Florida Officials Advocate for Internet Access in Cuba
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Florida Officials Advocate for Cuban Internet Access

With flags in the air and passion in their voices, the Cuban people have demonstrated to their government they are ready for change. In a country where taxi drivers often make more money than doctors and families must survive on government rations, many have decided enough is enough. 

Beginning July 11, protestors flooded the streets, chanting protests and proudly displaying signs indicating their displeasure. Cuba has been under a communist system of government since 1965, and they are through with allowing this system to oppress them. 

On July 14, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to find a way for the U.S. to provide internet service to Cuban protestors. 

“In the hands of these brave individuals, such [internet] access may be the key to finally bringing democracy to the island,” DeSantis wrote. 

The protests in Cuba were prompted by resource shortages, rising COVID-19 numbers, and anger at the government for not properly handling these crises. Although there have been a number of small protests in Cuba over the years, this is the largest demonstration since 1994. 

Katherine Gomero was born in Cuba and immigrated to Tampa when she was 8 years old. Her mother and brother still live in Cuba, and these relationships have lent her intimate knowledge of the struggles people in Cuba are facing. 

“I feel like people are finally deciding to protest even if it costs them their lives because they literally have nothing to lose at this point. They can’t lose food because they don’t have food. They can’t be denied medical care because that’s already happened,” Gomero told the Florida Political Review.

Since the protests began, the Cuban people have experienced internet outages and blocked social media sites. The government has not admitted to having a hand in these outages, but there is speculation the internet has been intentionally tampered with an effort to prevent the protests from spreading any further. 

The internet freedom advocacy organization Netblocks took to Twitter on July 15 to reveal the data behind the outages. The account tweeted, “Real-time network data confirm social media and messaging platforms Facebook and WhatsApp are again restricted in #Cuba on state-run internet provider ETECSA.”

This is not the first time outages have coincided with protests. Havana experienced internet disruptions during a period of unrest last November. 

Although internet access has been restored, Cuba has always experienced unreliable internet service. DeSantis, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is still pushing for the U.S. to provide a more stable internet connection to the country during this time of political and economic crisis.

Rubio expressed his support for any initiatives that would give Cuba improved internet access in a letter to Biden on July 12 in which he cited a report by the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission published in June 2020. 

This report detailed the oppression on the island from 2017 to 2019. It stated that it “remains concerned about the serious limitations on freedom of opinion, expression and the imparting of information and ideas.”

Rubio cites this report in order to support his argument that the U.S. should take steps to support the uprisings in Cuba, including aid in the form of open and free satellite internet access. 

DeSantis and Rubio are not only advocating for Cubans living on the island, but also for the Cuban population in Florida. Florida is home to the nation’s largest community of Cuban exiles with about two thirds residing in the state. 

People in Miami, Tampa, Orlando and other local cities have taken to the streets in order to bring attention to the movement in Cuba. 

The breakdown of the United States Cuban population by state. (Mia Cafaro, Florida Political Review)

“I think the governor’s plan to provide internet services to Cuba is a great idea. For one, I think it will provide exposure to the situation there and maybe lead to support from countries outside the United States. Secondly, it will give the families here peace of mind if they are able to speak to their family members once or twice a week,” says Gomero. 

Gomero reported her family has been able to contact her through the use of a VPN. 

No politician has spoken out against the movement in Cuba, though it has been noted that Republicans seem to be responding with more urgency than Democrats. This could be a result of Florida’s several outspoken Republican officials while also being the state most deeply affected by the protests. 

Biden is currently searching for the best way to offer assistance to Cuba, though no significant action has been taken yet. As far as providing reliable internet access, several solutions have been proposed. 

One proposed solution is to send high-tech balloons that will float over the island to act as temporary cell towers. Satellite-based services are also a possible solution, but they would require a physical infrastructure in Cuba that could prove difficult. Other ideas have also been presented, but so far nothing has been decided. 

As the unrest in Cuba continues, Biden, along with officials like Rubio and DeSantis, will have to formulate a plan to support Cuban efforts to overcome the Díaz-Canel regime and take a step toward democracy. 

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured Image: 2021 Cuban Government Protest in Naples, Florida. Unmodified photo used under a Creative Commons License (https://bit.ly/3ieJD25).

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