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Luego de meses con la tarjeta verde (green card) o residencia permanente legal (Legal Permanent Resident Card) descansando entre mis documentos, ya va siendo hora que me anime a subir este post, en plan de servicio público.

Este post está dirigido a todos los cubanos que a partir de ahora necesiten llenar estas planillas, juntar los documentos, y están aturdidos y mareados porque todos los quieren mandar a lugares, aconsejar, y ya los tienen al borde del ataque histérico. Este es el camino que hay que seguir, en tanto funcionó bien para mí, y ojo que lo preparé por mi cuenta, no le pagué a nadie y todo me fluyó perfectamente.

Lo primero es la planilla: la I-485

Siga el link, descargue el documento a su computadora, y puede llenarlo digitalmente, sin necesidad de imprimirlo hasta el final cuando sólo precisa firmarlo, en tinta negra, y con suerte su firma queda en ese rectángulo minúsculo.

Llenar el contenido honestamente no tiene ciencia. En internet hay mil foros con toda la información necesaria, si tiene dudas con el inglés use Google translator, y si tiene dudas en alguna casilla, siéntase libre de contactarme en Twitter, le doy permiso: @jennroig

Por cierto, la planilla viene con sus propias instrucciones, que lo dejan absolutamente todo claro: son estas.

(Guarde la planilla llena, le servirá luego si quiere seguir el proceso de naturalización).

Va a necesitar 1070 dólares para enviar con su aplicación, eso o aplicar por bajos recursos para lo cual no puedo ayudarle, porque no viví la experiencia. El dinero lo puede pasar por cheques o los llamados money orders, lo cual es probablemente su alternativa más viable. En USPS se consiguen a mejor precio que en Western Union, si es que no vive cerca de ningún Amscot.

Los documentos:

– Examen Médico: asegúrese que es un médico registrado, y no un estafador. El gobierno provee un servicio para localizar a los doctores apropiados con oficina en las inmediaciones de su código postal: es este link.

– Dos fotos con determinadas características, pero en cualquier CVS o Walgreen puede ir, y explicar al fotógrafo para qué necesita las fotos, ellos saben los detalles.

– Prueba de su nacimiento en Cuba: acá las instrucciones se abren a interpretaciones. Y el documento que use usted, variará según la forma en que llegó a EEUU. Pero mi consejo es que proporcione de cuanta evidencia disponga: certificado de nacimiento, copia del pasaporte, documento de viaje que pueda tener.

– Traducción: No escuche las anécdotas de quién pueda sugerirle que no hace falta traducir nada. El mundo es grande, las historias de cubanos muy variadas, y puede haber quien efectivamente haya hecho sus trámites sin necesitar las traducciones, por lo menos del certificado de nacimiento. Pero no tome el riesgo, no vale la pena. Consiga un servicio de traducción decente, que de paso incluya servicios notariales. Los documentos son caros, no arriesgue atrasos.

– Police clearance o background check: es básicamente lo mismo, un documento que debe conseguir en la policía de acá, no pierda el tiempo pidiendo nada a sus familiares en Cuba. No cuesta casi nada, y es una hoja que sencillamente dice que usted no tiene delitos ni cuentas pendientes -en tanto este sea el caso. Una vez más, busque en Google qué estación es la que ofrece esos servicios, porque no todas los brindan.

– Debe también llenar la G-325

Ya está. No hay más misterios. Asegúrese de que su dirección sea estable, de confianza, y no la cambie hasta tener la residencia.

Cuando envíe sus documentos, verifique la dirección donde los debe enviar en este link. Verifique, no copie de una la misma dirección a la cual la mandó alguien más. Las cosas cambian, las oficinas se pueden relocalizar. Asegúrese de que está siguiendo un procedimiento en vigencia.

Pasados algunos días le enviarán cartas oficiales con unas numeraciones. Puede usar esos números que hasta ahora comienzan con MSC para chequear el estatus de su caso en este link.

Le mandarán a seguido una citación para sus huellas digitales. Asegúrese de no perderla, sólo entonces la aplicación se considera completa. A partir de entonces será cuestión de esperar.

Make no mistake: Cuba is a poor country. The situation is not as desperate as it can be in some African failed states, or some of the poorest countries in Latin America, but for sure the Cuban economy is in bad shape. Still, the Cuban passport is insanely pricey, considering the average salary of USD 20/month.

Cubans who live in Cuba must pay 100 CUC to request a new passport or to renew it.

Theoretically,1  CUC = 1 USD. Thus you may find many online currency converters telling that. However, CUC can only be exchanged inside the island, the actual rate being 1USD = 0,80 CUC. So, in real life, we are talking about USD 125. But let’s calculate according the official numbers and pretend that it’s 100 USD.

In comparison, US passport costs 165 and it’s valid for 10 years. The Australian passport costs AUD 244 (USD 229) also valid for 10 years. I have learned that some countries, such as New Zealand, issue passports only valid for five years, where it costs NZD 134 (USD 116). There’s actually an interesting debate in NZ about this five years validity and how citizens are paying a lot more than other countries for the document. Still, they don’t spend in five years more than Cubans spend in six.

Compared to emerging economies, specifically Latin American economies, Cuba is supposed to have the second most expensive passport. Chile is said to have the most expensive document of the region, as reported by Chilean publication La Tercera. However, that news item dates back to May 2013. By now, those CLP 48,900.00 represent USD 86. Cuba’s CUC doesn’t flow because its value is fixed by the government. So, Cuba’s no longer the up-runner but the champion.

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

That’s not it. The passport expires every six years, but every two years, for some random reason I can only imagine responds to the government’s desperate need for cash, the passport needs an extension, which costs 20 CUC/USD. Two extensions are required, so make it 40.

By the end of a 6 years period, Cubans have paid 140 CUC/USD for a passport that doesn’t rank high in the global ranking of passports. According an infographic that circulated the Web a while ago, Cubans have access forto 61 countries, either without need f visa, or with a visa granted on entry. According this other ranking, Cuba ranks 111 out of 221 nation-states.

Sure, you could need a passport to go out once in a life time, or travel every six year with a new passport and skip paying the extensions -and make it worthwhile because it’s a great price to pay. But in general, that’s not what usually happens. A passport is such a huge investment, that an individual would only consider it given very specific, heavy reasons, such as living permanently out of the country with a spouse or with a work contract, going out as student for some postgraduate program, or going out as some foreigner’s fiance or a tourist, again with plans to not coming back.

Historic Diaspora – Recent migration patterns

Cuba has always been a nation in diaspora, probably since the moment it conceived itself as nation, as a separate entity distinct from the Spanish Metropolis. There have been historical Cuban communities in cities in the United States, France, Dominican Republic, Spain, Puerto Rico… However, since the early 60’s Cubans have been leaking out of homeland in a steady trend, which skyrocketed since the 90’s. Reuters reported in July 2013 that “The number of Cubans leaving their country [reached] levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats”. According the annual demographic report for 2012 that Reuters referred to, “46,662 Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the ‘Rafter Crisis’.”

All those tens of thousands -maybe a few millions- Cubans that were born in the island but are living elsewhere, every time they want to visit their homeland, they need to travel with a Cuban passport. For them, the same requirements apply: there’s a fee for renewal plus the fee for both extensions. There’s no unique amount, each consulate has determined prices to its various services.

In fact, I always suspected Cubans had to pay for one of the most expensive passports in the world, but never before I had taken the time to research and make the maths. Today I did it, and this is evidence.

Country First Time & Renewal Fees (USD) Extension (USD) Total (USD)/6 years
USA 375 180 735
Australia 356 178 712
Canada 298 149 596
Brazil 293 134 561
Japan 276 138 552
Denmark 253 127 507
Germany 250 121 492
The Netherlands 243 121 485
Spain 243 121 485
Finland 243 121 485
Egypt 243 121 485
China 238 119 476
Russia 241 113 467
Argentina 245 110 465
Mexico 216 108 432
Ecuador 206 100 406
Chile 200 100 400
Cuba 100 20 140

There are a few facts that will, or should, catch your eye:

Prices is the United States are far higher than in any other place. Go figure the reason.

Chilean prices are lower than other Latin American countries, even though they are all closer to Mexico, where the passport is elaborated. FYI there are some countries where Cuban passports can be issued outside Cuba, I’m aware it’s France for Europe and Mexico for South and Central America.

Denmark’s prices are the highest of the list, but everything is expensive in Denmark anyway. I bet numbers for Norway and Sweden must crazy as well, but not close to the USA.

In 20 years, an American will spend USD 330 while a Cuban have spent USD 2450. In the case that Cuban have naturalized, then you add the price of the American passport.

Bringing context to the table

– I converted all local currencies using Oanda’s currency converter. Values correspond to 07/20/2014.

– I picked the countries using data available on the website www.cubadiplomatica.cu

– My selection is random. I researched data about countries where I have lived, or I have visited, or I know of some Cuban friend or colleague living over there.

– To better visualize the differences, go to this chart in Datawrapper.

Finally, one last thing. Why does love makes the passport even more expensive?

Once a Cuban leaves his or her country, there is no actual need for extensions. No other country in the world demands it, and I have seen confusion in the faces of immigration officers from different countries when examining my passport. They don’t really get it, but as it’s any of their business, they move on. The only reasons why Cubans in the USA spend more than 700 dollars, Cubans in Canada pay almost 600 and those in Brazil pay 561 for that document, within a six years period, it’s out of love and longing for their families that remain back in Cuba. There’s no other explanation.

Just on April 2014, the Cuban Statistics Office (ONE) reported the arrival of 287.103 tourists to the Island.

This is not a huge number. By comparison, Canary Islands received 956.407 tourists that same month.

However, if we look at the numbers for longer periods we may find some surprising trends.

Here you can access the interactive chart I created with DataWrapper to see the actual trends. The data shows the total numbers for the period between 2006 -2011, as well as specific data about tourists’ countries of origin. If you want to find out how many tourists visited Cuba from China, Colombia, Spain and many others among the principal senders, even the USA, the numbers are there.

totals

– Surprise #1: To realize that the arrival of tourists actually has increased. There was growth even after 2008, when the world economy was suffering from the impact of the financial crisis. Moreover, another report from ONE comparing the numbers for the period between January and April, years 2010-2014, further supports that conclusion.

This is pointing to a single, very important argument: whatever the causes are for the renewed scarcity affecting Cubans for the last few years, it has nothing to do with tourism. Unless, of course, numbers wouldn’t be accurate and ONE would be lying.

top five tourism to cuba– Surprise #2: Canadians have been by far the primary visitors, the growth has been steady, at odds with the rest of the countries. The lines for England, Spain, Germany or Italy, even though quite flat, the trend is toward a decline. I will risk saying that Canadian tourism to Cuba is mostly families who go there to all inclusive beach-resorts, and come back again to enjoy warm sea waters, the security of the streets, and a sort of more familiar rapport that they create with Cubans on the service sector.

Meanwhile, a lot of young single Europeans go to Cuba drawn on the one hand to the political context, to check first hand all the media versions. On the other, there’s a lot of sex tourism going on in Cuba. That’s why a lot of Cuban young men and women went to Europe either married or with fiance visas. And that’s why I found a lot of bad reputation for Cuban women there.

– Surprise #3: Italy ranks 3rd, above Spain. For the reputation of Italians as couch potatoes, it seems that they actually like to check out the Caribbean, or at least Cuba. They travel to Cuba in bigger numbers than Spanish, which is interesting given the historical and cultural ties between Spanish and Cubans.

Now, the following doesn’t surprise me by itself. It shows how tourism from European countries has decreased, especially since 2008.

EuropeIt makes sense, considering the economic mess that the European Union has been dealing with for years. I would expect to find that numbers for 2014 are even smaller. In 2011 the Euro crisis was spiking. To this point, the situation in Spain, Italy or Portugal haven’t improved that much.

That leads to a question: if Europe hasn’t been sending more tourists to Cuba, how come total number has been growing?

Latin American countriesThe chart for the Latin American countries seems to suggest a possible answer. Tourism from those countries has been on the rise for the same period. As the emerging economies in Latin America grow, and middle classes grow and have more access to credit for consumption, Latin Americans are traveling more.

Thus Cuba’s stats for numbers share similar patterns as other countries within the region. Peru, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Mexico, just to name a few, they have all reported the increasing arrival of Latin American tourists.

Will that be the case by the end of 2014, after the impact over these economies of the Chinese economic slowdown?

These days I’m taking an online course in Data Journalism organized by the European Journalism Center (EJC). So far, it feels like the professors are telling me obvious things that I wasn’t able to deduce by myself. What I mean is: they are doing a great job explaining in very simple, down-to-Earth terms, contents about the convergence between numbers and stories that Data Journalism is.  So, I’m really enjoying this experience.

Today I was playing around with some stats from the Cuban National Statistics Office -Yes, the numbers are official and the office is government run, so it’s up to the reader the extent to which the data can be believable.

I used a free tool made available by Datawrapper:

The table is here.

Internet Accessibility in Cuba. – This data is made available by the Cuban National Stats Office (ONE)

Year Total Internet Accounts Total Internet Users
1998 3,455 22 694
1999 2,882 42 159
2000 2,996 73 164
2001 6,581 122 366
2002 8,015 205 768
2003 10,947 25 109
2004 10,156 621 719
2005 11,023 71 552
2006 12,325 809 665
2007 14,281 1 002,139
2008 19,227 1 291,965
2009 24,888 1 733,111
2010 30,373 2 072,061
2011 40,071 2 701,279
2012 40,644 3 851,278

To be notice: this isn’t breaking news: Access to Internet in Cuba ranks among the lowest in the world. Internet navigation is censored (not on the table), but limitation to access is another form of censorship. Remember the story about the submarine Internet cable that should connect Venezuela and Cuba improving bandwidth and speed? No? Don’t bother trying to remember, it hasn’t made any difference so far.

So, this table shows with numbers something that Cubans know by living their lives: internet accounts are scarce, and there are a bunch of internet users per internet account. This is because most of access in Cuba happens in the workplace -newsrooms, research facilities, government institutions, Hotels, some Universities. There are households with Internet access, but there must be always strong reasons to be entitled to one. Access hasn’t been extensively commercialized, unless for foreign corporations which are anyway shared 51% by the Cuban government. There was at some point the chance to buy an account, but prices were prohibited. Still, pirate Internet accounts are part of the landscape, but those are difficult – impossible – to track in numbers.

shipping-airplaneUna pregunta frecuente para quienes tienen planes de abrir un nuevo negocio es dónde encontrar el nicho apropiado, la oportunidad de un mercado en crecimiento que impulse la escalada de la joven empresa. Pues la posibilidad puede encontrarse latente en el universo del comercio transfronterizo electrónico, que en 2013 movió alrededor de US$ 105 mil millones.

El pasado octubre, Paypal presentó un estudio donde se condensan las principales tendencias del comercio electrónico mundial. Entre las más atractivas proyecciones está que 2014 debe traer un crecimiento de 14% a este tipo de comercio. Para 2018, se espera alcance el valor de US$ 307 mil millones. El gigante de las finanzas digitales se alió a Nielsen y Radius para indagar sobre las preferencias de los consumidores, la direccionalidad del flujo de las mercancías, los retos que se imponen y las estrategias de los mejores jugadores.

Se observó, por ejemplo, que los artículos de ropa, calzado y accesorios son la diana del mayor volumen de compras online con un valor de US$ 12,6 mil millones, por delante de artículos de belleza, electrónica personal, computadoras y joyería. En América Latina los compradores más activos son los brasileños, quienes gastan sobre todo en artículos electrónicos. A nivel mundial, los estadounidenses, chinos y alemanes compran más productos de salud y belleza mientras que los británicos y australianos optan por boletos de avión.

El reporte dedicó especial atención a cómo están aprovechando las empresas latinas la apertura a un mercado global. Se ha demostrado que tanto compañías grandes como pequeñas pueden competir con semejantes oportunidades en la plataforma web, donde inventiva, eficiencia y visión pueden ser significar la diferencia para lograr el éxito.

Tesoro en el ciberespacio ecommerce-shopping-cart

La parte del estudio elaborada por Radius compiló datos de 400 compañías exportadoras en América Latina, entre las cuales se halló que las exportaciones en línea conforman el 25% o más de sus ventas al extranjero, llegan a obtener 40% de sus ingresos totales por esta vía y dos terceras partes de esos ingresos se logran por ventas hechas fuera de América Latina. Con todo, llama la atención que las ventas a países vecinos en América Latina (36%) superaron en porcentaje a las hechas a Norteamérica (34%) y Europa (15%), las cuales estuvieron muy parejas con el volumen que se movió hacia Asia (), Medio Oriente y África (12%).

En cuanto al uso de mercados virtuales como canales de distribución, Brasil se muestra con el liderazgo en el continente (64%), seguido por Argentina y Colombia (48%). Perú queda rezagado (20%), pero con perspectivas de mostrar el mayor potencial de crecimiento. Ahora bien, en lo concerniente al porcentaje de ingresos resultante de las exportaciones online, Costa Rica lleva la delantera con 49%, seguida por Argentina (48%) y Brasil (41%).

En su reflexión sobre el impacto positivo que esta variante de comercio puede traer a los países de la región, José Fernández da Ponte, director de comercio internacional de Paypal para América Latina, advertía que aún “parte de las compañías no son conscientes, es lo que nos motivó a realizar esta parte del estudio, poner en la mesa cifras y datos que no son fácilmente accesibles de otra manera porque son parte de investigación propietaria. Hemos visto la importancia de crear demanda a través de mercados y marketing social, la relevancia de los dispositivos móviles sobre todo de cara al futuro. Esperamos que se generen empleos de forma sustancial. Nuestros resultados ilustran que la opción de los comercios de exportar fuera de sus fronteras es brutal”.

Por supuesto que se presentan obstáculos a superar. Más de la mitad de las empresas coinciden en que lo más complicado es identificar quiénes potencialmente pueden ser los compradores internacionales, es decir, encontrar dónde está la demanda concreta que satisfacer. A reglón seguido aparecen las inquietudes por la seguridad y el fraude electrónico. Sin dudas el tema del robo de identidades, y caer en la trampa de sitios fantasmas es un elemento que detiene muchas veces el impulso de compra. En tercer lugar, las empresas latinas apuntaron al manejo de múltiples divisas como otra fuente de inconvenientes a la hora de lidiar con el comercio transfronterizo electrónico.

Por eso es interesante ver el trabajo de compañías que han demostrado saber jugar con ventaja. Entre las ganadoras se incluye la costarricense Café Britt. Su manager de ventas Adriana Echandi comenta que la empresa comenzó hace 12 años a concentrarse en llegar a un cliente extranjero que llegaba al país como turista, “pusimos tiendas físicas en aeropuertos y lugares de alto volumen de turismo, así ofrecíamos una experiencia memorable del lugar de origen, pero cuando el cliente quería evocar ese momento, o comprar el café para regalar, usamos el sitio web para facilitar las ventas electrónicas. Con los años nos hemos servido de otros canales y estrategias para vincularnos a través de los social media”.

Pablo Vargas, CEO de Café Britt señala que en su experiencia, “las regulaciones financieras no han sido el factor limitante para las transacciones transfronterizas, sino en mayor medida la confiabilidad de los sistemas de entrega y sus costos. Pero en este sentido las tarjetas de crédito y los operadores de sistemas de pago han facilitado los pagos en distintas monedas”.

En el caso de la chilena LAN, su ventaja competitiva ha emergido de la coherencia entre los canales de comercialización, según dice Alex Bucheli, senior manager de ventas directas y digitales de la aerolínea chilena. “En el mundo de los viajes y la venta de boletas, muchos pasajeros usan múltiples canales, la sinergia y la identificación entre los canales es muy importante. Además, hemos buscado otros caminos como la asociación con actores importantes en mercados extranjeros, donde no somos tan conocidos. Otra cosa ha sido facilitar soluciones de venta, como por ejemplo sucede con la herramienta Bill Me Later que ofrece Paypal, que es muy útil para relacionarnos con compradores de la región con afinidad cultural por pagar a plazos”.

En la misma línea de ofrecer al cliente una experiencia integrada, y abrir las posibilidades de acceso a productos y servicios desde varias plataformas, Da Ponte explica los proyectos de desarrollo de su compañía. “La visión a nivel general es que los medios financieros del individuo estarán en la nube y por eso él o ella deben poder acceder a estos en la forma que prefieran, y siempre con seguridad”.

Ciertamente, ya se nota el aumento contundente en el uso de tablets y smartphones como instrumentos de compra, tendencia que de hecho apunta al incremento. Da Ponte indica que a pesar de las diferencias particulares entre los países, las pautas generales son las mismas, “parte de lo que refleja el estudio es que el futuro es global y móvil. Hasta 30% de la actividad de exportación va a compradores que realizan la transacción desde un dispositivo móvil. Por eso nuestro esquema de innovación y desarrollo de producto gira en torno a dispositivos móviles y diseñamos primero pensando en smartphones y tablets”.

Echandi explica que las acciones en Café Britt siguen una ruta parecida a la delineada por Da Ponte. “Luego que desarrollamos un App, nos hemos dado cuenta que el 87% de las compras se hacen a través de tablets, no necesariamente por teléfono. Estamos haciendo cambios para que este proceso de compra sea más eficiente, más sencillo y amigable para el consumidor, que permita adecuarnos al lugar donde están y ofrecerles envío gratis y productos extra”.

Un aspecto al que las empresas siempre deben prestar especial atención, sea que practiquen su negocio en la red o fuera de esta, es satisfacer las expectativas de los consumidores. Desde este punto de vista, Michelle Magallon directora de marketing de la sede de Aeropost en Costa Rica, resume que dentro del comercio electrónico, esto significa que “la preocupación de los consumidores que quieren comprar en el extranjero es que lo adquirido llegue a casa de modo viable, seguro y a un costo que no sorprenda”. Entonces las empresas que exporten al extranjero vía ventas online, deben priorizar que sus entregas cumplan la promesa hecha al momento de la venta.

Magallon continúa por recalcar en el tema de la confianza y la seguridad como punto clave de generar un público fiel a la empresa, “cuando el cliente cruza la barrera de poner los datos de su tarjeta de crédito en un sitio web, espera sobre todo sentirse protegido y sus finanzas a salvo, por eso es importante invertir en seguridad informática y buscar alianzas que puedan proveer mejores mecanismos en este sentido. Ahora, un cliente satisfecho que hace sus compras digitalmente, tiene más propensión a repetir la experiencia. Hemos visto que en el primer año, los clientes compran un promedio de nueve veces con nosotros, y al año siguiente duplican las compras”.

Magallon comenta que antes de insertarse en el universo de las ventas online, se dio cuenta de que sólo llegaba a la punta del iceberg, sólo a una fracción del mercado. Implementar la solución electrónica incrementó exponencialmente la exposición de la compañía a un mercado global.

© EFE

© EFE

Ok. Maybe it’s time for me to address the issue of the Internet cable that it’s supposed to come from Venezuela to Cuba and would improve the Island’s connectivity. Some of my friends have been asking me pretty much the same question because of the media fuzz that has been going on lately over this subject.

The tale of this cable can be tracked at least back to 2007, mid July, when this news item was published by Cubadebate: “El cable submarino Cuba-Venezuela: resumen de mentiras sobre Internet en el diario La Vanguardia” (The submarine cable between Cuba-Venezuela: summary of lies about Internet published by La Vanguardia). This article began by saying that “In a short time a cable will be laid between Cuba and Venezuela to improve Internet access in Cuba and other Caribbean countries”. “In a short time”, I find that combination of words very ammusing.

So, some 5 and a half years later, the cable has not changed the internet experience in Cuba, despite the 70 millions dollars spent on the project. Somehow I can find this piece of info even more ammusing. In fact, I remember that by 2011 there was a popular joke in Cuba, telling that sharks had eaten the cable.

So, the cable was supposed to go from La Guaira in Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba, a distance of more than 600 km.

So, would access to Internet improve in Cuba? Would it be easier for Cubans to surf the Web and access multiple news media and social media and all other Internet sites? My answer is: I don’t think so. But let’s break my argument into pieces.

Disclaimer: I have not reported this issue by myself. So I can’t vouch 100% for the accuracy of these data -but quite honestly, could I fully vouch for it even if I have talked to the sources myself? Sources can lie or hide facts too. I’m only looking around the web the kind of info and data I consider reliable, which is mostly published on alternative small news media, in Spanish, so English speakers tend to not be aware of. My main source is this article by Arián Jesús Pérez, “La historia de un cable contada por Cubadebate“, which I find to be a good journalistic work, well researched and written, and reliable.

The current landscape: with or without cable:

Cuba’s access to Internet relies on satellite connection. I’m not sure which satellite, and how much the USA embargo has to do with the current situation, but I know the facts: Internet in Cuba is insanely slow. I’m not certain about the technicalities, how many gigas or megas, but I know it is so slow that no foreigner can even imagine! Just try to remember your experience with the slowest Internet ever, then multiply it by a hundred, then by a thousand, and reality might even hit you on the nose if you happen to be in Cuba trying to search the Web or access your email. Trust me, it’s beyond your wildest dreams.

Who’s allowed to access? To give you an idea, this is some official data from 2010 – the most updated data available- that can be found on the (Cuban) National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) website.

– Amount of personal computers per 1000 inhabitants: 64

– Internet users per 1000 inhabitants: 159

cable-submarino-4-580x870In fact, Internet access in Cuba is mostly granted at the institutional level, to some universities, scientific research facilities, news media, some cultural organizations, goverment facilities… Still, a lot of this places enable a controlled access to the Web, so there are a number of sites that are blocked.

Yes, apparently the cable would improve connectivity, which should make things easier and cheaper. However… -when it’s about Cuba, always wait a “however”.

Funny facts about the cable… mostly technical:

Where to begin… Let’s start with capacity.

Venezuelan Science and Tecnology Minister Jorge Arreaza described the cable like having “986 km and a capacity of 640 gigabytes”, according to Martinoticias on May 25, 2012 (I don’t trust a lot this news site because it’s located in Miami, and Cubans there are anything but impartial, but let’s believe the accuracy of quotes). Meanwhile, by January 22, 2011, Cubadebate informed that according to Ricardo Menéndez, the former Venezuelan Science and Tecnology Minister, before Arreaza, atributed to the cable “320 gigabytes and 1.600 km”.

These are only two sources, I’m almost positive I could find a third version, but I don’t want to waste my time. I just gave you the overall picture.

Second, the cable didn’t arrive now. It arrived to Cuba in 2011! Check this TeleSur clip if you can understand some Spanish.

So what happened?

By May 2012, Venezuela was claiming that the cable was fully operational on their side. However, problems with Internet persisted in the Island so Venezuela blamed Cuba for the lousy situation of connectivity. According Arreaza, “any inconvenient concerning Internet in Cuba should be a sovereign matter of the Cuban government”. Wow, I bet this quote wasn’t used by Cuban media. But again, I don’t fully trust this Martinoticias either.

The the 1 million dollar question: Why?

Sad facts about the cable… mostly political:

Arián gathered an interesting set of news covering the issue. He refers to an article published by Cubadebate on January 201o, where the former vice minister of Information and Communications in Cuba, Ramón Linares Torres, had declared something that could help our understanding: “these initiatives [such as the cable] will provide a better quality for infocommunications, but it doesn’t necessarily imply its extension”.

For me, this is a dark and vague statement. My take away is that Linares was suggesting that those with access, could get a faster internet, but there weren’t plans to amplify the number of users.

Arián raised some interesting and valuable questions, with so far no definitive or accurate answer. These are some of them:

  • Did the cable really cost almost 70 millions?
  • Would it actually improve connectivity 3000 times?
  • What has to do or how is connected the US embargo to the failure of the cable?
  • Has Cuba officially set as a policy the social use of Internet, prioritizing universities, cultural and health centers, news media and more than 600 “Joven Club de Computación”?
  • Would the cable imply a huge hope to connectivity? Would it improve the quality of the Internet experience? And eventually, would it allow to extend the service to regular Cuban households?
  • Is or is it not Cuba an enemy of the Internet?
  • Would the cable actually cheapen the cost of Internet y telecommunications?
  • Finally, why hasn’t the Cuban Media fully covered in detail this issue which is indeed highly relevant for Cubans?

Finally, why is today everybody talking about this again?

Well recently on January 2013 AP was informing that the cable had finally started to be used in Cuba on January 14th (here in English on The Daily Beast).  According sources -always unnamed sources- from ETECSA, Cuba’s telecom monopoly, “the country’s first hard-wired fiber-optic Internet cable has been activated, (…) still in the testing stage and won’t mean an instant access increase”.

My take away, my answer, is that no matter the status of the cable, regular Cubans won’t be able to access the Web without restrictions, at least not on the foreseeable future. Well, look at the Arab spring… And then, it’s true that some bloggers are using the internet to communicate alternative or opposing ideas other than the government’s points of view. But most of them are unknown inside the Island. What would happen if they were known?

I do not think access to Internet will be available for the ordinary citizen in Cuba, not tomorrow, not this year at least. I wish though that reality would prove me wrong.

Fox News:  Lone Star College Shooting

Fox News: Lone Star College Shooting

So, if you check right now the news, let’s say TV news, more exactly local PBS news in Tampa, you can see the weather report. Like 5 minutes ago, they were speaking about Obama’s inauguration. Then 10 minutes ago, they were discussing about the outcome of BP oil spill, and around 20 minutes ago they were breaking the news of a shooting at the Lone Star College in Texas. And there is a shooting! Again!

Few words before very sensitive and hyper reactive people start freaking out about it. It is very unlikely the sun storm or whatever phenomenon is going on there, will has anything to do with a guy going nuts with a happy trigger.

According the media, right now there is no certainty whether it’s something related to gangs, or mental health. Then, we are back to the issue under heavy discussion since the shootings at the elementary school in Newtown: with serious gun, it’s likely to have less of these shootings. It’s true, people will keep killing each other, but the number of casualties will significantly go down if they have only knives, or bare fists. Yes, mental health is important, but not enough!

So, what is this shooting in Texas telling us? Obama’s 23 executive actions might not be enough. A person can go nuts over the night, so that exam to test his or her sanity taken before getting a license and getting the gun, is very useless. Besides, Lanza didn’t have a license, he was not the owner, but the mother. No guns, period.

And stop pointing to the second amendment, there weren’t assaults weapons back then. Actually, it’s ok if muskets are the available weapons.

Otherwise, just amend the amendment! I was listening to a teenager a few days ago, a black teen, and he was noticing that societies change, and laws must change along societies. He would have been a slave in the 1700’s, but now there’s a black guy making decisions at the White House’s Oval Office!