Downtown Miami

Miami to host social media and internet freedom in Cuba conference

File photo of Social Media Week.
File photo of Social Media Week. Courtesy

Next month, Miami will host the first of what organizers hope will become an annual conference on freedom in the digital era in Cuba.

Titled Cuba Internet Freedom and organized by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), the Sept. 12-13 event aims to bring together independent journalists from the island with digital innovators and personalities who want to open up the country to the digital world without limitations.

The purpose of the conference is to exchange ideas, explore best practices, examine the current state of internet use on the island and find ways to support its growth.

“We looked, first, at providing the basics on the use of the internet in Cuba, and also present ‘offline’ internet services developed by people within the island: applications, information networks, among other things,” said Maria (Malule) González, director of the OCB.

More than 20 experts — from developers to policy makers — will take part in the two-day Cuba Internet Freedom conference to share their knowledge and experience on the use of the internet in Cuba. The event is part of Social Media Week, which will be held at Miami Ad School in the Wynwood Arts District through Sept. 16.

The event also will feature workshops on universal access to the internet as a human right and exchanges on what is happening on social media platforms in Cuba. The dissident movement and activism in the digital age also will be discussed as well as how media outlets cover Cuba from outside the island.

Among the speakers traveling from Cuba are Eliecer Avila, a computer science engineer and president of the opposition group Movimiento Somos+; Ernesto Oliva Torres, of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who serves as the audio-visual editor for videos produced and by the group and published on YouTube; and Miriam Celaya, a freelance journalist.

For Celaya, the gathering in Miami will provide an opportunity to illustrate that independent journalism in Cuba has its own voice.

“We are going through a process of maturity,” Celaya said. “Independent journalism in Cuba was not born yesterday, but rather is the result of an evolution. At this time, the conditions are present to allow it to get to the next level.”

Cuba has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates in the world. According to official sources, about 30% of the Cuban population obtains access through wifi hotspots the government has installed at parks and other public spaces in some cities. Only two provinces — Havana and Pinar del Río — have wifi available in all its municipalities, but the cost of $2 per hour to obtain access remains high in a country where the average monthly salary is about $26.

The OCB is funded by the U.S. government with a mission to try to break down the government’s monopoly on information in Cuba. For more than 30 years, Radio Martí has been leading that effort, which was later joined by a television signal.

Collectively known on the island as Los Martí, the radio and TV broadcasts have long been a source of friction between the Cuban government, which consistently blocks the signals and wants an end to the broadcasts, and the U.S., which continues to fund them.

“One of the pillars of Los Martí is the pursuit of internet freedom in countries where this right is censored, as is the case of Cuba,” González said, adding that the media outlet is now focused on enhancing its digital portal.

“Our first means of distribution is Radio Martí, but increasingly, shortwave works less in Cuba.” she said. “The digital world is gaining tremendous momentum.”