Now that U.S. telecom companies seem poised to gain access to Cuba, the big question is whether those companies can help to change the island nation's repressive Internet censorship regime.
President Obama's plan to allow U.S. telecoms to do business in Cuba
is the right thing to do. Gaining access to the Internet and new communications technologies is a huge benefit for people living in restrictive regimes like Cuba and hold the promise of advancing freedom for millions of Cubans.
But overlooked in the understandably favorable news coverage of the White House plan has been Cuba's troubling history of monitoring and censoring its citizens' previously limited electronic communications.
According to the OpenNet Initiative, Internet use in Cuba
is severely restricted and extensively monitored. In 2006, Reporters Without Borders reported
that the Cuban government used several mechanisms to prevent the Internet from being used for "counter-revolutionary" activities. Public computers were programmed to issue alerts when "subversive" keywords are entered, and citizen journalists received lengthy jail terms for publishing content criticizing the regime online.
If more telecommunications access translates into more of that sort of repression and government spying, the benefit for the Cuban people may be outweighed by the consequences.