Havana Protests Against US Effort to Increase Internet Access in Cuba

Havana, Cuba
A man checks his mobile phone in Havana. The internet can be reached on mobile devices via wifi hotspots, but there is no mobile network in Cuba. Photo: AFP

Havana has filed a formal protest against the creation of a U.S. task force aimed at increasing internet access on the island, saying it “violates” Cuban “sovereignty.” The communist-ruled island is one of the least connected countries in the world.

The U.S. State Department has said the task force will February 7 with the goal of promoting “the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba.” It will examine “technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media in Cuba,” it said.

Cuba on Wednesday lodged an “energetic protest” against Washington’s “desire to flagrantly violate Cuban sovereignty concerning national laws regulating the flow of information,” in a diplomatic note to the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, Lawrence Gumbiner.

This “attempt to manipulate the internet …for political and subversive purposes” is aimed at “altering or destabilizing the constitutional order” in Cuba, it said.

Havana demanded that Washington “cease its subversive, interventionist and illegal actions against Cuba.”

According to Cuban government figures, 40 percent of the island’s 11 million inhabitants had internet access in 2017.

Yet despite recent government efforts to increase wifi availability, Cuba remains mostly offline due to expensive access, limited home connections, and the lack of a network allowing online access to mobile devices.

U.S.-Cuba ties began to warm under President Barack Obama, with the countries exchanging ambassadors in 2015 for the first time since 1961.

President Donald J. Trump, however, has taken a tougher approach towards Havana since taking office.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, Mr. Trump highlighted how his administration has “imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”