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Cuba Toward A Just Equitable Information Society

Cuba Toward a just equitable and solidary Information Society

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in article 28, proclaimed the right of everyone to live in a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms recognized in that instrument are fully effective. This pursuit, however, has so far been nothing but a chimera.

International cooperation for a Just, Equitable, Solidary World Information Society must be based on a deep understanding of the great variety of problems existing in the different countries and regions in the world and on full respect for the political, economic, cultural and social diversity of each of them, in strict conformity with the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.

Diversity, far from weakening the universal values of civilization, is a major factor of force and wealth. Every culture has a dignity and a set of values that should be respected and protected. All the peoples have the right and the duty to develop its culture.

The globalization process in course, however, subordinates the objectives mentioned above to the rigid patterns of the neoliberal doctrine, whose recipes just enhance the conditions of inequality and injustice prevailing in the international economic relations and in the world distribution of wealth.

In this context, how can we speak of “world information society” if we cannot first create the “world literacy society” and the “world food society”?

We should foster inclusion of the people in the information society insofar as possible, but without forgetting the 815 million hungry people, the 1,200 million people living in extreme poverty, the 115 million children lacking access to education, and the 2,400 million people lacking basic sanitary conditions.

A massive introduction of the new technologies would be useless without previously teaching the 854 million grown-up people to read and write, to whom a computer would be both inaccessible and non practical.

Humankind must think of increasing connectivity, but it must not ignore that, out of a world population of over 6,350 million people, hardly 680 millions can access Internet.

English prevalence in Internet -about 75 % of Web page contents- is in overwhelming contrast with the almost absolute absence of languages such as those of the Arabic group, used by a significant part of world population, and of some others whose extinction process is being accelerated by the expansion of Internet.

The cultural impact of the generalization of patterns of the West on the young people and children is particularly serious because of the transculturation imposed by the entertainment industry, with a very strong role being played by video games, most of them noxious from the educational standpoint.

Ideological and cultural patterns and values of a way of life that exacerbates individualism and violence are being increasingly imposed to everybody.

Also noxious is the application of policies that stimulate “brain drain”, particularly affecting underdeveloped countries.

It would not suffice to check this phenomenon, but it is also necessary to foster an international educational revolution, which could be funded just by reducing the current military expenses in a moderate proportion. The US expenses in Iraq during three weeks would be sufficient to teach to read and write 1,500 million of people.

It is inadmissible that such development instruments, as are the ICT, are used without control to produce weapons that are more and more lethal, including nuclear weapons.

We should not lose sight of the fact that, more and more, under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, concepts are being expanded such as technological intelligence and surveillance, which disguise massive espionage, violate the civil rights, restrict democratic advances, and repress those who disagree with or oppose imperialist plans.

The unjust bases of the current international economic order hamper the construction of a just, equitable, solidary information society.

International cooperation for development is an undisputable right of southern peoples.

The international community should comply with the ethical imperative of stopping and reversing the tendency to marginalization of hundreds of millions of people from enjoying the benefits of globalization and interdependence.

Establishing a New World Order of Information and Communications is not an impracticable pursuit, but rather an urgent necessity of the developing countries, also of broad social sectors in the very same industrialized countries, to successfully face the plans of political and cultural domination designed in the power centers of international capital.

Cuba and the massive use of the ICT: creation of conditions

The victory of the Cuban Revolution, January 1 1959, came at the moment the Cuban people was plunged into a socioeconomic structural crisis. A malformed economy existed, based on a backward agriculture, with a poor industrial development concentrated mainly in the sugar industry, immoderately dependent on foreign trade, from which almost all basic products were coming, with only a few unstable export items, fundamentally of agricultural origin.

This situation had become even severer because of the United States ruling on the whole economic activity of the country.

As regards the social domain, a significant, increasing part of the people was damned to poverty. A high degree of polarization existed in the distribution of income; the richest 20 % of the population received 58 % of incomes, whereas the poorest 20 % received only 2 %.

Discrimination based on gender or race was ubiquitous. The most disadvantaged sectors were totally deprived of political and social participation. A 24 % of the population of working age was unoccupied, and some 200 thousand people were visibly underemployed, with aggravation of their conditions after each period of sugar cane harvest. About 60 % of wage-earning workers and self-employed people had an income below the minimum wage stipulated by law. Social security, besides being insufficient, was protecting only 50 % of the workers. Over 2 million people were illiterate, almost 3 millions were semi-illiterate; more than 600 thousand children had no schools while a 58 % of the teachers were unemployed. The rate of infant mortality reached higher than 60 per thousand live births.

After the revolutionary victory, Cuba undertook a way to development intended to satisfy the basic material and spiritual necessities of all the people on the basis of a more just, more equal distribution of wealth. Thus, it was possible to satisfy everyone’s primary needs of health, education, employment, freedom and political participation, social security and assistance, cultural development, sports and physical education, and, at the same time, to undertake lines of scientific and technical research and development in a number of fields in which Cuba has reached an outstanding place in the world.

Cuba, with a development project based on social justice, popular participation, equity and solidarity, has designed and started strategies that turn information and communications knowledge and technologies into instruments devoted to progress through deep revolutionary transformations.

The promotion, implementation and development of these public policies have been too often affected in their quality and scope by the unilateral, aggressive policy of the United States of America against Cuba.

The Cuban model of social policy is based on the universal, gratuitous access to basic social services and on the satisfaction of the elementary needs of human beings.

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.

Cuba acknowledges the greatest importance of fully exercising the right to education, not only of its own citizens, but also of other peoples in the world. Cuban teachers have given and are still giving their internationalist collaboration to programs for teaching to read and write and educational development in numerous countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

One of the first revolutionary measures was the eradication of illiteracy and the creation of conditions to guarantee universal, gratuitous education at all educational levels, and this is a reality today.

Education is being revolutionized to multiply the knowledge of future generations.

In December 1999 audiovisuals began to be massively used in Cuban schools, and this created the necessity of producing TV programs for teaching.

The reception of these programs is guaranteed, as every classroom in all schools of general education was endowed with a TV set. They also have VCRs used for reproduction of didactical materials supplied by a network of municipal education libraries created for this purpose. Secondary schools have a VCR per classroom.

With a view to this program, 2 368 teaching centers were electrified with solar panels.

A new TV channel was created and devoted specifically to education, with a coverage of more than 85 % of the population and 15 daily transmission hours in average.The transmission schedule of this channel has two main sections: one of them from Monday to Friday in school hours for the pupils and teachers of different education levels, and another in the nights and weekends for elevating the knowledge and culture of the people in general.

Three years ago the program “Universidad para Todos” (University for all) was created, in which prestigious specialists of the country teach courses intended to develop a general integral culture of the masses. These courses are grouped in four thematic lines: Science, Basic Matters, Languages, and Art Appreciation. These courses are supplemented with leaflets that are distributed gratuitously in the schools and are sold at low prices in the press spots over the whole country.

Furthermore, the two national TV stations include in their weekly schedule about 30 to 40 percent educational programs, so that it is guaranteed that the TV signal will reach the schools that are not yet covered by the educational channel.

Work is being done presently for establishing a fourth national TV station, also dedicated to education.

The use of audiovisual appliances and computers is extended to teaching adults, teen-agers and children since preschool education.

The entirety of the schools, including those in rural areas, 93 of which have only one pupil, started the current academic year with 46 290 computers at the service of all the students, covering 100 % of school roll in preschools, primary schools and secondary schools. 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 courseware bundles have been developed and implemented: 32 for primary education, 10 for basic secondary education.

New teachers are ready to hold 13 805 posts recently created for teaching computing subjects.

In 16 years of work the “Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica” (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 Joven 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.

They also give computational help to other social and cultural programs.

The preparation of the new generations in the use of the ICT and the employment of these to increase the quality of education are important elements to guarantee the future of the country.

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 “Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas” (University of Computer Science), which began to operate in the course 2002-2003 and now is attended by 4 000 students from 99 % of the municipalities of 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.

Cuba has developed techniques to teach to read and write by radio with texts in five languages: Creole, Portuguese, French, English and Spanish, which are being put into practice in several countries. A program designed in Cuba for teaching to read and write by television is now followed in Venezuela by one million 400 thousand illiterate students, where half a million people have so far been taught to read and write by this program.

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.

It has facilitated the international presence of Cuban doctors, nurses and other health professionals, and is a bond with those carrying out missions in Third-World countries.

These and other actions undertaken for developing the health-care facilities network allowed a quick transformation of the situation existing before. Cuba has today 381 health areas completely covered by the family doctor program, with more than
28 000 doctors distributed over the whole country. More than 97 % of the Cuban population is covered by a family doctor and a family nurse, and it is hoped to reach 100 % coverage in the near future. Keeping health care of the people as a high priority has been a permanent challenge and a strategic objective of the whole society and of the Cuban state.

The work of the Revolution in public health has given priority to the vulnerable groups of the population, in particular the women and the children. For this reason, the main achievements reached in the indicators reflecting the mother-and-child state of health in Cuba are implicit in most social, cultural and economic actions. Thus, the infant mortality rate was 6.5 per 1000 live births at the closing of the year 2002.

Cuba has developed a group of primary health care programs to guarantee the health of the people.

The growing challenges imposed us by technological development require, more and more, the formation of a computing culture.

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.

The creation of the “Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica” (Youth Clubs) in 1987, of INFOMED in 1992, and the massive, gratuitous teaching of computing in the schools are examples of what a country can achieve, in spite of having scarce resources, by making good use of them for a noble purpose.

A necessary accusation

The economic, commercial and financial blockade of the United States of America against Cuba, repeatedly condemned by overwhelming majority of the UN member countries and by organizations, institutions and personalities of recognized international prestige is seriously blocking our access to information and communications technologies.

Since 1962 the American companies and their subsidiaries abroad are banned from selling telecommunications and computing equipment to Cuba by the US government. American scientists and professionals wishing to travel to Cuba are forced to negotiate a specific authorization with the US Treasury.

Because of the blockade, the Cuban sector of telecommunications has suffered millionaire losses in the activities of basic and wireless telephony, alarm systems,
E-commerce and postal communications. Only in telephone operation, Cuba’s losses amounted 21,7 million dollars in 2002.

The extraterritorial Helms-Burton Act, issued by the United States in 1996 to reinforce the blockade against Cuba, frustrated the creation of a mixed company for the production of fiber-optic, coaxial and data-transmission cables to be marketed in Cuba, Central America and the Caribbean, thereby causing annual losses of dozens of millions dollars.

The cellular telephone company CUBACEL has been affected by the impossibility of reaching agreements of automatic roaming with similar companies of the American continent. All the companies in charge of providing the signal between TDMA standard operators and the formats established for the exchange of billing files are American, and the US Treasury has denied to them the authorization for providing these services. The affectations for this concept are estimated in two million dollars.

Because of the blockade, Cuba was unable to acquire the technology for the digital signature, indispensable for E-commerce, and has been limited in its participation in the program that the International Union of Telecommunications (ITU) is developing for those purposes.

Since 2000, because of lacking the technologies of digital certificates, Cuba had to stop this program, which would allow the companies of eastern Cuba to sell their goods and services via Internet, chiefly to other Caribbean countries. The suppliers –US companies- are banned from selling this technology to Cuba.

As regards trade by traditional ways, mixed companies operating in key sectors of Cuban exports are reporting significant losses because of their being precluded from making transactions in US dollars. Such is the case of ETECSA (Telecommunications Company of Cuba), whose losses for this concept amounted nearly one million dollars only in 2001.

Because of the impossibility of buying in the American market, CITMATEL (Cuban Company of Information Technologies and Advanced Teleinformatics Services), one of the main suppliers of computing equipment to Cuban scientific centers, is forced to acquire them through third countries and pay up to 30 percent above prices in the United States.

American laws forbid exports or reexports of software products of American companies to certain countries, Cuba among them.For this reason, Cuba is also forced to buy software licenses, updates and technology transfer through third countries, which brings about price increases and delayed receipts.

On April 10 2003 the US Department of Commerce informed to Cuba its definitive decision of denying an export license to USA/Cuba-Infomed, a humanitarian non government organization based in California that was seeking, as in former occasions, to donate 423 computers to Cuban hospitals and polyclinics to reinforce the diagnosis and medical information network.

In this case the computers were destined to the Institute of Nephrology and the national network for treatment of renal illnesses, where they would facilitate an epidemic study for the prevention of chronic renal illnesses; to the Cardiocenter of William Soler Pediatric Hospital, the national cardio-pediatric network and the Latin American School of Medical Sciences, attended by more than 7 thousand young people coming from humble families of Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and Africa.

These computers were similar to others previously donated and had processing capabilities similar to those available in any retail store in the United States. According to the letter refusing the license, “the Departments of Commerce, State and Defense of the United States have reached the conclusion that this export would be harmful to the interests of the foreign policy of the United States. The Government of the United States has revised his objection letter… and keeps its decision of refusing this application due to the high levels of processing capabilities of the computers requested and the risk of their deviation to non-authorized uses and users."

It was in July 1994 that the US Treasury decided to authorize data and information transfer to Cuba from any American server, provided that no money is transferred to Cuba. This change was intended to put into practice the Torricelli Act of 1992, which reinforced the blockade and identified the communications with Cuba as a way to interference in our country’s internal affairs.

But Cuba cannot be connected to Internet at the desired speed or with so many channels and independent suppliers as it can choose. Every time Cuba attempts to add a new channel to Internet, the American counterpart must obtain the appropriate license from the Treasury of the United States.

Cuba has been precluded from accessing the global networks by using a submarine optic-fiber cable due to the restrictions imposed by the blockade.

The US government, besides denying the enjoyment of these technologies by the Cubans, seeks to use them for ends of political and ideological subversion against Cuba.

Since 1996 the US government has been financing with millionaire sums the creation of Web sites and Internet publications aimed at orchestrating libel campaigns against Cuba.

In an aggressive escalade, March 26 2003, the US secretary of State, Colin Powell, announced the grant of important additional federal funds for radio and TV transmissions against Cuba, in violation of the regulations of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Those transmissions add more than 2 200 weekly hours and have the end of stimulating internal subversion, sabotage plans and illegal emigration, and diffusing lies against Cuba.

Once again, Cuba denounces the genocidist policy of blockade and aggressions of all types on the part of the government of the United States. In spite of that, and of its modest material and financial resources, Cuba will go on with its policy of large-scale development of the new information and communications technologies, leaning on the knowledge the Cuban people has learned to cultivate.

Computerization in Cuba

Besides the programs and projects mentioned above, the leading computerization program, conceived in 1997, includes such other aspects as:

Development of the Cuban Industry of Information Technologies

It pursues to strengthen the field of the electronics industry related to Information Technologies and that of Software and Computing Services.

Of particular importance will continue to be the design and production of Cuban medical equipment, which has proven to be effective by increasing the quality of health care in the country and by having been accepted abroad.

The Cuban Software Industry (SW) will become a significant income source of the country, based on its own massive, highly qualified human capital.

The promotion of the Cuban software industry in international markets has followed the strategic guideline of taking advantage of the great prestige of Cuba in sectors such as health, education and sports. The continuous, sustained production of high-quality software (competitive in performance, image and supporting media) to satisfy the domestic demand will have positive impacts on exports.

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 Joven 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 for making 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).

Computerization of the government, the administration and the economy.

This consists in applying the ICT to the spheres of the government, its central and local organs and bodies, and the corresponding enterprises systems. The projects in this area are basically defined in two big groups: those : i) those concerned specifically with the inside of the system, includingICT application to decision making, enterprise management, production processes, and provision of services; ii) those aiming outward, such as the projects for information and service for the people and diverse institutions and entities.

Territorial Computerization.

To a great extent, this action area summarizes the aforementioned ones. It results from correct integration of and synergy between them, but with an intersector scope, designed for integrating government, services and economy sectors and branches in any given territory. This is horizontal computerization in local function, with the municipality as the first stage to be reached prior to attaining the provincial and national levels of computerization.

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