If you want to start a revolution in Cuba, don't do it via text
WRITTEN BY Ana Campoy
September 07, 2016
Cuba has been relying on Chinese technology to build up its
telecommunications network. Now it appears to have also adopted the
Asian giant's censorship techniques, according to dissident reports.
An analysis by 14 y Medio, a Cuban digital media outlet started by
well-known blogger Yoani Sánchez, found that the country's state-owned
telecom company is apparently blocking texts containing words such as
"democracy" and "human rights."
The news site had an array of users throughout the island—from
government opponents and activists to non-politically active folks—send
texts with terms that could be potentially problematic to the island's
regime. Among them (link in Spanish): "repression," "dictatorship,"
"hunger strike," "coexistence" (convivencia in Spanish, which is also
the name of an independent magazine,) and the names of several
dissidents, including Sánchez.
In all instances, texts with the offending words "were lost along the
way," 14 y Medio reported (Spanish) on Sept. 3. Reuters carried out a
similar test—with similar results. Government sources were either not
available or did not respond to requests for comment by the two news
The blocked texts highlight the uneven pace of change in Cuba. While the
government is gradually letting go of its decades-old anti-US foreign
policy, and its aversion for private enterprise, it still seems unable
to stomach any challenge to its monopoly on power.
Cubans are already limited in their communications due to the high cost
of cell phone service and spotty Internet access. But texts are a
relatively cheap and practical way to communicate—if you avoid certain
words. There are some three million cell phone users (Spanish) on the
14 y Medio's analysis was prompted by complaints from users who noticed
they were being charged for texts that were not delivered. Although
Cuba's cell phone provider Cubacel specifies in its contract that
threatening public order and state security is a motive for service
suspension, according to 14 y Medio, the customers they spoke with
reported never receiving a warning that their messages would blocked if
the content was deemed objectionable.
"How many misunderstandings between couples, domestic fights, and
unfulfilled professional tasks have been due to the filtering of words
that include last names like 'Biscet'"—the name of a well-known
government critic—"and terms like 'plebiscite?'"said the 14 y Medio
report, which was written by Sánchez and a colleague.
As frustrating as the discovery of the text monitoring is for many
Cubans, they will likely find a way around it. That's what they've been
doing to throw off government minders for years, long before electronic
media. For example, "aspirin" is used in communication of all sorts in
lieu of "police patrol car," and "red fabric" means beef, which is
highly-rationed and coveted.
Source: The Cuban government is blocking texts with words like
"democracy" and "human rights" — Quartz -