Watching, Rooting, & Supporting The New Cuba (Producer / Content Creator)

Posts from the ‘Internet’ category

Internet is tricky in Cuba. This is pretty much an understatement, but the “why’s” require a much more expansive conversation to wrap our heads around the stakes.

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(Photo credit: Juan Cruz Rodriguez for Resolviendo Exhibit, Annenberg)

I will be visiting LA & San Francisco this month to discuss one of the most fascinating subcultures on the island today – the Tech sector. It’s been a long road for all things New Cuba regarding our gatherings to contemplate contemporary Cuban culture. Three years back, we gathered in the ballroom of The Standard Hotel in 2015 to talk about various creative industries — including music, art, and architecture. This year, it’s all about the Web, which of course affects the fate of all these creative and business endeavors.

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(Photo credit: Juan Cruz Rodriguez for Resolviendo Exhibit, Annenberg)

What appears as a fully disconnected country is truly the opposite. Like most things in Cuba, the people have found a way to “inventar”, creating digital solutions, thus turning your average grandma into a hacker, learning to circumnavigate Wifi hotspots in the most unusual ways.

This Feb, two conversations will take place on the US West Coast, focusing on Cuba’s internet and its state of connectivity. RSVP confirmations are required for both.

(1) Annenberg, Feb 10th, Los Angeles

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(Jauretsi, Curator/ Digital Strategist. Photo credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images N. America)

An extension of the Resolviendo Exhibit (which launched in Sept 2017), the Annenberg invited The New Cuba to co-host a special panel in Los Angeles on February 10, 2018 entitled Cuba: Sin Limites that gathers experts on the state of Internet in Cuba.

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(Photo credit: Juan Cruz Rodriguez for Resolviendo Exhibit, Annenberg)

The listing reads:

Moderated by Cuban-American curator and digital strategist Jauretsi, speakers will include Dadne Carbonell (Cuban computer systems analyst), “Dany Paquete” (a kingpin of El Paquete Semenal, an underground weekly distribution of pirated international content via hard drives), and Susanna Kohly (Marketing Lead, Google Cuba).

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(Dany of El Paqeute in his home in Havana. Photo credit: Jauretsi)

Please visit the Annenberg Wifi Cuba Panel page to confirm your attendance or read more on the event. You can learn more about Dany by viewing the documentary Give Me Future, currently downloadable on iTunes (trailer here).

For a proper headstart, you can also now visit the art exhibit at the Annenberg gallery entitled Cuba Is, which contains a section called Resolviendo, an exhibit that The New Cuba helped curate with Commonwealth Projects. You’ll see photographs of Wifi Parks, a spectrum of videos from Cuba’s famous El Paqeute, and some DIY magazine culture Imagine the streets of Cuba’s content networks transported into an exhibit hall in Los Angeles.

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(Jauretsi at “Cuba Is” Launch. Photo Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images N.America)

The original launch event took place early September 2017, with a big bash where I was lucky enough to helm the DJ booth with Matthieu Schreyer, host of the excellent KCRW show on Global beats. It was a bonafide Cuba love-fest in the heart of Los Angeles, complete with a “who’s who” of Cuban arts, film, photographers, curators, gallerists, and fans alike. The full exhibit will be up til March 4, 2018, so don’t forget to book out an afternoon to soak in all the beautiful photography before the panel.

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(“Cuba Is” Exhibit. Photo Credit: Leysis Quesada Vera)

THE PHOTO EXHIBIT:
“Cuba Is” Exhibit
Currently on Display through March 4, 2018
The Annenberg, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles CA 90067
General Gallery Hours: Wed-Sun 11am to 6pm. Mon-Tues is closed

THE INTERNET PANEL:
“Cuba Sin Limites” Panel
Annenberg Space for Photography’s Skylight Studios
Feb 10, 2018
7:00-9:00pm
10050 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067

(2) Media Noche, Feb 11th, San Francisco

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(Media Noche Cafe, San Francisco)

The next evening, Feb 11th, the topic continues nearby in San Francisco at the charming restaurant named Media Noche. This is a more casual gathering in a cafe setting hosted by a a group called Bay Area Cubans, lead by Project Binario’s Eddy Perez who we recently covered in our visit to Techcrunch.

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(Photo credit: Juan Cruz Rodriguez for Resolviendo Exhibit, Annenberg)

We expect our Cuban-American community to come out and celebrate our culture, gather for constructive conversation, and build awareness of future generations. Hermanos unidos. Like most Cuban-Americans, the topic of Cuba is passionate and immersive. Our belief is that it’s imperative for both our cultures, on and off the island, to grow a better understanding of each other for a brighter future. Building bridges, not walls. We invite any curious non-Cubans who would love to be part of the conversation.

Feb 11, 2018
7:30pm
Media Noche
3465 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
To confirm your attendance, please click on the EventBrite page listing. Enter code “givemefuture” for 30% discount

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(Relentless Creators: Slim use of Internet time means USB sticks are golden. Photo: NPR)

This week was a big week for Cuba tech startups. Ten young Cuban tech leaders were awarded a chance at more “next level” resources. We realize that most foreigners view Cuba as a place stuck in time with its old cars and 19th century architecture, but the bodies that inhabit these relics are now hungry millennials chasing the 21st century. Today, hundreds (maybe thousands) of Cuban youth are graduating from computer science schools into a country with barely any internet. Most Cuban businesses do not even have a proper website, although there is a large trend in business owners building at least a Facebook page. It’s only been the last 1-2 years, that we’ve discovered a few company websites and mobile applications pop up in this country. After working tirelessly in their homes with no internet the last few years, a few Cuban tech stars have emerged from this clandestine scene, and are paving the way for newer generations to understand the potential Tech gold rush of their motherland.

If you’re an American and found yourself in Cuba, you’ve probably been frustrated at the fact you can’t Google your way through the country as a guide. Sure, there has been new US/Cuban phone company deals with Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T, but if the roaming charges haven’t murdered you, then the spotty service has blocked the search anyways. Cuba is not yet an open satellite culture for checking internet easily. Logins require “pay by the hour” scratch off cards issued by State owned phone company, ETECSA. But things are moving at a bizarre tortoise pace since 2015 (some believe too slow, others fear it’s too fast). The fact remains, Cuba has tripled the number of Wifi zones on the island, from 65 (at the end of 2015) to more than 200 at the beginning of September 2016. The latest news is that ETECSA announced it will make 5 miles of the Malecon, Havana’s famous seafront boulevard, a Wifi spot by the end of 2016. Despite all these announcements, at home full internet is another conversation and a ghost of a service, much less trying to start a new tech business this way. Laptop sessions in public parks are a big thing in Cuba. Still, the young ones  find a way. “Resolviendo” or “Inventando” are the common words spit out.

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(The Team at Alamesa. Photo by @Engage_Cuba)

But things are changing for users. If you had been really dialed into the scene before arriving to Cuba, you would have been tipped off to a cool restaurant app called Alamesa, which lists 900 restaurants with addresses, phone numbers and reviews — and it works brilliantly offline. Game-changer. Who is the creator of this app? His name is Ariel Causa Menendez, and this week, the young Cuban was awarded for his invention by the recent 10X10KCuba contest along with 9 of his industry peers in a competition that sought to select the 10 most promising Tech startups in Cuba today.

What exactly is this contest? “10x10KCuba seeks to help talented programmers and entrepreneurs in Cuba integrate themselves into the startup community in the Americas” says John McIntire (Chairman of Cuba Emprende Foundation). More importantly he adds, “It also provides them with the resources and networks to support the growth of their businesses”.

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The 10 winners this year are:

Alamesa (Havana) Entrepreneur: Ariel Causa Menéndez. www.alamesa.nat.cu
An information platform for users who wish to explore and be involved with Cuban gastronomy.

Conoce Cuba (Havana) Entrepreneur: Eliecer Cabrera Casas. www.cnccuba.com
A platform for the advertising of and search for businesses, including a directory and maps, which allow the businesses to display any information they wish to consumers.

Cuba-Room (Havana) Entrepreneur: Wendy Rafael Bokly Plana. www.cubaroom.net
An online service to search for and book lodging in less than 24 hours, for travellers looking for bed and breakfast accommodations at different price points.

Cubazon (Havana) Entrepreneur: Bernardo Romero González. www.cubazon.com
An online marketplace for purchasing any product produced by the private sector in Cuba, to be delivered to family or friends resident on the island with the utmost security and professionalism.

GuiArte (Havana) Entrepreneur: Adan Leiva Blaya. www.lbpromo.com
A continuously updated digital directory for domestic and international users of activity in Cuba’s arts and cultural scene, with the information organized by categories and profiles.

Isladentro (Havana) Entrepreneur: Indhira Sotillo Fernández. www.isladentro.net
An easy-to-use platform offering a quick and reliable guide for information and geographic location on any place, business or other points of interest. An app where your business will make an impact.

Ke Hay Pa’ Hoy? (Havana) Entrepreneur: Juan Luis Santana Barrios. www.kehaypahoy.com
A digital platform aimed at promoting Cuban culture, in which customers have the opportunity to showcase their offerings through different channels.

Knales (Havana) Entrepreneur: Luilver Garces Briñas. www.knal.es
An efficient SMS platform to advertise events, products, services and other information, customized for each user.

MiKma (Havana) Entrepreneur: Janse Lazo Valdés. www.mikmacuba.com.
Advertising and booking platform for house rentals (in Cuban pesos) which will revolutionize the way that market operates.

NinjaCuba (Havana) Entrepreneur: Victor Manuel Hernandez Moratón. www.ninjacuba.com
A website for finding talent and searching for jobs in Cuba’s tech sector.

Each of the ten winning businesses receives the following prize packages, conservatively valued at $10,000 per winner:

• Two Dell laptops via EMC
• One year of cloud credits from Rackspace
• Online English or Mandarin courses from iTutorGroup
• For two entrepreneurs from each business, two weeks of immersion in a tech/start-up environment in one of our four destination cities, all expenses paid: Boulder, CO; Mexico City, Mexico; Miami, FL; and Palo Alto, CA.
• Miles to cover flight expenses between Cuba and our destination cities from American Airlines

In each city, the network of accelerator/university partners (including Boomtown, 500 Startups, NXTP Labs, Stanford University’s School of Engineering, and TechStars) will provide a customized experience to enhance the business and tech skills of the winning entrepreneurs. There will also be additional mentoring and networking through local tech busineses and entrepreneurs. Other supporting Foundations and Corporate Sponsors include: Knight Foundation, Tinker Foundation, and Americas Society/Council of the Americas, American Airlines, Dell/EMC, iTutorGroup, and Rackspace.

The contest is one of the most innovative and unprecedented collaborations between United States and Cuba’s young tech leaders on the forefront of a nascent underground. This year, the contest drew 88 applications from Cuban entrepreneurs, but we foresee next year hopefully drawing double/triple these numbers as we’ve seen internet proliferate deeper in the nation since Obama & Raul Castro’s normalization talks began December 17, 2014. More tourism and internal reforms have created new demands for these inventions as well.

Ric Herrero (of #CubaNow) and Co-organizer of this contest understands the big vision of these new thinkers, and aims to foster these voices to greater heights. “The winning entrepreneurs have the talent and resourcefulness to succeed in any tech company in the world” he says, “and we couldn’t be prouder of their commitment to growing the startup community in Cuba.”

Here’s to tomorrows tech leaders, and making life just a little more convenient and connected for residents and foreigners. I was told by my parents that Pre-Revolution Cuba was a very forward-thinking, innovative, and experimental place in the Caribbean to launch ahead-of-its-time technology (including the first color TV’s in the Americas).

Well, grab a seat. We’re about to witness the most exciting comeback in history. We realize this is an ambitious thought, but Cubans never reach for anything less than the stars. Somewhere in this pack of educated and cultured minds is the next Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs, hungry to capitalize on the gaps of the Cuban market which are very unique today. As the nation redefines itself in a new era of self-identity, it is also looking to reposition itself into the global economy. This will be a long road, and dependent on how fast the island gets wired up.

Content is king and information is power, so keep those inventions brewing, young Cubans. We’ll be rooting for you all the way from America through programs like this.

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Im posting this information from the Freedom House website because the topic of Internet in Cuba is one of the most debated in my conversations. This data covers last year’s freedom of the press report (the 2012 report is being edited now and not yet ready).

Here is the information:

Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media outlets and allows free speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.” Article 91 of the penal code imposes lengthy prison sentences or death for those who act against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy imposes up to 20 years in prison for committing acts “aimed at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system.” Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are firmly under the control of the executive branch. Laws criminalizing “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorized news” are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. Insult laws carry penalties of three months to one year in prison, with sentences of up to three years if the president or members of the Council of State or National Assembly are the objects of criticism. The 1997 Law of National Dignity, which provides for prison sentences of 3 to 10 years for “anyone who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy’s media,” is aimed at independent news agencies that send their material abroad.

In July 2010, the Cuban government promised the Spanish government, the Cuban Catholic Church, and the international community that within four months it would free the 52 prisoners, including 20 journalists and editors, still held since the 2003 crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism known as the “Black Spring.” By the end of the year, 17 journalists and editors and most of the other of the Black Spring detainees had been released. The Cuban authorities forced the released prisoners to leave the country in exchange for their freedom. They were immediately flown to Spain in a Cuban effort to marginalize opposition groups. Three journalists and several other dissidents involved in this case remained in prison at the end of the year, having refused the government’s offer of exile. While the release was a relief for journalists and their families after years of suffering, the gesture did not signal fundamental changes in freedom of expression for all Cubans, and the laws under which they were jailed remain in place. The U.S. government and some European leaders publicly stated that Cuba was moving in the right direction by releasing the prisoners, but the European Union (EU) decided to maintain its 1996 Common Position toward Cuba. The 27-nation bloc turned down Spain’s request to withdraw the doctrine, and continued to link improved European-Cuban relations to Havana’s progress on human rights and democratization.

Journalists continue to be at risk of imprisonment or other severe sanctions if they engage in independent reporting or commentary. In a different case, Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet of the independent news agency Habana Press remained in prison at the end of 2010. He had been given a three-year sentence imposed in May 2009 for disrespect and distributing enemy propaganda.

The government owns all traditional media except for a number of underground newsletters. It operates three national newspapers, four national television stations, six national radio stations, and one international radio station, in addition to numerous local print and broadcast outlets. All content is determined by the government, and there is no editorial independence. Cubans do not have the right to possess or distribute foreign publications, although some international papers are sold in tourist hotels. Private ownership of electronic media is also prohibited.

Approximately 15 percent of Cuba’s population accessed the internet in 2010, but in most cases, they were connected to the government intranet and not the internet proper. Many citizens have access only to a closely monitored Cuban intranet, consisting of an encyclopedia, email addresses ending in “.cu” used by universities and government officials, and a few government news websites such as that of the newspaper Granma. Outside of hotels, only a few privileged individuals have a special permit to access the international network of the World Wide Web.

The regime threatens anyone connecting to the internet illegally with five years in prison, while the sentence for writing “counterrevolutionary” articles for foreign websites is 20 years. However, the authorities do not have the means to set up a systematic filtering system. This forces the government to count on several factors to restrict internet access: the exorbitant cost of connections—about US$1.50 per hour from the points of access to the state-controlled intranet, US$7 per hour from a hotel to access the international network (the average monthly salary is US$20)—and infrastructural problems, particularly slow connections.

Despite these restrictions, there is a small but vibrant blogging community. Bloggers in Cuba have yet to be jailed for their work, but they often face harassment and intimidation. Independent Cuban blogger Laritza Diversent claimed that the trials that characterized the crackdown in 2003 have been replaced by extralegal harassment, including official summonses and arbitrary detentions, and social and cultural marginalization. Some, such as Yoani Sanchez, have also been prevented from travelling abroad to receive awards for their work.

CUBA
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 30
Political Environment: 34
Economic Environment: 28
Total Score: 92

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(Image: Originally published in another article for the The New York Times entitled Cyber Rebels in Cuba Defy State Limits)

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