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As I promised, I will dedicate the second part of my rebuttal of Amnesty International’s defamation against Cuba by concentrating in What we are doing in Cuba in favour of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and why everything that Amnesty International has said does not reflect Cuba’s reality.
It would be important to reiterate that before talking about access to Internet, AI should be concerned why there are more than 854 million people who cannot read and write. None of them are from Cuba, where since 1960 we have eradicated illiteracy, and in fact it is continuously awarded by UNESCO, not only for its effort to increase the educational level of its population, but for its contribution to other countries, with no material interests involved, of which also New Zealand is a witness for the Cuban contribution to the illiteracy eradication campaign of its Maori population through the “Greenlight” program.
In Cuba, Education is being revolutionized to multiply the knowledge of future generations. We do not feel satisfied with the more than 99% literacy of our population and we have now embarked on a radical plan to make the whole population “computer literate”. To that effort we have incorporated more than 46 000 computers in all primary and secondary schools in Cuba, including those in rural areas, 93 of which have only one pupil. With a view to this program, 2 368 teaching centers were electrified with solar panels, including the 93 that have only one student enrolled.
New teachers are ready to hold 13 805 posts recently created for teaching computing subjects.
In 16 years of work the Youth Clubs of Computing and Electronics have trained gratuitously over half a million Cubans and provided important services to health centers, schools, state institutions and other community organizations in different areas of the ICT. There are 301 Computer Youth Club facilities covering the 169 municipalities in the country, and 4 mobile labs devoted to bring the knowledge of the ICT to hardly reachable areas.
The Cuban universities are connected to Internet, as also are the scientific centers, the newspapers, and other institutions given high-priority in the framework of the technical conditions that have been attained in spite of the obstacles faced by an underdeveloped, blockaded nation having scarce financial resources.
University sites are being established progressively in all the municipalities. Cuba has today more than 30 university graduates per each of the ones existing before the victory of the Revolution.
Of special interest is the training of specialists on ICT. Thus, 12 universities and 16 pedagogic higher institutes are training increasing numbers of professionals, and 52 technological institutes are preparing nearly 30 000 three-year course technicians
A special mention should be made of the University of Computer Science, which began to operate in the course 2002-2003 and now is attended by 4 000 students from all over the country. This university will play an important role in the development of the Cuban Software Industry and in the materialization of the projects associated to the Cuban program of computerization. The public health sector has also been benefited with the application of the ICT. The Public Health Teleinformatics Network is being developed in order to interconnect polyclinics, hospitals, teaching centers, libraries and other institutions in all the provinces of the country through a system with more than 6 thousand computers.
This program is intended to elevate the knowledge of the health services in order to boost quality and efficiency of health care, medical education, medical research and health management One of the targets of the Cuban government is the massive use of the ICT. Cuba has well coordinated human resources, a well-organized national education system, and projects responding to that purpose.
Besides this emphasis, we have put a strong priority in providing integral service for the citizens. This covers the preparation of information and service systems for the people. It is intended to offer general information, as well as simplification, speeding up and integration of formalities, and other services designed for the citizens’ use, basically under the single office conception. This includes direct access to ICT and to information in centers of collective access such as the Youth Club facilities or the E-mail & Web-surfing rooms, libraries and other institutions, and also from the people’s homes.
Work is being done to transform the post offices into service points for these ends, where the citizens can go and carry out steps of all types, whose scope will increase gradually, accordingly to the extent that the different structures of the government and the economy become computerized.
These initiatives are complemented by specific programs to make possible the access of the disabled people to the ICT, mainly those related to telephone service, teaching of computing, and reading facilities on the TV by using the subtitled option (close caption).
It is a pity that Amnesty International does not realize all this effort and that in order to carry out all these programs a lot of scarce hard currencies are required. To establish new telephone lines and broaden the info band, particularly in a context where everything is more expensive and difficult to do because of the US blockade, is really very costly to the Cuban Government, particularly when the US government blocks our access to broader and cheaper access to Internet based on optical fiber and we have to limit ourselves to worse and more expensive satellite connections.
This situation is further compounded by the fact that even the most developed telephone networks in Cuba are very outdated, even those in the capital. All across the country, we have 6.37 telephone sets per every 100 inhabitants, with an uneven distribution. These are copper lines whose old technical status cannot be modified as quickly as a telephone exchange centre. Our intention is to continue growing until we reach, within four or five years, the rate of 20 telephone sets per every 100 inhabitants in the City of Havana and between 12-14 in the rest of the country.
To that end, we have dedicated revenues since 1994 to grow by around two telephone sets per every 100 inhabitants (to 6.37) and move from 4% of digitization in 1995 to 81% at present. Also envisaged this year is an increase in those 80 000 lines, a portion of them with wireless telephony and another with fixed telephony. This is a remarkable increase (20 000 more than in 2003), enabling us to maintain a growth rate through which, in a period of five years, we have doubled the number of available lines in the country.
Despite the financial difficulties all of our media, both national and local, can be found on the Internet. Several radio stations broadcast on the Internet in real time and Cubavisión Internacional [a TV channel] is also available on the Net. The country now has an estimated figure of 270 000 PCs, 65% of which are networked; we have established around 1 100 .cu domains; more than 750 Internet sites, more than 480 000 e-mail accounts, and an increase of Internet users were reported in Cuba in 2003, which, because of its social use can multiply its value, its connectivity and its service to the community, and not following the typical pro Western individualistic model of thinking that the connection has to be homebased for “ordinary people” without considering the costs involved.
Amnesty International does not consider who the Cuban “ordinary people” are, that is to say, more than 2.6 million students at all levels, more than 100 000 scientists and university professionals, more than 400 000 educational workers in every area, more than 67 000 physicians, more than 77 000 nurses, other intellectuals, artists and professionals that may have access connection for their specific area of work and study, although it cannot be done domestically at the moment until the government reach that stage of investment and after the rest of the areas that have been given priority due to their social impact have been fulfilled.
The progress we have made has been possible due to the enforcement of a policy in line with our economic situation and our development plans. We have privileged the use of the Net in the social field, in public health, education, science and technology, the national and local TV networks, culture, the banking system, the most important branches of the economy and, much more recently, in the services for the population.
This policy has facilitated an intense use of the technical connection possibilities, as well as expansive and growing access, which should continue to increase systematically. Hundreds of thousands of people in Cuba access the Internet, and there will be increasingly more to do so on a daily basis. Only through INFOMED, the Internet service of public health, nearly 30 000 professionals, doctors and paramedics gain access to the Net. In higher education, almost all professors and the vast majority of students use the Internet, with restrictions only relating to the available computer time and the speed allowed by our networks.
Workers in R&D centers also have guaranteed Internet access, constant scientific-technical upgrades and prompt exchanges with their counterparts in other countries. A large portion of reporters use the Internet on a day-to-day basis on the job.”
In the 300 Computer Youth Clubs, found in all of the country’s municipalities, thousands of young people gain access to the network through TINORED. Municipal culture centres allow the systematic access by writers, artists and other culture workers – and through the post-office net halls (a service that is just beginning), the population in general will gain access directly and progressively.
Besides all this, conditions are being put in place to multiply the use of ICT in the country. In higher education, there is a PC per every 12 students, who use this technology on a large scale. The recently established Computer Science University (UCI) already has 4 000 students and will begin to graduate 2 000 professionals per annum as of 2006-2007. This adds to the IT schools found in all of the universities of the country. A total of 30 000 students are engaged in programming studies and other intermediate IT specialties.
Cubans are not isolated or afraid of the outside world, as the contents of radio, websites and TV programs show. The Cuban people are, in fact, one of the best informed in the world, with a well educated population that can easily discern the lies of Amnesty International and its ulterior motives.
AI is paying a lip service to the US Administration in its campaign against Cuba when it says that the Cuban press is all state-controlled, but it does not say that it defends the rights of the Cuban working people to have an alternative point of view from the major transnational news media that dominate more than 80% of the cyberspace, that willingly accept to go embedded in the American tanks to see and disguise the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Just to conclude I have some questions: When Amnesty International has denounced the Echelon program of espionage through this very free means of communication? Where is the news in Internet of the thousands of civilians murdered by the American troops on their aggression to Iraq? Where can I find the information explaining that the high levels of cancer in Belgrade and other former Yugoslavian cities is the result of the depleted plutonioum used by the US Army and their allies? Where can you find the information that the US is the only country in the world that has been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism in the case of its aggression against Nicaragua in the 80s? And lastly, Why all the US and western corporate media have hidden the criminal punishment the US government are giving to the Five Cubans who tried to stop terrorist activities from Miami against Cuba?.
As more than one hundred years ago the Cuban National Hero, José Martí, affirmed categorically: "Being learned is the only way of being free". This maxim, which still keeps full validity, is like a beacon to the work of the Cuban Revolution.
I would, again, appreciate that this article be published in your prestigious publication.