident in how those selected for dismissal will be chosen; seniority, patronage, friendship, ideology, or some form of capitalist or socialist merit. According to the plan announced by the government, a commission of experts will decide the optimal number of personnel required for each state entity and specially trained workers’ commissions will decide the positions to be eliminated.
But perhaps most illustrative of the Cuban government’s groupthink is the specificity and degree of desire control with which the Cuban economic “reformers” have decided to allow those being fired to solicit permits to become self employed in activities such as:
Trade number 23-the purchases and sale of used books; 29-attendants of public bathrooms (presumably for tips); 34-pruning of palm trees (apparently other trees will still be pruned by the state); 49-wrapping buttons with fabric; 61-shoe shinning; 62- cleaning of spark plugs; 69-typists; 110-box spring repairs (not to be confused with number 116); 116-mattress repairs; 124-umbrella repairs; 125-refilling of disposable cigarette lighters; 150-tarot cards fortune telling; 156-dandy (technical definition unknown, male escort?); 158-natural fruits peeling (separate from 142-selling fruits in kiosks).
One does not have to be an economist to realize that this bizarre list of permitted private service sector activities will not drive the economic development of the country.
In his economic dreamland of surrealist juxtapositions and non sequitur General Castro and his team believe that this is the way to save the communist system. This surrealistic disconnect flows from Cuba’s doctrine of intellectual isolationism where Cubans are unable to receive information freely and exchange ideas openly.
In 1978 Deng Xiaoping recognized that this inbreeding groupthink problem would undermine his economic reforms and ended China’s self-imposed intellectual autarky. In Cuba, long-held Marxists economic assumptions will not be swapped for another set of economic beliefs without inspired democratic leadership.
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This article was originally published in English in the PanAm Post and in Spanish in El Nuevo Herald.
José Azel, Ph.D.
José Azel left Cuba in 1961 as a 13 year-old political exile in what has been dubbed Operation Pedro Pan - the largest unaccompanied child refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
He is currently dedicated to the in-depth analyses of Cuba's economic, social and political state, with a keen interest in post-Castro-Cuba strategies as a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami and has published extensively on Cuba related topics.
In 2012 and 2015, Dr. Azel testified in the U.S. Congress on U.S.-Cuba Policy, and U.S. National Security. He is a frequent speaker and commentator on these and related topics on local, national and international media. He holds undergraduate and masters degrees in business administration and a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Miami.
José along with his wife Lily are avid skiers and adventure travelers. In recent years they have climbed Grand Teton in Wyoming, trekked Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Machu Pichu in Peru. They have also hiked in Tibet and in the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp.
They cycled St. James Way (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela) and cycled alongside the Danube from Germany to Hungary. They have scuba dived in the Bay Islands off the Honduran coast.
Their adventurers are normally dedicated to raise funds for causes that are dear to them.
In Reflections on Freedom, José Azel brings together a collection of his columns published in prestigious newspapers. Each article reveals his heartfelt and personal awareness of the importance of freedom in our lives. They are his reflections after nearly sixty years of living and learning as a Cuban outside Cuba. In what has become his stylistic trademark, Professor Azel brilliantly introduces complex topics in brief journalistic articles. Buy Now
En Reflexiones sobre la libertad José Azel reúne una colección de sus columnas publicadas en prestigiosos periódicos. Cada artículo revela su percepción sincera y personal de la importancia de la libertad en nuestras vidas. Son sus reflexiones después de casi sesenta años viviendo y aprendiendo como cubano fuera de Cuba. En lo que ha resultado ser característica distintiva de sus artículos, el Profesor Azel introduce con brillantez complejos temas en breves artículos de carácter periodístico. Compre Aqui
Mañana in Cuba is a comprehensive analysis of contemporary Cuba with an incisive perspective of the Cuban frame of mind and its relevancy for Cuba's future. Buy now
Pedazos y Vacíos is a collection of poems written in by Dr. Azel in his youth. Poems are in Spanish. Buy now
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