August 24, 2011
By Juan Tamayo, The Miami Herald
Borrowing a page from those pesky marketing cell phone text messages that cannot be blocked, a Cuban blogger in Spain is sending uncensored news to about 1,000 Cuban cell phones daily — and exploring far more sharp-edged applications.
Eventually, said Ernesto Hernandez Busto, he should be able to send SMS messages to special groups: If dissidents are being jailed in Santiago province, he could text “Stop the repression” to all cell phones used there by the Ministry of Interior.
Cuban authorities cannot block the messages from the Cuba Sin Censura system, or Cuba Without Censorship, because each one is sent from a different telephone number, Hernandez told El Nuevo Herald.
The system is the latest evidence of how new technology, such as cell phones and the Internet, is helping to increase the flow of information into and out of Cuba, despite the government monopoly on the mass media and telecommunications.
“Anything that contributes to information is an excellent initiative,” said Havana blogger Reinaldo Escobar, who has been receiving the SMS messages. As for the claim that the government cannot block them, he added “That’s to be seen.”
Hernandez said the system takes advantage of Cuba’s explosive growth in cell phones — from only 198,000 in 2007 to one million at the end of last year — and avoids reliance on the Internet, tightly controlled by the government, expensive and slow.
“I always thought that bloggers and the Internet were a little overestimated” in their usefulness for breaking the government’s monopoly on information, said Hernandez, who runs the blog Penultimos Dias — Penultimate Days — from his home in Barcelona.
Hernandez was part of an effort in 2009 to send five to six SMS headlines a day through a system called Granpa – a joke on Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. The effort petered off because they were sent from a few telephone numbers that could be easily blocked by Cuba, he said.
But the new effort is based on computerized marketing SMS facilities that change the originating telephone numbers, cost very little to the senders and nothing to the receivers in Cuba, he added in a telephone interview Monday.
In another use of new technology, Cuban dissidents now regularly call a U.S. telephone number to record complaints of government abuses. The Web site Hablalo Sin Miedo — Say it Without Fear — then emails alerts to human rights activists outside Cuba.
A Cuban-born Florida International University graduate got the idea from the system that Google set up this spring after the Egyptian government shut down its connections with the Internet in an attempt to cut off information to and from protesters.
Each day for the past month, Hernandez has sent one or two SMS messages with a total of five to six headlines on developments in Cuba and abroad that have been censored or manipulated by the government news media.
The official media, for example, has regularly condemned NATO’s support for the Libyan rebels and reported almost nothing on the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on opposition protesters.
Hernandez’s text messages now go to about 1,000 Cuban cell phones, including about 800 in Havana, most of them owned by bloggers, dissidents and other activists, he said. Cubans can sign up to receive them at Cubasincensura.com. One problem: There’s no way for now to unsubscribe.
But Hernandez and other computer-savvy exiles have managed to obtain several lists of sensitive Cuban phone numbers — for police and military units, for example – from the state-owned phone company, the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.
“The potential of this system is that it can send a message to any specific group of people,” Hernandez said. “For example, if they are repressing in one province, if there is a popular uprising.”