Information has always been a liberating force, and throughout history, authoritarian regimes have always attempted to control it -- Cuba is no exception.

Still, Cuba's recent liberalization of communication and technology has had a great impact.

In March, the mothers, daughters and wives of Cuban prisoners of conscience -- known as the ``Ladies in White'' -- marched in Havana and were beaten by State Security in broad daylight.

Camera phones, illegal up until 2008, captured many of the images that mobilized the outside world in solidarity within a scant matter of minutes.

Later, news that Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas had agreed to abandon his hunger strike following news that the Cuban government had agreed to release 52 political prisoners was first announced by Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez via Twitter, where she later posted the first photo of ``El Coco'' drinking his first sip of water in 135 days.

Traditionally, these regimes have resorted to isolation and the outright banning of information media to achieve their goals.

Yet these closed societies have often faced a different kind of dilemma: the positive impact of technology on economic activity versus its liberalizing powers.

Attempting to deal with this dilemma, modern dictatorships have opted instead for controlling information media rather than banning it.

However, modern information and communications technology has presented two serious and fundamental challenges to dictatorial regimes.

• It has democratized information in an unprecedented manner by empowering every citizen to be a producer, rather than a simple consumer, of information.

• For those regimes that seek to prioritize economic growth, they are forced to balance the politically liberating forces of technology with the need to be competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.

Cuba is not exempt from these challenges; rather, it is attempting to balance these challenges.

The Cuban government needs to fundamentally reform the island's economy but deeply fears the political impact of widespread access to communication and technology tools.

How it pursues that balance can be greatly facilitated or hindered by U.S. policy toward Cuba.

As little as five years ago, there were just a few thousand mobile phones in Cuba, almost all of them in the hands of government officials, foreigners and members of the elite.

Since Raúl Castro's announcement lifting the ban on cellphones, the number of cellphones is rapidly approaching one million by the end of 2010.

The reason is simple: the economic benefits outweighed political concerns.

It is unreasonable to expect the development of other forms of communication tools and technology in Cuba, such as the Internet and social media, without economic models to make them work.

Current U.S. regulations restrict the access necessary to make this happen. In fact, the restrictions on Cuba are significantly more onerous and tough than those applied to countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Burma.

Expanding the opportunities for U.S. telecom companies to provide cellphone and Internet service to the island will help ensure that Cuban citizens possess the tools they need in order to become agents of change.

To say this does not deny or minimize the real controls that the Cuban government places on its own citizens' access to the Internet.

But expanding citizens' access to even the most rudimentary technology in Cuba would be a giant step forward in empowering a new, independent generation of Cuban citizens.

The Cuba Study Group in collaboration with the Brookings Institution and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas recently released a white paper, Empowering the Cuban People Through Technology: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders, which outlines specific steps the American government and private sector actors can take to facilitate Cuban's access to technology.

The report is the result of work of the Group's Cuba IT & Social Media Initiative, which brought together more than 50 IT and telecommunications experts in an effort to identify ways to ensure that Cubans on the island have access to the technology they need to acquire and share information and communicate with each other and the outside world. The report is available at www.CubaITinitiative.org.



Leave A Comment

Note: Fields marked with an * are required.

Your Information

Select this option to save your information to prevent yourself from having to fill in this form again.

Your Comment

BBML accepted!

CAPTCHA

Captcha text is to help stop spammers from clogging our servers. In order to proceed you must add the Captcha text.

Comments 0-0 of 0

There are no comments at this time.

Our Opinions

Date Title
8/31/10 Helping Fidel Undermine Himself
Tomas Bilbao, Cuba Study Group
8/27/10 Its Time the US Obsessed With Helping the Cuban People
Tomas Bilbao, Cuba Study Group
8/9/10 What Fidel Didn't Say
Tomas Bilbao, Cuba Study Group
8/6/10 Why Conservative Should Suppot Changing U.S. Policy Toward Cuba
Tomas Bilbao, Cuba Study Group
8/1/10 Current Record