Rosa Miriam Elizalde, Cubadebate
In a brief message posted at the Havana Note blog, Twitter has acknowledged that it was the blocker of messages sent from cellphones in Cuba to Twitter and that it was not the Cuban government, as suggested by a malicious campaign against Cuba distributed on the Internet. “We have disabled “long” coding for sending tweets via SMS,” said the Twitter message, cryptically alluding to a purely technical problem on the social network and promising to correct the issue.
The communiqué was released a day after the EFE News Agency as well as many press outlets worldwide repeated the statements accusing Cuba of censoring the social network, without bothering to cross-check sources.
In fact on Tuesday, the Havana Note blog had published an article by Tomas Bilbao, a former official in the George W. Bush administration and Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, which based on nothing, accused and lambasted the Cuban government of blocking Twitter messages over the cell network. Bilbao didn’t bother to verify the far more logical explanation that it may have been a matter of a possible intervention by the U.S. government, which viciously sanctions U.S. companies that try to provide technology or telecom services to Cuba.
It’s worth recalling that the Torricelli Law, a.k.a. “National Defense Authorization Act for 1992” allows satellite connections to Cuba on the condition that each megabyte (unit of connection speed) must be contracted through U.S. businesses or their subsidiaries and approved by the Treasury Department. The law established limits on these contracts and set up extraordinary sanctions – fines of $50,000 for each violation – within or outside the United States, for electronic commerce or anything that even slightly benefits the Cuban government and citizens who support it.
In March of this year, the U.S. lifted certain restrictions established by this same Torricelli Law. A new Treasury Department rule – Section 515 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations within the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – lifts the sanctions against businesses that facilitate free email, chat, or other similar applications, Twitter among them, but these must not facilitate telephone connections of any kind, including SMS (short message service).
Bilbao and his Cuba Study Group were perfectly well aware of this. The Cuba Study Group is an organization based in Washington D.C. which published a 58 page report last July proposing new ways for Barack Obama’s administration to alleviate certain sanctions. It knows quite well that Obama’s rhetoric, based on a supposed flexibility in sanctions against Cuba in the telecommunications arena, is a lot of talk and very little action.
The blockade has not shifted even a millimeter, and the Cuba Study Group‘s proposal to Obama is to use the Internet as a platform for subversion in Cuba, providing financial cover for the so-called bloggers and dissident twitterers, to promote a change in government in Cuba. In order to achieve this, certain financial restrictions need to be lifted or else U.S. telecom companies cannot be involved; a key to the development of technologies in order to impose U.S. style “democracy.”
So, following the trail of what one Havana Note reader aptly called “someone else’s hysteria” Bilbao even went so far as to tell the EFE agency that he’d sent letters to Twitter and the State Department in order to investigate the supposed closing of this service from Cuba.
Unfortunately for Bilbao as well as those who wanted to take advantage of the lie, the Prensa Latina news agency immediately published the statements of the Cuban Vice Minister for Information Technology and Communications, Jose Luis Perdomo, who denied that Cuba had blocked access to Internet social networks, while denouncing the communications obstacles imposed by the U.S. blockade.
“Cuba does not block the access of any citizen to the sending of messages over Internet social networks such as Twitter or Facebook, and this is a smear against our country,” he said.
Perdomo clarified an important point. Twitter has not made any agreement with the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) – as it has with scores of other telecom companies worldwide – which might allow for users to send messages to these networks from their cellphones, free of charge, because this would run afoul of the laws for the U.S. blockade against Cuba.
In the face of overwhelming evidence, Bilbao, who also served as Director of Operations on the Senate campaign for Mel Martínez – of Cuban origin, and a fierce enemy of the Cuban Revolution – was forced to post a mea culpa at Havana Note:
This incident shows the danger in drawing conclusions before having all the facts. In an article I published last night on The Havana note titled: “Cuban Government May have Blocked SMS Access to Twitter,” I was quick to suspect the Cuban government’s involvement in the service interruption, rather then further developing the alternative, which in retrospect was the real culprit.”
In reality, the new campaign to present Cuba as an enemy of the Internet had short legs, having the wind knocked out of it in less than 24 hours. One Havana Note reader wrote: “The whole story is a fallacy…It’s amazing how the Empire blocks Cuba and then accuses it of the consequences. It’s like denying food to a man and blaming him for being hungry.”
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.