In the documentary East of Havana, there is a moment where cuban rapper Mikki Flow uses an iPod for the first time in 2004 (from our New York Film crew) and dives into a bank of American Hip Hop. We turned the camera on him as he flipped through thousands of songs, like a kid with a new toy. Finally, he stops on the heavy beat of MOP’s track “World Famous”. Mikki twinkles with a smile, melts into the music, and embraces the device. He bops his head up and down as he deviously confesses: “Damn… what a Counter-revolution”.
Apple products are something of a revelation in Cuba. They are also in deep demand — iPods, iPhones, and laptops. In a country that restricts internet, most local bloggers write their posts from a gifted computer (no Apple stores in Cuba) sitting in their bedrooms, save it to a memory stick, and then pass off the stick to a friend on the island who has the privilege to get access online — usually people working for the government, or locals that work in the tourism industry (Cuba’s tourism employees have access to “business centers” where computers are connected to the world wide web for foreigners). Some bloggers even dictate their blog posts via phone to family members who upload the message onto servers from off the island, which means that some resident bloggers have never even seen their own blogs.
The only other option to get online on the island is to visit a few government run cyber cafe’s where it costs approximately $5 USD for an hour online (an average Cuban salary is $15 USD a month). Considering a Cuban government official can usually breathe down your neck, cyber cafe’s aren’t quite a logical option for a dissident blogger to do their thing. Still, if your only mission is to blog to your mom in Miami to share a recipe, it’s not an affordable option either. Simply put, resident bloggers find a way to get online, and it usually involves a bootleg action. It’s interesting to discover the “cottage industry” that has developed around the battle to get online in Cuba.
This summer, Yoani Sanchez (Cuba’s leading blogger/activist) writes about her first encounter with an iPhone in Cuba while an out of country guest visits her home for dinner. These are words from her blog post. It’s the words of a woman who sees the tools to further spread her words, and change her own world.. all with a simple device most of us take for granted in the U.S.
“Between the walls of this house, which had heard dozens of Cubans talk of the Internet as if it were a mythical and difficult-to-reach place, this little technological gadget gave us a piece of cyberspace. We, who throughout the Blogger Academy, work on a local server that simulates the web, were suddenly able to feel the kilobytes run across the palms of our hands. I had the desperate desire to grab [the Spanish journalist’s] iPhone and run off with it to hide in my room and surf all the sites blocked on the national networks. For a second, I wanted to keep it so I could enter my own blog, which is still censored in the hotels and cybercafés. But I returned it, a bit disconsolate I confess. For a while on that Monday, the little flag on the door of my apartment asking for ‘Internet for Everyone’ did not seem so unrealistic.” — Yoani, July 6, 2010 2:15 p.m.
Even in socialist Cuba, people are excited about these new toys of our generation. Musicians get excited about Apple laptops loaded with ProTools. All this technology is perceived as “corruption” of the capitalist state. I say baloney! These tools are not contamination of the mind, but rather instead, a vitamin that liberates pent up thoughts. Whether it’s the intellectual ruminations of a blogger or the sonic release for a rapper to pen new lyrics, Apple products (or PC’s) have become the new artillery in the war for information.
My advice is, if you happen to be planning a trip to Cuba, pack up that old iPod, get rid of your outdated laptop, and leave them all behind after your vacation to a young Cuban. Don’t worry if they have no idea how to use it. They are smart. Remember, Cubans are all engineers at heart… they can make a boat out of a Buick. So they will self-teach Garageband weeks after you have left the island, and in return, you might help someone rediscover themselves through their craft.
You might be assisting in the new Revolution… the Revolution of Counter-revolutions.