Cuba expands Internet access, but under a very wary eye

Women connect to internet from their mobile phones in Havana, on March 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Cuba expands Internet access, but under a very wary eye

  • Only a small percentage of the Cuban population can access the global Internet, as opposed to the government-controlled national Internet, according to the NGO Freedom House

HAVANA: All Cubans can now have Wi-Fi in their homes, as the island’s government extends Internet access even while trying to maintain control over its version of the “truth” and to defend its legitimacy, a top official tells AFP.
“Cubans support and defend the revolution in every domain, both in the real and the virtual worlds,” Ernesto Rodriguez Hernandez, vice minister of communications, said in an interview.
In his eyes, the Internet and social media are tools to “position the truth of Cuba, not to manipulate things,” giving them a key role in the political and ideological battles being fought at a time of sharp diplomatic tensions with the United States.
The telecommunications sector in Cuba — once one of the world’s least connected countries — has doubtless changed more than any other in the past year.
Since December, when mobile phones gained 3G connectivity, an active online community has sprung up on social networks, often questioning the government about the challenges of daily life on the island.
Since July 22, Cubans have been able to import routers, register their equipment, and then create private Wi-Fi networks connected to signals from state-controlled operator ETECSA. No longer do Cubans have to go to centralized public sites to connect.
“The objective of the country is to provide wider and wider Internet access to the entire populace,” the vice minister said.

But the technical requirements set out by new legislation would appear to put an end to the informal networks created in recent years by groups of residents. Such control is the “sovereign right” of the Cuban state, Hernandez says.
And connecting is not cheap — $1 an hour, an exorbitant amount in a country where the average monthly salary is $50. The lowest 3G rate is $7 for 600 megabytes.
For weeks, hundreds of Cubans have been campaigning on social media under the hashtag #BajenlospreciosdeInternet (#Lower the price of the Internet).
Since Wi-Fi’s arrival in 2013, “the cost of Internet access has dropped by a factor of four,” the vice minister says, adding that “it will continue to fall” as communications infrastructure improves.
In this country of 11.2 million, 1,400 Wi-Fi hotspots have been installed, 80,000 homes now have Internet access and 2.5 million Cubans have 3G connectivity.
But the communist government is moving forward cautiously. “The technology is not apolitical, as some try to present it,” Hernandez said, but instead is “manipulated and used.”
Arguing for the need to “educate” the population, he added: “It does no good to provide Internet service to those who do not know... how to distinguish between what is useful and what is harmful; not everything on the Internet is good.”

A series of decrees and measures published in early July in the island’s official Journal call for “responsible use by citizens” as well as both “the political defense and cybersecurity in the face of threats, attacks and risks of all sorts.”
The message is clear: the Internet must be an “instrument for the defense of the revolution,” under regulations to be enforced by the Communications Ministry with the help of the “revolutionary armed forces and the Interior Ministry.”
In short, the Internet will continue to be closely monitored by the authorities, as it has been from the start.
Only a small percentage of the Cuban population can access the global Internet, as opposed to the government-controlled national Internet, according to the NGO Freedom House. Blogs and websites critical of the government are frequently blocked.
Hernandez defended that practice as normal.
“We don’t share those Internet sites that can encourage discrimination or deal with subjects that go against morality, ethics and responsible behavior,” he said.
“It is a right of every state to protect its people and their society from practices of that sort — and I believe that every country in the world does so.”


Australian man survives croc attack by gouging its eye

Updated 16 November 2019

Australian man survives croc attack by gouging its eye

  • Wildlife ranger Craig Dickmann made a split-second decision to go fishing in a remote part of Northern Australia known as ‘croc country.’
  • ‘That noise will haunt me forever I think, the sound of the snap of its jaws’

CAIRNS, Australia: An Australian wildlife ranger has recounted his terrifying escape from the clutches of a “particularly cunning” crocodile, after wrestling with the reptile and sticking a finger in its eye.
Craig Dickmann, who made a split-second decision to go fishing last Sunday in a remote part of Northern Australia known as “croc country” last Sunday, said a 2.8-meter (nine-foot) crocodile came up from behind him as he was leaving the beach.
“As I’ve turned to go, the first thing I see is its head just come at me,” he told reporters on Friday from his hospital bed in the town of Cairns in Queensland state.
Dickmann said the animal latched on to his thigh.
“That noise will haunt me forever I think, the sound of the snap of its jaws,” he said.
The 54-year-old said he wrestled with the croc on the remote beach as it tried to drag him into the water.
Dickmann stuck his thumb into its eye, saying it was the only “soft spot” he found on the “bullet-proof” animal.
“Their eyes retract a fair way and when you go down far enough you can feel bone so I pushed as far as I possibly could and then it let go at that point,” Dickmann said.
After a few minutes, he said he managed to get on top of the croc and pin its jaws shut.
“And then, I think both the croc and I had a moment where we’re going, ‘well, what do we do now?’”
Dickmann said he then pushed the croc away from him and it slid back into the water.
The ranger had skin ripped from his hands and legs in the ordeal and drove more than 45 minutes back to his home before calling emergency services.
It was then another hour in the car to meet the Royal Flying Doctors Service who flew him to Cairns Hospital, where he is recovering from the ordeal.
“This croc was particularly cunning and particularly devious,” he said.
Queensland’s department of environment this week euthanized the animal.
“The area is known croc country and people in the area are reminded to always be crocwise,” the department said in a statement.
Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven meters long and weigh more than a ton, are common in the vast continent’s tropical north.
Their numbers have exploded since they were declared a protected species in the 1970s, with attacks on humans rare.
According to the state government, the last non-fatal attack was in January 2018 in the Torres Strait while the last death was in October 2017 in Port Douglas.