Friday, February 25, 2011

Castro, Cuba and the Internet

Cuba without political prisoners. It sounds like Castro without his beard. Still, it's almost upon us. Moreover, Cuba has lifted its blockade of dissident internet blogs. So, have the Castros seen the light of democracy?

 

Flock of doves

Welcome to Cuba! Take a seat in the slightly rundown but astonishing theatre of optical illusions and be baffled by the Masters of Mirage, the Castro Brothers. You may think you see something but you can never be sure. The old illusionists are certainly not going to tell you what's really happening. The tricks are concocted behind closed doors by the inner circle and there's no press conference afterwards.
Here we go. The dissidents appear from the hat in rapid tempo one after another and flap around in the spotlights like a flock of doves. In jail since 2003, 75 of them in total, serving decade-long prison sentences for expressing their opinions. But now they're set free. And soon the last dove will rise into the air. Bravo! No democracy without freedom!

Orlando lives

Thanks are due to the Catholic Church, which insisted on this performance. And to Orlando Zapata, who died in a hunger strike a year ago trying to get himself and his fellow prisoners released. And to the dissident Guillermo Fariñas who took over Zapata's hunger strike and to whom the Castros capitulated, rather than be internationally embarrassed once again.
Behind the scenes, out of sight of the audience, Fariñas was arrested and released, arrested and released. Zapata's mother was arrested because she wouldn't keep quiet about her dead son. "Orlando lives!" she shouted at a police officer. For a year now the police have been making her life a living hell. While ordinary Cubans neither know nor care about dissidents.

Last rabbit

Even so, change does seem to be in the air: the bloggers trick! For years dissident bloggers and journalists like Yoani Sánchez were blocked by Cuba and could only be read abroad. Now, with the snap of a finger, they're back! Give Raúl Castro a hand! Say what you like, surf where you like. No freedom without information! We've seen it in Egypt - social media chase away dictators. Soon Cuba will be Twittering and Facebooking too. Just a pity there are no Cubans in the audience, they couldn't afford the tickets. No one has internet at home and in the hotels it costs six dollars an hour, a week's wages for a Cuban.
Never mind, time for the finale. The Castros are conjuring their last rabbit out of their top hat: the super information highway. Thanks to Venezuela, Cuba will be getting broadband internet. Say goodbye to delays, goodbye to the US embargo! Long live democracy? Read about it in Granma, the Castro Brothers daily magic programme, where it warns that the new cable service "will not result in an explosion of information". Broadband does not means "broader" communication. Still no internet for the ordinary Cuban.

Illusions

The new capacity is intended for the Cuban government and state-owned companies, where one and a half million people will lose their jobs in the next few months. It's the main event in the Mirage Brothers new show: freedom to earn your own money. The former civil servants are expected to set up their own companies. So that is bound to result in more political leeway, isn't it?
Roll up, roll up, it's the Theatre of Illusions, take a seat and sit back and wait for the arrival of... democracy. Now you see it, now you don't!
 

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