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Effective Tools and Strategy: Kicking it up a Notch in Cuba and Beyond

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Technology is boosting connectivity, engaging and enrolling the masses to push against repression faced by the people of Cuba, but it's going to take unlimited, uncensored access for technology to truly affect change. Creating a way for Cubans to securely communicate with the rest of the world, to freely express their reality and organize for change, is essential. Likewise, those off the island need to be able to easily respond with support and solutions. Free communication is the key that will empower them to use technology to organize and launch a legitimate movement. Movements are significantly powered online to expose the depth of an issue on a grand scale and rally those both affected and not to seek on-the-ground solutions.

Without the ability to confidentially access technological resources available, posting blogs, using social media, cell phone technology and more are a gamble for those living under oppressive regimes. Unjust harassment, incarcerations and brutality by Cuban authorities will ensue unless the citizens have access to freely express themselves online and use the tools to proactively seek solutions. Similar circumstances threaten Egypt, Venezuela, China and countless other nations around our globe. The brave leaders risking their lives to take action on any level are a minuscule representation of the people coping with the brass tacks muting their disparaged voices. Often, those hushed by fear have subsequently succumbed to the control their authoritative government demonstrates. In fact, I would argue that many of those same people feel a sense of safety embracing the dictatorship controlling their livelihood.

There are many examples of the limited ability of information to penetrate into and out of oppressed countries. Just last month, Roots of Hope, a network established by students seven years ago with programs aiming to promote meaningful exchanges that are mutually empowering to youth on and off the island, choreographed a series of peaceful demonstrations in the wake of "Damas De Blanco" (Ladies In White) halting their ceremonious marches. These rallies in Havana call for the release of the Ladies' sons and husbands -- 53 prisoners of conscience imprisoned for human rights advocacy. Due to the violent persecution that the Ladies suffered at the hands of Cuba's repressive government on March 21, they vowed to stop their peaceful demonstrations. That is, until they got word of the movement to show solidarity being taken by Roots of Hope's network and celebrities including Gloria Estefan, Perez Hilton, Andy Garcia, George Lopez and many more with absolutely no tie to the island. Dressed in white and holding flowers, approximately 100,000 people gathered in Miami on March 25 and a few days later in Madrid, Los Angeles and New York City to acknowledge the repression faced by the people of Cuba. The "Damas," although allegedly subjected to further harassment by authorities, acknowledged the encouragement by releasing doves and marching in unison with the supporters at 6:00 p.m. in the evening on March 25. All in all, the rallies generated attention and provided a sense of community to the participants, but the political dissidents are still incarcerated. The key missing component -- secure, steady, unfiltered, two-way communication -- is needed to open the floodgates.

Haystack is a tool with the potential to make significant changes in how people in Cuba communicate via the internet. In fact, it could potentially provide the freedom to securely communicate to the entire world. Haystack has been used in Iran by enabling Iranians to be heard beyond their borders and is shifting the way Iranians organize and advocate on behalf of themselves. Co-created by Guardian's 2010 Innovator of the Year, Austin Heap, Haystack is a new cutting edge anti-filtering software that provides uncensored Internet access to the people of Iran hiding the users real Internet identities while permitting access to websites such as Twitter, Gmail, Facebook and YouTube, which are often blocked by Iran's government. This tool has been critical in granting a degree of freedom of expression to the people of Iran using it since its launch last year. Communication continues to pour out of Iran exposing human rights violations and fueling support for "Green Movement" globally. Unfortunately, Haystack is by invitation only and currently unavailable to the people of Cuba as the United States Government strictly prohibits the export of goods and services to Cuba.

Leveraging the opportunity to have unrestricted access to connective technologies does not alleviate the risk of agitating the opposition, but it permits people to democratically choose how they want to use those tools. The opportunity to anonymously organize, and potentially create a movement to affect positive change, cannot be seized until there is software widely available to those who need it. I have a feeling, however, that if we know of specific incidents of discontent without secure Internet access in place at this point, we will hear much more from them with safer access to those tools.