Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cuba blames US for Internet restrictions

HAVANA (AP) May 17, 2008 — A top Cuban official said Friday that Raul Castro's government would consider loosening Internet restrictions on ordinary citizens newly allowed to purchase computers — but Washington's decades-old economic embargo makes it impossible. "We aren't worried about the citizenry connecting from their homes," Telecommunications Vice Minister Boris Moreno told a small group of reporters. "But problems with technology and resources have made it necessary to give priority to connections that guarantee the country's social and economic development," he said, referring to an islandwide network that lets Cubans receive e-mail and view domestic Web sites.

The rest of the worldwide Web is blocked to most citizens in Cuba, which has access controls far stricter than in China or Saudi Arabia. Only foreigners and some government employees and academics are currently allowed unfiltered home Internet service, and many Cubans turn to the black market for expensive, slow dial-up accounts. Computers for home use were also not available until two weeks ago, when state stores began selling them to the public as part of a series of small quality-of-life changes since Raul Castro replaced his elder brother Fidel in February.

But Moreno said the government is unable to offer Cubans comprehensive Internet for their new PCs, citing its long-standing complaint that the American embargo prevents it from getting service directly from the United States nearby through underwater cables. Instead, Cuba gets Internet service through less reliable satellite connections, usually from faraway countries including Italy and Canada. "Free access is not on the table at the moment," Moreno said.
Moreno said that in the next two years authorities hope to link to fiber-optic service from Venezuela, which has replaced the Soviet Union as Havana's chief economic benefactor.

He also criticized Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, whose posts about the struggles of daily life on the island have drawn worldwide notice and recently won her Spain's Ortega y Gasset Prize for digital journalism. Moreno said the 32-year-old Sanchez was deeply affected by coming of age during the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the Cuban economy to its knees. He said he found it sad that she "speaks ill of a government that didn't close the university where she studied in a moment of crisis."

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