Under the wary eye of Cuba’s Communist authorities, opposition bloggers on Thursday kicked off a three-day event promoting Internet use to discuss the island’s problems.
The “CLICK Festival” is aimed at educating Cubans on new information technologies and the use of online social networks on an island where Internet connectivity is sharply limited, organizers say.
It featured award–winning dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez and Jose Luis Antunez of Evento Blog Espana, a Spanish group that supports online social debates and technology education.
“We want to sit down to talk about technology… because someone has to begin projecting a Cuba 2.0,” Sanchez said.
Antunez said he was surprised at Cubans’ lack of online access.
“I understood the difficulty of life here, but I was not aware of the technological limitations. This is a country without household Internet access,” Antunez told AFP.
Government sites and pro-government bloggers lashed out at the dissident event.
“The same people on the island who benefit from the millions of dollars provided by US government agencies… for ‘regime change’ in Cuba are now trying to present themselves as supporting extended Internet use,” read an opinion article in the state-run online site Cubadebate.
Antunez scoffed at the criticism. “They say I am an agent of the CIA, of Microsoft and of (Spanish bank) BBVA… but I suppose that is an example of the deeply-rooted paranoia that one has to live with here,” he told AFP.
Few homes in Cuba are connected. The Cuban government says there are technical and economic limitations due to the US trade embargo on the island, in place since 1962.
Any user can go online at a hotel, but must pay $6 an hour, far beyond the reach of most Cubans who earn on average $19 a month.
Political dissidents can go online at the US Interests Section in Havana, or at some of the European embassies.
To increase Internet access, Cuba and Venezuela recently laid an underwater fiber optic cable between the two countries at a cost of $70 million.
The cable should have gone online in July 2011, but Internet connectivity in Cuba remains limited, slow and expensive. Caracas said that the cable is fully operational.
Havana accuses dissident bloggers like Sanchez of being “mercenaries” at the service of Washington, and of waging a “cyber war” with US support against the Cuban government.
“In every totalitarian system they always assume that what is not under their control is trying to challenge them,” said Antonio Rodriguez, a dissident and owner of the seaside house where the event is taking place.