Dear Fidel and Raul,
recently I had the opportunity to visit Cuba as a tourist. I would like to use this opportunity to send you a letter. I really do not want to be seen lecturing two great leaders such as you, by offering my unasked advice, but my suggestions are simple and constructive as you will see, so please take the time to read this letter.
First of all, my heartfelt congratulations for the release of the three heroes from the Cuban Five. This is indeed a victory and a recognition of Cuba's independence and right to self-determination.
I happened to be in Cuba when that announcement was made. That day, we traveled from a tourist hotel in Varadero to Playa Larga/Caleton, at the Bay of Pigs, also known as Playa Gíron. In Varadero, staff were running together in front of a large flatscreen television showing Telesur TV - the Cuban CNN. We could understand what was going on by reading the scrolling subtitles.
This was truly a historic date. We were traveling as tourists as I said, and I have not done any substantial reading on Cuba, I will openly admit. Neither as a journalist nor cultural theorist I am a Cuba specialist. And I was not going to comment on those big historical dates either. I just wanted to provide some way of expressing my gratitude of having spent three weeks in a wonderful country with wonderful people. We enjoyed our holiday tremendously and surely will be coming back.
But between all the bliss of Sun, Sea, Salsa (the music and the food) we found one thing lacking. This was the Internet, particular in its wireless form, through WiFi or WLAN. The Internet, if it was offered, was always locked into a room, which can be unpleasant in a hot country. It was also expensive, and slow, if it worked at all. The “expensive” point is maybe the least important one, but since this is more of a matter of principle, allow me to make a proposition.
The Internet is not to be treated just as any other commodity. It is, like with Marxism itself, something that does not become less by getting used. Through its usage, it becomes more valuable, because it allows people to exchange information directly and engage in unfiltered, two-directional people-to-people communication; it also gives people an opportunity to access wide areas of knowledge and to learn about contemporary affairs as well as study history.
The Internet gives those with less power a chance in many different ways; they can communicate directly from remote places with people all over the world and get their message through, just like the Zapatistas did in Chiapas in the 1990s, sending messages directly from the Lacandonian jungle to the world.
The Internet is not a commodity like any other commodity. I would like to thus add a recommendation. In order to further the Internet in Cuba, and give Cuban people a fair chance in the globalized world, the techniques of free wireless (and wired) community networks could be applied. Those projects are taking the principles of agricultura urbana to new technologies.
Worldwide, currently there exist several movements for the creation of free networks - wireless community networks as a self-provided Internet. One such group is Guifi.net www.guifi.net who originated from Catalonia, Spain, and are now operating all over Spain and beyond. Here, people use ways of pooling their skills and some small fundings for materials, to build wireless Internet in the sky. With such methods, large scale networks can be made, shown by many examples such as Guifi, Freifunk in Germany, Ninux in Rome and Italy, Athens Wireless. There are now examples also much further South, such as Valparaiso Mesh.
These networks operate like cooperatives, pooling their resources to have cheap wireless broadband. In some cases it has shown more interesting to lay fiber optical cable, also as part of a community network which is shared as a “commons”. This idea of the pooling of resources in the network commons has emerged directly from the capitalist core. It is one of those “events” in history which confirm the idea of Marx and Engels, that the capitalistic revolution of the means of production creates the condition for the social revolution. The network commons creates conditions for capitalism to surpass itself. So in its dialectical movement, capitalism creates the conditions that allow the network commons to emerge, but then it also fights it.
On one hand, the network commons in particular and the wider free and open source software movement in general, represents the surplus of the utopian values of liberal capitalism, on the other hand it points at a stage surpassing it. This possibility of surpassing is fought by the conservative forces within capitalist societies. So they try to hinder it, by using all kinds of laws and measures, like copyright, surveillance, from fully developing, and thereby stifle and undermine the potential which the free exchange between people may have had.
But I am convinced that the community based method of network deployment is the best for Cuba, in particular with regard to cost, resilience and people's participation. Those community networks, because they are built and maintained by their users, tend to be quite resilient during natural disasters. They are also resilient in case capitalist infrastructure breaks down, due to the crisis-prone mode of development of capitalism. They allow people to organise their own telecommunications and therefore make digital networks more transparent to its users.
If there is any idea that Cuba might adopt such a community based model, I am sure, the activists from cooperative wireless networks everywhere will be happy to give advice. I personally can not offer any practical support, as I am a writer who chronicles those developments (see http://www.thenextlayer.org/NetworkCommons) ; by letting you know these things I am not following any commercial interest. If necessary, I can help to get in contact with the right people from the free wireless movement.
Last not least, I would like to express my personal admiration for your achievements and express my heartfelt support for the future development of “project Cuba”