Havana Con Cojones


Speaking of Cuba, this New York Times piece on dissident bloggers and cell-phone users in Havana—made known to me by a Bill Moyers producer, I might add—is a very heartening surprise. Not because it's in the New York Times, but because nine years ago it cost upwards of $600 a month to have a cell-phone in Cuba, never mind an Internet connection.

A growing underground network of young people armed with computer memory sticks, digital cameras and clandestine Internet hookups has been mounting some challenges to the Cuban government in recent months, spreading news that the official state media try to suppress.

Last month, students at a prestigious computer science university videotaped an ugly confrontation they had with Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the National Assembly.

Mr. Alarcón seemed flummoxed when students grilled him on why they could not travel abroad, stay at hotels, earn better wages or use search engines like Google. The video spread like wildfire through Havana, passed from person to person, and seriously damaged Mr. Alarcón's reputation in some circles.

Here's Alarcón's be-flummoxing:

How do the kids get connected in a totalitarian economy? Through its partnerships with foreign (non-American) investors:

People who have smuggled in satellite dishes provide illegal connections to the Internet for a fee or download movies to sell on discs. Others exploit the connections to the Web of foreign businesses and state-run enterprises. Employees with the ability to connect to the Internet often sell their passwords and identification numbers for use in the middle of the night.

Hotels catering to tourists provide Internet services, and Cubans also exploit those conduits to the Web.

Imagine what would happen if you let U.S. companies invest, and U.S. citizens to both travel and send remittances freely?

Bonus NYT-Cuba story—a Cuban-American New Yorker performs a one-woman middle finger aimed at her Fidel-apologist neighbors:

"[T]he longer I live here, the more I realized, they don't care." […]

"They would rather keep their little pop revolution instead of saying it is a dictatorship," Ms. Peláez said. "I had somebody come to me after a show and say, 'Don't ruin Cuba for me!' Well, why not? They're holding on to a fantasy."

Come to reason's Cuba event, starring Rep. Jeff Flake, this Wednesday!

NEXT: I'm Free on Thursday

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Methinks the Castro family’s hold on Cuba is crumbling faster and faster.

  2. Those kids have guts!

    I hope they can stay out of the hands of the secret police. [I think the acronym for the Cuban secret police is the DGI, can anyone verify or correct?]

  3. Is there a video available with subtitles?

  4. Is there a video available with subtitles?
    The kids are saying “Don’t taze me, bro!” over and over.

  5. Imagine what would happen if you let U.S. companies invest, and U.S. citizens to both travel and send remittances freely?

    US based nutcases would think America has gone soft on communism. Better dead than red, etc.

    Great video, btw. Let’s hear it for the young radicals!

  6. I wonder if there will be purges of government officals when the regime in Cuba finally goes tits up. How much suppressed rage is there among Cubans?

  7. Imagine what would happen if you let U.S. companies invest, and U.S. citizens to both travel and send remittances freely?

    Imagine if you let Canada, South America, Asia and Europe do all that! Cuba would be paradise!

  8. Im waiting for the fun when Floridians try to reclaim land that has been lived on by others for the last 50 years. That will be a mess. What is the statute of limitation on government sponsored land theft? Its short enough that the Cherokee and Jutes are out of luck, but not sure if the Cubans are yet, but its getting close.

  9. My husband went to Cuba last year. He works with the Vz national Tennis team.
    After training and tennis matches, there really isnt much to do in Cuba so the players take along their laptops and some movies.
    My husband took “Scarface” and showed it to some Cuban players and other young adults. They all really liked it 😉

  10. Robc, with the dollar in Freefall against the Euro, the Floridians won’t be able to afford Cuban lawyers. All the really good real estate attorneys will be hired by the resorts that earn Canadian dollars and Euros.

  11. Imagine what would happen if you let U.S. companies invest, and U.S. citizens to both travel and send remittances freely?

    Now that’s just crazy talk. They’ll come to their senses once they endure the embargo for another 50 years or so. Three generations, tops.

  12. The embargo is Castro’s #1 excuse for the dismal condition of the Cuban economy. Take that away, and Cubans might start asking a few more questions.


  13. A friend of mine told me how glad she was to be able to visit Cuba now “before it went all commercial”. I had to reply, so Cubans should stay poor and live like serfs so we can be entertained?

  14. One of the students is asking what he needs to do do be able to travel to Bolivia, to pay homage at the place where Che Guevara fell. It seems to me like he’s asking about his general rights to travel while hiding behind a very “revolutionary” question… interesting.

  15. By the way, Alarcon’s reply was a pretty lame, Well, just imagine if EVERYONE, all around the world, could just get up and go anywhere they wanted, at any time! Huh? huh? HUH???

  16. JCR

    Agreed. I’ve always felt that the embargo gave Castro a scapegoat for his failings. I think it has helped keep him in power by allowing him to pose as the “defender” of Cuba against “Yankee Agression”.

    If the US had simply ignored him, I think the regime would have collapsed many years ago (certainly no later than the early 90s, after the Soviet subsidies were gone.)

  17. But, atrevete, those simple peasants living that simple earthy life are just so happy.

    To see real suffering you have to go to North America and Western Europe to see how the people are oppressed by all those consumer goods and sanitation.

  18. pay homage at the place where Che Guevara fell.

    Deeply ambiguous question. Is he celebrating Che, or his death? When he gets there, will he think “so this is where St. Che was martyred” or ” so this is where the psychopathic fucker got his”?

  19. One of the endless amusements I have enjoyed is the cluelessness involving the republican attitude towards Cuba. (of course the left leaning one always amuses me too).

    Is there anybody, besides Mr. Welch, who doesn’t know that this is the very reason why Cuba is “cut” off from American investment. A free Cuba does no one of either party any good. But the republicans benefit from a Castro Cuba immensely.

    I’ve always viewed Castro and the Reaganauts as part and parcel of the same historical scam when it used to come to keeping Cuba, Castra(o)ted.

    Tell me it hasn’t benefited the Republicans from 1980 to the present day to keep Cuba aside for Castro?

  20. As I said in the other Cuba thread, once enough Cubans have cell phones, they are one giant flash mob away from freedom and democracy.

  21. Imagine what would happen if you let U.S. companies invest, and U.S. citizens to both travel and send remittances freely?

    Couldn’t hurt much, and might help a lot, again per the Milton Friedman theory.

    There might have been a valid reason for sanctions originally, but it’s long since passed away.

  22. BTW, the student movement in Venezuela, which was instrumental in the defeat of the December Referendum, kept in touch and mobilized by way of text messaging on cell phones.

    Of course, now Chavez wants to either make this illegal, or demand the government have a list of anyone receiving text messages.

  23. How much suppressed rage is there among Cubans?

    The ones with all the rage already live in Dade County. The Cubans in Cuba would probably be so happy for the chance to buy a Whopper or a Vespa, they would be willing to forgo “Ceau?escu-ing” their remaining revolutionary leaders.

  24. Is there a video available with subtitles?

    I think the older guy is saying “Didn’t you see Michael Moore’s documentary? We have the best health care in the world!”

    Seriously, though. I just hope that kid doesn’t get taken out and shot.

    Hey, I wonder what would it cost for Uncle Sam to beam free Internet wifi over Havana?

  25. I read the Times article a few days ago. I absolutely loved Alarcon’s rationale for the travel restrictions – if everyone who wanted to take a trip were free to do so, there wouldn’t be enough air space for all the planes. I don’t think he really thinks this; I think he thinks that his audience will believe him. I think he’s beginning to think that people might not believe him anymore, and he’s not sure why. Alarcon and, I imagine, others are starting to think that something has changed, and they don’t know what it is but they don’t like it.

    The pebble has started rolling down the mountain – it’s picking up dirt and getting bigger, picking up speed and getting faster.

    I had to reply, so Cubans should stay poor and live like serfs so we can be entertained?

    Basically, yes. A lot of people think like that. The third world as safari park mentality doesn’t limit itself to Cuba. I’d imagine that when North Korea finally falls apart, and Westerners are eventually able to visit, we’ll soon hear wistful laminations of that kind.

    One thing I don’t understand is why Cuba’s economy would be so much better if the US embargo had been lifted years ago. Yes, there would of course be a positive effect – but the economy is controlled by the state, so the benefits of trade would necessarily be blunted, right? And doesn’t every other country on earth allow trade with Cuba? So why hasn’t trade with Canada, Mexico, the Euros and everyone else had any effect? This isn’t snark – I’m genuinely curious.

  26. One thing I don’t understand is why Cuba’s economy would be so much better if the US embargo had been lifted years ago.

    You aren’t missing anything, and your comment isn’t snarky (but I suspect you were asking hypothetically, anyway). Lifting the embargo wouldn’t really change much of anything, other than taking away the main CubCom excuse for massive failure. They could always get US goods re-exported from Canada or Euro-land if they needed them. The main reason there aren’t any US goods in Cuba is the same reason there are very few Canadian or Euro goods – Cuba is a socialist economic basket case that doesn’t produce shit, and therefore has nothing to trade.

  27. stubby –

    The positive effects would probably still be felt, although they would of course be crippled.

    That in itself, or so the thinking goes, has the silver lining that Cubans might get more pissed off at their kapos if conditions don’t (improve) much if Castro’s major excuse for their privations is gone.

  28. another expression of liberty in Cuber is the punk rock of Porno Para Ricardo

  29. I wish I knew someone who made regular trips to Cuba. I’d give them memory sticks with Spanish-translated libertarian/free-market essays and other intellectual ammunition pre-loaded on them. They could copy and spread the information and then use the memory sticks for whatever they wish.

  30. Do you think our beloved US corporations would mind seeing their profits siphoned off by the illegal (in Cuba) activities described above? The idea of AT&T and Raul Castro in cahoots is disturbing to say the least…

  31. Hey, what’s Obama doin’ at Cuban students meeting? I knew he was a little young to be president.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.