Connect Cuba campaign will send information to the island

Jose Luis Martinez, Connect Cuba's communications director.
Jose Luis Martinez, Connect Cuba's communications director.

Cuban singers Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino are backing a campaign to deliver “the Internet without the Internet” to the island — USB drives, DVDs, CDs and other memory formats loaded with uncensored information.

The “Connect Cuba” campaign will also feature an online petition urging Havana to provide citizens with unabridged and affordable access to the Internet, according to the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.

“We want to empower the people in Cuba,” said Tony Costa, a member of the board of directors and former president of the nonprofit foundation.

The foundation raised $35,000 in 35 days through a crowd-funding request on to pay for the initial costs of the campaign such as the Web page and designs, said José Luís Martínez, the foundation’s communications director.

Martinez said the largely Web-based campaign will use all social platforms and media to publicize the petition and highlight Cuba’s rate of Internet access — one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere — and its tight censorship of the Web.

“Connect Cuba” also will collect donations of money and equipment to send information to the island on USB flash drives and digital discs carried by volunteers.

Computers and smartphones also will be sent to the country, Martinez said.

He said Cubans pass around information in what Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez has called “the Internet without the Internet.” Sanchez requested such assistance for civil society on the island when she visited Miami in April.

The Cuban government tightly controls the Web on the island. Access is expensive or limited to government officials and facilities. Many pages created by the opposition are blocked, and smartphones cannot connect to the Internet.

The United Nations recognized access to the Web as a human right in 2011, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg launched a program in August,, to bring the Internet “to the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.”

Estefan and Chirino have recorded short videos urging support for the “Connect Cuba” campaign, and so have two Cuban dissidents who visited Miami recently — Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and Baptist Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso.

Ana Villafañe, of Cuban and Salvadoran descent, will record a specially written song that Costa said he hopes turns into the Cuban version of We Are the World, the hit song written in 1985 for the USA for Africa charity.

“Connect Cuba” will have a three- to four-minute introductory video explaining its goals, Martinez said, and its logo will be the symbol for a Wi-Fi antenna, rendered in the red, white and blue colors of the Cuban flag.

The campaign will be unveiled Nov. 8 during the foundation’s annual fundraiser, Tropical Nights, and will be officially launched a few weeks later after all the digital and other pieces are in place.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba received a $3.4 million, three-year grant in 2011 from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support Cuban civil society, and separately raises more than $600,000 a year from private donors. None of the USAID money will be used for the Connect Cuba campaign, Costa said.

The foundation was established by members of the Cuban American National Foundation in 1992 to work with dissidents and human-rights groups on the island. The two foundations are officially separate.

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