Despite a slight opening of internet use in Cuba, the creation of nearly 200 wifi spots in public areas and an increasing number of mobile phones, the majority of the population on the island remains disconnected.
With a penetration rate of only five percent, one of the lowest in the world, the Cuban government exercises stiff control over the internet, blocking digital sites that are considered “subversive.”
Few know better how the Cuban government censorship functions than the independent journalists on the island.
“Cuba will change, but they are controlling the change, not only with their laws but also by controlling the access to development that represents the internet,” said independent journalist Miriam Celaya in an interview Tuesday with In Cuba Today during the second day of the Cuba Internet Freedom conference held in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.
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A panel of Cuban journalists from inside and outside the island shared their experiences and explained their visions about the future of the internet and independent journalism in Cuba.
The two-day CIF event, which is part of Social Media Week ending Friday, was organized by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, the U.S. government agency that runs Radio and TV Martí.
Days prior to the event, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry representative for the U.S., Josefina Vidal, said the conference sought to promote internal subversion.
According to Celaya, the mass use of the internet would only help to “accelerate” change on the island.
“The internet does not produce democracy, but promotes it,” said the seasoned journalist who works as a freelancer and a contributor with the digital newspaper 14ymedio, founded by Yoani Sánchez.
“We must create a culture of information in Cuba,” she said.
Many publications not officially sanctioned by the government, such as 14ymedio, are blocked and internet users must access the websites through a proxy, a digital address that serves as an intermediate point between the computer and the internet.
Ignacio González, from the digital site Hablemos Press, said the independent media in Cuba has to work to “win the confidence” of the Cuban people.
“Cubans are indoctrinated by the government since they are children,” González said. “It is normal that there is a distrust of independent media, but we have to earn the trust of the people."
Iván García, a freelance journalist who collaborates with El Mundo and Diario de Cuba, stressed the importance of independent journalism in order to document the reality of the island. He said the official Cuban press, which is controlled by the government, shows a “virtual” reality.
“The government journalists do not show the reality of the island. The press does not reflect reality,” said García, who began his career as a writer for the Cuban state-run television.
Other panel participants included Rolando Robaina, founder of Palenque Visión, Rachel Vázquez, cultural editor of 14ymedio and the Somos + movement, and Luis Felipe Rojas, a journalist at Martí Noticias.
Abel Fernandez is on Twitter @abelfglez