It certainly looks and sounds like Facebook. Even its name, "RedSocial," the Social Network, would make Mark Zuckerberg's lawyers squirm.
Cuba, a nation where just 2 percent of the population has an internet connection, has quietly launched a Facebook wannabe, a "virtual meeting place for Cuban universities," according to a screenshot of site on the Cuban blog "La Chiringa de Cuba." The site even contains the word "Facebook" in its domain: facebook.ismm.edu.cu.
In Cuba, internet usage is largely limited to academics, students and state workers. The cost of internet access at tourist hotels is prohibitive for ordinary Cubans who earn about $20 a month.
Univision called the new site the Cuban government's "latest attempt to squeeze the information flow in Cuba."
"The site mimics the look and feel of Facebook, replacing the ... famous depiction of all continents linked by its service with an illustration of the island, with Cubans only connecting with fellow Cubans," Univision reported.
In "Chiringa de Cuba," Carlos Alberto Perez Benitez wrote that he was quite moved by Communist Cuba's version of Zuckerberg's brainchild. His blog was republished on the state-run CubaDebate website.
"It appears to be an idea of the Ministry of Education, but what is clear is that a light bulb has gone off for someone who didn't want to miss out on the social network revolution by creating an almost perfect copy of Facebook, only that this one is very Cuban and accessible via the national intranet," he wrote in Spanish.
Perez Benitez added: "If this works or not remains to be seen."
Cuba, which tightly controls information on the grounds of its longstanding political feud with the United States, launched its answer to Wikipedia last year with an encyclopedic site called EcuRed in which posts are updated by users.
Many Cubans rely on normal mail, telephone and word-of-mouth, or as Cubans say, "la bola," for information. In fact, the state recently announced a restructuring of its antiquated postal service to boost efficiency, the Associated Press reported:
In Cuba, things like Internet usage, email access and financial infrastructure lag behind much of the developed world, and many rely on the postal service for everything from mail to money transfers. Letters to the editor in state-controlled media routinely complain about slow delivery, poor customer service and packages being opened en route, with their contents vanishing.
"This is excellent news. I use the postal service often and have lost count of how many letters have been stolen from me by Correos de Cuba. ... And don't even mention their handling of claims," said a comment left on the government website Cubadebate by a reader who identified himself as Raul.
"They say, 'Better the devil you know than the one you don't,'" it continued. "But in my case I'm dying to meet the new one because the one we have is up in flames."
The Cuban state, notorious for its secrecy, might have reason for concern about the reach of the internet.
A Spanish-language website CubaalDescubierto -- Cuba Uncovered -- has been posting inside information such as the home address of president Raul Castro's daughter and the home and cell phone numbers of two of the country's most powerful men, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Ramiro Valdes, according to the Miami Herald:
The leak of such personal details, out of a communist-ruled country where secrecy has long been paramount, reflects the Castro government's growing inability to control the flow of information in the age of the Internet.
"Technology is going to destroy them," said one post on the website CubaalDescubierto — Cuba Uncovered — where the details are being posted by FUEGO, or "fire," a group that claims to be made up of Cubans in Cuba and on the outside.
The site already has published what it says are the home addresses, phone numbers and other personal information of more than 20 top Cubans since it started posting those kinds of details about six weeks ago.
Cuba has one of the world's lowest levels of computer ownership at 3.3 per 100 inhabitants, the same rate as Togo, according to Reporters Without Borders.
"With less than 2 percent of the population online, Cuba is one of the world's most backward countries as regards Internet usage. The worst off by far in Latin America and with a thirteenth of Costa Rica’s usage, it is down there with Uganda or Sri Lanka," the report said. "This is quite surprising in a country that boasts one of the highest levels of education in the world. The authorities blame this disastrous situation on the US trade embargo, which supposedly prevents them from getting the equipment they need for Internet development."
In 2007, Valdes, the minister of communications who once fought alongside the Castro brothers in the revolution that ousted the Batista dictatorship, spoke of the rapidly advancing tide of new technology, including the internet.
"The wild colt of the new technologies [could] and [should] be tamed and infocommunications put at the service of peace and development," Valdes said.
But he added: "The Internet is not only allowing sectors silenced by the big media to express themselves, but also spreads important messages in favor of crucial issues for humanity such as peace, protection of the planet and justice, to name only three."
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