A New Organization to Control and Spy On Cuba's Computer Users

05/19/2015 06:05 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

User on Revolico, the Cuban "Craigslist" (Silvia Corbelle, 14ymedio)
User on Revolico, the Cuban "Craigslist" (Silvia Corbelle, 14ymedio)

Nimble fingers over the keyboard, a life divided between reality and the digital world, plus the gratification of amusing yourself, learning, teaching and being free through technology. These are some of the points shared by those of us in Cuba who have linked ourselves to information and communication technologies, whether for professional reasons or simply from personal passion. Now, a new association is trying to support these enthusiasts of circuits and screens, although the management of the organization proposes many limits on autonomy and ideological ties.

The new Computer Users Union of Cuba (UIC) will enjoy the official recognition that has been lacking until now for independent groups of bloggers, gamers and programmers. It will have statutes, a code of ethics and members will be able to rely on support and visibility through its structure. Nor is there any doubt that at the next international event where "pro-governmental civil society" appears -- in the manner of the Summit of the Americas -- the new affiliates of the UIC will attend.

If the promoters of these activities, in whatever part of the world, want to know how a pretend non-governmental organization is generated, they should pay attention to the details of the genesis of the new organization that will bring together Cubans engaged in new technologies. It will be an excellent opportunity not to see "a star being born," but to witness how a black hole is created that that will seek to engulf one of the wildest, freest phenomenon parallel to power in Cuban society today.

The process for signing up for the UIC will be open until July 15. Applicants must submit the registration form, a photocopy of their academic degree, and sign a letter accepting the draft Bylaws and Code of Ethics, which first must be downloaded from the Ministry of Communication's website. It is surprising that at this point the organizing committee which emerged from the entity's constituent congress -- despite its undeniable technological capabilities -- doesn't have its own digital site. It would have required a "civilian" portal that does not include ".gob.cu" in its internet address, because that would identify it as subject to the government... not as an NGO.

The UIC defines itself as an organization with a professional profile, with both voluntary and at the same time select affiliation, created under Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. A glance at this part of the Constitution clarifies that these organizations "represent their specific interests and incorporate them into the task of edification, consolidation and defense of the Socialist society." As if that isn't enough, the president of the organizing committee, Allyn Febles, who is also vice rector of the University of Information Sciences, told reporters that "the new organization has as a base the unity of it members in support of the social project of the Cuban Revolution."

An attempt, no doubt, to assign a political color to kilobytes, tweets and apps. As if they felt the need to demarcate the limits of technologies starting from Party considerations. Why are they so crude? Why isn't it possible to create a Union of Cuban Computer Users dedicated to teaching the population to use the tools that allow them to more freely and easily access new technologies? Why do they have to interpose themselves between the keyboard and the social networks, and not just from any ideology but from a particular sectarian and exclusionary ideology?

The restrictions don't end there. In its introduction, the ethics code defines a priori computer users as "committed to our Socialist Revolution..." while in Article 3 it imposes maintaining conduct "in accord with the norms and principles of our Socialist society." The situation worsens, because Article 13 of the code itself imposes on the UIC members the obligation to inform on colleagues who incur offenses. Rather than an entity to preserve the rights to technology enthusiasts, it is creating an oversight body to control them.

Like a ghost of the past, the little check box of "political membership" reappears on the application form for admission to the UIC, where the applicant must put checkmarks next to organizations such as the Communist Party, the Young Communist Union or, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and the Cuban Workers Center. Which contradicts the official spokespeople who shout themselves hoarse saying that these latter three are not political but rather social entities. Which is it?

The nice part of the UIC's founding documents is where they warn that the UIC "will be working to create a climate of scientific and technical creation and for the elevation of its members to a professional level and a permanent technological upgrade, encouraging the identification and the recording of the knowledge of its associates and their preparation and fitness to undertake specific projects, as well and the identification of opportunities to impact the economic development of the country and the exporting of goods and services, and in this way contributing to an increase in the welfare of its members."

But why, in order to receive these undeniable benefits, must they show political obedience and loyalty? The answer is simple: because it is expected that the members of the UIC will put intolerance ahead of information sciences, being soldiers ahead of being internauts... being censors ahead of being young people who play with binary code.

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14ymedio, Cuba's first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.