May 19 2004


In a new effort to limit its citizens' contact with the outside world, the
Cuban government is quietly introducing a new Information Security Law to
centralize and restrict access to the World Wide Web, e-mail and telephone usage.
The new law is being supervised by the Ministry of the Interior, the parent
organization of the secret police. In recent weeks, according to reporter Wilfredo
Cancio Isla ("Cuba Restricts Telephones and the Internet," Nuevo Herald, May
16), the regime has informed government-owned enterprises of the new
regulation designed to limit access to the Internet and to prevent "indiscriminate use
of e-mail."  A letter issued by the government-owned telephone service to its
subscribers, obtained by the Nuevo Herald, states that by June 30 "commercial
activities related to Internet access services will be halted" in order to
transfer all Internet accounts to a new, centralized provider named ENET. The new
regulation also bans access within Cuba to Internet-based "chatrooms" and
popular free e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo.

Only a small percentage of the population is currently permitted to legally
access the Internet on Cuba's domestic telephone service, which is paid for in
Cuban pesos, but until now clandestine Web surfers have evaded this
restriction by purchasing passwords on the black market. The new law, however, will try
to block illegal Net surfers by limiting Internet dial-up connections to
telephone subscribers who pay their bills in U.S. dollars, to which few Cubans have
access. Although the new law will not go into effect until June 30, the
limited number of Cubans now authorized to surf the Net are already being subjected
to tightened scrutiny. Speaking under a promise of anonymity, a university
professor -  one of the few Cuban groups permitted to have legal Internet
accounts - told the Nuevo Herald that "the surveillance [of Internet usage] is
fierce, and occasional access to Google has been converted into a luxury."

In early 2004 the regime tried to enact a similar crackdown on Internet
usage, citing a need to protect its citizens from what it termed the harmful
effects of illegal Web surfing, computer viruses and the websites of foreign-based
Satanic cults. But the government soon backed down from implementing the law in
the face of negative publicity from abroad, including a rebuke by the
International Federation of Library Associations. By June 30, 2004, however, the
government plans to finalize the new Information Security Law restricting access
to the World Wide Web, e-mail and telephone usage. Oscar Viciedo, a computer
specialist who left the island in 1992, told the Nuevo Herald that the Cuban
government often deplores the "digital divide" depriving Third World nations of
the benefits of high technology, while at the same time the regime quietly
outlaws similar technological advances for its own citizens. "In Cuba," said Mr
Viciedo, "one cannot speak of a digital divide, but rather of digital apartheid."

The Cuban government wasted no time in responding to the May 16 Nuevo Herald
article which publicized the new law tightening access to the Internet, e-mail
and telephones. On May 17 the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma
published an article by Felix Lopez ("The Nuevo Herald Recycles Lies") casting scorn
on the report by the Florida newspaper.  "I am not going to repeat here,"
declared Mr. Lopez, "the statistics and statements which on more than one occasion
Cuba has made public in order refute the infamous campaigns staged by this
Miami-based libelous source, and others, regarding the same theme." While denying
that freedom of expression is limited on the island, Lopez highlighted
government programs, such as Youth Computer Clubs for schoolchildren, which
"socialize the use of new technologies and provide minorities with the pleasure of
sitting in front of a computer."  In his article, however, Mr. Lopez failed to
point out that participants in Cuba's Youth Computer Clubs are forbidden to log
onto the World Wide Web.