Launching a signal with Wi-Fi repeaters from the American embassy in Havana and another from the Guantanamo naval base would be a “fast alternative” for an open internet in Cuba, Salvi Pascual, who eight years ago in Miami created the mobile application Apretaste! to connect Cubans on the island to the network and circumvent censorship, tells EFE.
“There are actions that are moral and right to take, I’m not talking about putting a bomb, just a Wi-Fi repeater, like when you go to McDonald’s and they give you internet,” says Pascual about the old idea of the government to bring to the island the open internet to counteract censorship.
For this programmer, who created Apretaste! with the mission of connecting “thousands of Cubans to the Internet in the most economical and uncensored way”, the amendment recently approved by the U.S. Senate to create a technology investment fund aimed at Cuba is “a good alternative,” but not enough.
“I’m glad they are taking action on the matter, they are trying to gain ground for the moment when the Cuban government wants infrastructure,” says Salvi about the amendment introduced by Florida Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and approved by the Senate last August 11.
The measure calls for establishing a reserve fund to facilitate the provision of internet to the citizens of Cuba “deprived of the free flow of information by the illegitimate Cuban communist regime.”
Lack of political will
According to Pascual, a dozen transatlantic submarine cables that connect continents or countries to the great network pass near Cuba, but the island’s dictatorship has not shown any signs of wanting to connect to any of them and operates with one that comes from Venezuela.
“Most of those cables respond to collaborations between governments and private entities. Any of them is open to Cuba since the time of the thaw (during Barack Obama’s presidency) so that the island can connect,” he says.
The reason is “a lack of political will” and not a technological issue, he says.
“All the evidence we have collected points to the fact that the cable connecting Cuba to Venezuela does not have all the bandwidth required. A cable is the same as a central water pipe, which has to be good and with a good flow,” he says.
Regarding the Internet by air, he points out that “this system is much slower and has deficiencies when there are clouds and bad weather.”
“Cable internet is the fastest, especially if it is fiber optic. It does not degrade as much as over-the-air, which if it does not have certain repeaters, the signal begins to degrade,” he explains.
If the United States acts to provide open Internet to Cubans, “it would show that the lack of good Internet is not due to the embargo, but is 100% the responsibility of the Cuban government,” he points out.
Pascual explains that “there is no international law that forbids it.”
“At the Guantanamo naval base, there is a McDonald’s, the only one in Cuba. There you can put T-Mobile repeaters there, for example,” he says confidently.
Involving the entire Cuban community
After what happened last July 11, when thousands of people took to the streets in Cuba to demand freedom and the end of communism, Pascual realized that his app has few users outside Cuba.
His cell phone app, which uses e-mail as a connection to reach people by circumventing censorship, has 98% of its users on the island, so he is now working on an improved version to capture those outside.
At the end of September they will present “the improved version 8” of Apretaste!, “much faster and friendlier”, and which consumes “less data,” he explains.
With respect to the so-called “Arab Spring”, which in 2011 was organized in social networks causing the departure of rulers in several countries”, he says that there “it was not so easy to cut the Internet flow” because “there was an Internet infrastructure in the hands of private companies”.
“But I don’t want to be a bird of ill omen. There are things happening right now in Cuba. The government knows that it is going to get out of hand someday and is between a rock and a hard place,” he added.