The communist regime of Cuba is using their control of the internet to stifle dissent and contain protests. The United States has the technology and resources to circumvent this censorship. The Biden Administration says it will sanction Cuba. A condition of lifting any sanctions must include an open internet for the Cuban People.
The internet in Cuba is provided by ETECSA, a state-owned enterprise. They have limited access during these recent protests. Encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram were being blocked from citizens accessing it. At one point there was a total blackout of internet and telephone service.
This an insidious pattern of internet control is right out of Chinese playbook, where their far-reaching “Great Firewall” has restricted the information that the Chinese people can see for decades. In fact, it might be likely that China is directly supporting Cuba’s censorship effort.
Cuban internet is built on equipment sold by Huawei, ZTE, and TP-Link. This is equipment that has since been banned in the United States. It has also been observed that ETECSA’s login portal was written by Chinese developers as well as utilizing Chinese written web filtering software.
This command and control of the internet is antithetical to the American principles of collaboration and the free exchange of ideas that built the internet. Last week Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Marco Rubio and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr all called on President Biden to greenlight American efforts to ensure internet connectivity in Cuba.
Helping Cubans access the internet isn’s some abstract principle. There are simple solutions to be done here. Right now 1.4 million Cubans are using a U.S. created software called “Psiphon” that uses virtual private networks (VPNs) and HTTP proxy technology to circumvent government censorship measures.
The U.S. can also get the internet to Cuba using balloons (yes, balloons) to send mobile cell sites up into the atmosphere. These solar-powered sites can serve thousands of users and last up to 5 months at a time. Internet could also be provided to Cubans via satellite as Senator Marco Rubio points out in his open letter to President Biden.
This is an issue the administration cannot faulter on. Protestors and journalists have been arrested or attacked. “This isn’t about politics is about saving lives” musician Pitbull said. Allowing this censorship and preventing these acts from being shown to the world deprives the Cuban people the ability to present evidence of the abuse they face from their government.
American enterprises are quite capable of delivering internet to Cuba, the lukewarm response the Whitehouse has given so far needs to turn into an action. “This is a moment in history we cannot let pass. Increasingly, dictators around the world are shutting down internet connections when people are yearning for freedom” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.
As we work in our own country to give everyone access to the internet, this is an opportunity to show how much we value connectivity and demonstrate to the world that the internet will not be a tool of control to be used by authoritarian governments around the world.