Cuba

Vox: Cuban Internet Smugglers' Entrepreneurial Spirit 'Refreshing'

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Vox's Johnny Harris has a great new short documentary video about Cuba's 

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internet smugglers, whom I wrote about earlier this year in a piece detailing the island nation's 5 percent internet penetration rate and the efforts to bring non-state sanctioned entertainment and information to the masses:

"Data mules" operate all over Cuba, shuttling hard drives loaded with the latest magazines, films, and television shows (mostly produced in the imperialist enemy nation to the north) to voracious consumers all over the island…

The impoverished inhabitants of Cuba are more than willing to pay for the one terabyte hard drives they call Paquetes Semanal (Weekly Packets). 

Through dogged on the ground reporting, Harris works his way up the chain of the Paquetes' black market, ultimately securing an on-camera interview with "Dany," who's appearance is described as "more like a lazy college sophomore than kingpin of a national black market of pirated media."

But Dany's slovenly attire belies a technical sophistication (he likely retrieves much of his media through a satelite dish hidden under a fake rooftop water tank) and a political savvy which has thus far kept him out of the crosshairs of the authoritarian government which has ruled his country for 56 years:

The government hasn't tried to stamp out the Paquete, and Dany works to keep it that way. "We don't put anything in that is anti-revolutionary, subversive, obscene, or pornographic. We want it to stay about entertainment and education," he says, and I catch a glimpse of the shrewd business behind the baby face and board shorts.

Though much has been made about the coming capitalist destruction of the poverty and censorship that make Cuba "authentic," Harris expresses admiration for Dany's entreprenurial spirit:

After spending a week in Cuba, it was refreshing to talk to someone with the appetite to grow an enterprise. Most people I spoke to in Cuba work for the state and have zero incentive to deliver anything above the bare minimum. They get paid the same either way. Even the private restaurants lack the fervor of a competitive business since the economic environment they work in is still completely controlled even if they themselves are private.

But in Dany's office, I felt the thrill of cunning innovation and strategy at work. I got the sense that something big is happening. And indeed, I wasn't just standing in some dingy apartment, but rather what may be largest media distribution company in the history of Cuba.

You can watch the Vox documentary below: