Congrats. You're free. Who cares, right? Sure, I'm free, you're free, we're all free. Presidents and puritans have paraded under the banner of freedom for generations. Braveheart coined the battle cry. I think we take it for granted in light of what you'll see in "Vanguard's" "Cuba: Waiting for a Revolution".
I have the freedom to write this blog. You have the freedom to read it, then copy it, paste it, forward it, etc. You may be sitting in your school's library, surfing this site...for free. Or at a cafe, park, or friend's house using an open wifi connection...for free. Worst-case scenario - you're paying an average of $34.95 a month for your connection at home. Let's do the math as to how much that roughly costs according to recent surveys of internet activity in the US vs Cuba.
INTERNET FREEDOM in the US
+ Average time spent online per week by US adults in 2008: 14 hours, up from 11 hours in 2007.
+ 14 hours times 4 weeks = 56 hours per month
+ $34.95 divided by 56 hours per month = $0.62
+ Conclusion: The average American pays $0.62 an hour for Internet. Factor in the amount of time spent on free connections or at work and the cost may be halved.
INTERNET FREEDOM in CUBA
First off, it's illegal for Cubans to have private access to Internet in their homes. A lucky few have a crude intranet system like AOL allowing them to communicate internally. Internet is available to government workers, but that's even limited at best.
The only real Internet is in hotels for the exclusive use of international tourists. It's officially illegal for Cubans to purchase Internet time at the hundreds of hotels that dot the island. However, a brave few actually sneak into and pay a huge amount of money for an hour of access.
+ Average cost for an hour of Internet at Havana hotel: $8
+ Average Cuban salary: $17 per month
+ Average inflation ratio from the dollar to the Cuban peso: 24
+ Conclusion: The dollar is 24 times more expensive that the Cuban peso so in real terms an hour of Internet access to a Cuban costs: $192!!!
Remember, their average salary is only $17 a month.
Cuba's leading blogger Yoani Sanchez routinely sneaks into hotels and posts her award-winning blog. She's created a small cadre of young blogging revolutionaries who are learning tricks of the trade on how to get online, and more importantly, send and receive critical information to enlighten the Cuban people about the reality of the Castro brothers' oppressive regime.
Note to reader: check out the link and explore at least three posts of Yoani's to read and feel what the real Cuba is. She was named one of Time's Most Influential People and her blog is widely acclaimed as one of the best around, certainly, the most incisive and expressive on Cuba. You'll be hooked. In my research for "Cuba: Waiting for a Revolution," I read every post of hers since she began dispatching. Keep in mind, she does all this while being routinely followed and monitored by government agents.
A COUNTER REVOLUTION
The documentary explores (in general detail given the sensitive nature of the topic and severe restrictions on outside media) whether or not there exists popular sentiment to incite a counter revolution and enact regime change in Cuba.
Everyone I spoke to, from former Ambassadors, to the Brookings Institution, to former Cuban exiles and militant Cubans who've led assassination attempts on Castro, to Bobby Rush, a US Congressman and former Black Panther who met with Fidel in Havana last spring, agree: the only way that change will happen in Cuba is if the youth lead a massive force of change.
Here's the thing, the Internet seems to be the Braveheart battle cry of our generation. Throwing a party? Evite. Got a good inside joke? Mass email to friends. Sharing last night's party pics? Flickr. Hosting a reunion? Facebook.
In Cuba, there's no such thing. Fine, you might say, there are cell phones. Nope. They were just recently legalized, cost an arm and a leg, and can be shut down by government minders in an instant. How about the old fashioned way? Protest. Ha! A 1994 protest along Havana's Malecon was violently suppressed with Castro himself showing up in military fatigues.
Yet, there's hope. Groups like Roots of Hope, or Raices de Esperanza, a university and volunteer collective led by Cuban-Americans are creating change. They're sending cell phones, USB drives with newspaper and magazine articles on them, and making frequent trips to visit relatives there, thanks to Obama's loosening of the long imposed travel ban.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
I grew up on Miami Beach. I'm not Cuban. My dad was born to a Russian father and a Mexican mother and my mom is from Chicago of British, Irish, Scotch, and German descent. I never really understood what the big deal about Cuba was here in a community dominated by exiles.
Every month there seemed to be new protests by the vocal exile community here. I never understood until I went there. I saw an island that's literally 90 miles away but living 50 years in the past. Everything there is tough and expensive, difficult and rigid, hot and humid, suspicious and decaying. While it's a place of verve, life, and simplicity, its people are being held hostage by a government that forces them to pay $230 for microwaves, put 90 or so dissidents (read journalists and thinkers) in prison in 2003, and can hardly feed its people. This video landed this gentleman, who has now become a national symbol of struggle, in prison for two years.
The Latin media was ablaze when the story broke; someone filmed a black drunk Cuban guy yelling that there was no food. The video went viral, the media broadcast it almost as a joke, and authorities cracked down.
So, value your freedom. You probably get enough to eat. You live in an age approaching the remarkable year of 2010, and if it's not free, you're only paying on average of $0.62 an hour for the Internet.