During the 1990s, Internet in Cuba was distributed on the basis of need, rather than on ability to pay. The Internet infrastructure was very limited, so access was distributed through places of employment, with preference given to professionals who had most need for it, such as medical researchers. Some people outside of Cuba said that Cubans did not have access to Internet. However, the truth was that Cubans could not buy Internet services, but those who had most need for it had access through their places of work. Others said that the Cuban government restricted access to Internet in order to prevent Cubans from having access to criticism of the Cuban government or alternative perspectives. But in fact, the Cuban Internet policy of the 1990s was driven principally by a desire to distribute an important service with limited availability on the basis of need. I liked the Cuban system of the 1990s, and I still do. I think that all countries should distribute essential goods and services, especially those in limited supply, on the basis of need.
At that time, Internet was available in the more upscale hotels as a service to international tourists. This made sense, because Internet access was something that quality international tourism provides, and Cuba was expanding international tourism as an important part of its economic recovery plan of the 1990s. However, at a price of eight to ten dollars an hour, Cubans were effectively excluded, which caused some resentment among Cubans.
Gradually the Cuban Internet system changed, and the change was driven by the same dynamics that led to the adoption of the social and economic model of 2012 (see “Cooperatives and social change in Cuba” 8/7/2015). As the economy recovered, some Cubans were able to purchase Internet in hotels. Cubans in this category included those connected to tourism in some way, such as owners of small restaurants or renters of tourist rooms, and those receiving remittances from abroad. So the first sign of change was that Cubans began to appear in the “business centers” of the upscale hotels. Then ETECSA set up “navigations rooms,” as they are called, consisting of personal computers with Internet access. The cost was $4.50 an hour, about half the cost of the hotels. But Cubans continued to use the hotels, because ETECSA customers sometimes had to wait up to an hour for an available computer.
During the last five years, influenced by the high-level of availability of Internet in the consumer societies of the North, Cubans have clamored for more Internet access. Why can’t we more easily purchase Internet, like our relatives in the United States or Germany? The open-air Wi-Fi access is a response to this clamor. At two dollars an hours, and without the need to wait in line, it is the best offer yet. The great majority of the Nautistas uses the sidewalks and steps, but a few enter cafeterias along the public access ways and order a soft drink, thus providing themselves with a more comfortable table and chair.
Studies of Internet use in Latin America have found that the great majority of users are communicating with family and friends, with Facebook being very popular. From what I have been able to observe, this is the case among the new users in Cuba. Facebook and communicating with family members in other countries is very common.
The desire of the people for Internet poses a threat to the Cuban Revolution. But the threat does not lie with the potential for the Cuban people to be influenced by philosophical and political alternatives of the Right. The perspective of the Right has credibility only to the extent that fundamental historical and social facts, with respect to the nation and the world, are not known. But in Cuba, relevant facts are known among the people, thus depriving the discourse of the Right of its capacity to ideologically distort and manipulate the people. When a Cuban forgets relevant facts that have been taught in school or in the mass media, there is always another Cuban nearby to remind.
Rather, the threat lies in the fact the desire for Internet it is part of a creeping consumerism, where the people increasingly desire to possess the consumer goods that are readily available in the market in the societies of the North. The people possibly are moving in a subtle way toward a belief that the quality of life is defined by the possession of things (see “Cooperatives and social change in Cuba,” 8/7/2015).
In a socialist world-system, all things, including access to Internet, would be distributed according to need. In such a world, the notion that necessary or desirable goods and services be distributed on the basis of ability to pay would be considered as an anachronistic and anti-social idea, previously disseminated by particular interests who obtained enormous profits through the marketing of necessary or desirable goods and services.
But in the context of the capitalist world-economy, the Cuban socialist revolution finds that its people are influenced by the consumerism of the North. The contact of the consumer societies with the people is extensive, given that international tourism is an important part of the economy, and many Cubans have migrated to the consumer societies of the North during the last twenty years, maintaining contact with and support for their extended families in Cuba. So the Cuban Revolution has to make concessions to the consumerist mentality emerging among the people, concessions that could further increase consumerist desires.
So a “war of thought” or “battle of ideas” is on the horizon, a battle between a philosophy that proclaims that the quality of life is defined by the possession of things, and an alternative philosophy that calls people to a form of being, characterized by social consciousness, commitment to service, personal sacrifice for the common good, patriotism, and solidarity with other peoples and nations (see “Cooperatives and social change in Cuba” 8/7/2015).
Although Internet has become the fad in Cuba, and Cubans are to some extent attracted by consumerism, fifty years of socialist formation have left its impact on the consciousness of the Cuban people, such that there is a tremendous revolutionary fund among the people. After all, the desire to communicate with a son or daughter, brother or sister, or cousin in the United States or Europe is hardly egoist or counterrevolutionary. The Cuban people are a long way from the individualism, egoism, and materialism that pervades the societies of the North. In addition, a vanguard has been formed, consisting of perhaps twenty-five or thirty percent of the people, who are well informed concerning national and international history and social dynamics, and who are highly committed to socialist values and universal human values (see “Universal human values” 4/16/2014).
Given the revolutionary fund among the people, and the advanced character of the vanguard, the Cuban revolution is in a strong position to advance during the upcoming stage characterized by a different form of relation with the United States. The relation will continue to be conflictual, because the two nations have opposed missions, with the United States seeking to preserve a neocolonial system, which denies of sovereignty of neocolonized nations; and with Cuba seeking to participate in the establishment of a just and democratic world-system, in which the sovereignty of nations is respected. During this new stage, the United States will try to undermine the Cuban Revolution through economic, commercial and ideological penetration (“USA and Cuba establish relations” 7/21/2015). Cuba can and will draw upon its vanguard and its revolutionary fund among the people to continue to develop its socialist project, overcoming the new form of imperialism and interventions of the United States. The Cuban Revolution has formed significant human resources, and it will draw upon them to prevail during the next stage of the Cuba-USA conflict.
But ultimately, the future of the Cuban Revolution will be determined by the future of the world-system. Will the world-system continue to be defined by a war of all against all, characterized by individualism, consumerism, super-exploitation, and domination? Or will it evolve toward greater respect for universal human values, pushed by the alternative movements from below? If the latter occurs, the dreams of Martí, Fidel, and the Cuban Revolution will receive their fullest expression in Cuba and in the world.
Key words: Internet, Cuba, consumerism, socialism, universal human values, Cuba-USA conflict