CUBA BRIEF: Tourists still being flown to Cuba as Hurricane Irma approaches. Report reveals how Castro censors the internet. Rosa Maria Paya on crackdown in Cuba

The Independent, September 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma: Holidaymakers still being flown to Cuba as storm approaches

‘We were stunned that there were people still flying to Cuba’

By Simon Calder

Travel Correspondent

Holidaymakers returning from Cuba have hit out at the lack of communication from travel firms as Hurricane Irma sweeps across the Caribbean — and the fact that travellers are still being taken to the region. 

Pindi Gill from Derbyshire arrived at Manchester airport this morning from Cayo Coco, off the north coast of Cuba. The Thomas Cook aircraft he flew home on had carried holidaymakers out to a location in the path of Hurricane Irma. “We were stunned that there were people coming off the flight,” he said.

Mr Gill and his wife Harjeet reported “lots of panic” among holidaymakers who are still in the resort, and said that Thomas Cook had failed to keep customers informed.

Paul and Michaela Jones from Bolton were also on Thomas Cook flight MT2933 from Cayo Coco to Manchester. 

Ms Jones said: “I feel very guilty that we’re home. There was no information. People were contacting family back in the UK to find out what was going on.”

Thomas Cook has over 4,000 customers in Cuba, as well as 1,500 in the Dominican Republic. 

The firm has sent 14 members of its Special Assistance team to Cuba, and a further six to the Dominican Republic. 

It is allowing free cancellations and amendments for anyone booked to travel to the Dominican Republic and Cuba up to and including 10 September. The firm is saying: “Customers due to travel during this time can call us on 01733 224536 to discuss their travel arrangements.”

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, “Irma is likely to bring dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall” to Cuba on Friday and Saturday.

The latest NHC bulletin, issued overnight, said: “The threat of direct hurricane impacts in Florida over the weekend and early next week has increased. Hurricane watches will likely be issued for portions of the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula on Thursday.”

Flights to Florida are continuing as normal, though British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are allowing passengers booked to airports in the state to postpone their journeys.


The Miami Herald, September 4, 2017

How does the Cuban government censor the internet? Report reveals some details

By Nora Gámez Torres

The Cuban government has blocked internet content deemed critical of the revolution from reaching users on the island for years, but apparently its censorship methods are not that sophisticated, according to a report by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), an organization linked to the open network and free software, Tor.

After analyzing access to more than 1,400 websites in three Cuban cities between late May and early June, three OONI members who traveled to the island found that at least 41 are blocked, mostly news sites and websites of Cuban opposition organizations or human rights NGOs.

“The main conclusion of this study is that Cuba’s ISP [Internet Service Provider, in this case ETECSA] appears to mainly censor sites that express criticism (directly or indirectly) toward the Cuban government,” explained María Xynou, one of the authors of the study. “However, internet censorship in Cuba does not appear to be particularly sophisticated compared to other countries with more advanced censorship, such as China or Iran.”

The OONI team concluded that censorship is done using a method known as “deep packet inspection” (DPI), which allows filtering of data when passing through an inspection point.

Only versions of sites that use the HTPP — and not its secure version, the HTPPS — are blocked, potentially allowing users to bypass censorship by simply accessing secure versions of sites, the report indicates.

“Furthermore, while some sites that express political criticism were found to be blocked, many other international sites — which arguably express more criticism — were found to be accessible. This might indicate a lack in sophistication in both internet surveillance and censorship implemented in the country,” said Xynou.

However, this could be a calculated strategy on the part of the Cuban government.

“It seems to us that countries make budget-influenced decisions when implementing censorship: generally, the objective is to discourage most people from accessing specific resources at a reasonable cost,” she added.

In the case of Cuba, the state telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA, controls internet access, which is expensive and limited — although the company has pledged to expand connectivity.

An hour of internet browsing costs $1.50 in a country where the average monthly salary is about $30. According to the most recent official statistics, about four million users have access to the internet but most of them navigate through a government-controlled intranet. Cuban authorities do not define what they consider a “user” either. Across the country, there are only 370 public places with WiFi service. Home service has not yet been implemented on the island.

“Given the high cost of accessing the internet, rendering it inaccessible to most Cubans, perhaps the Cuban government doesn’t even need to invest in sophisticated internet censorship (yet). Furthermore, the political climate of the country appears to foster self-censorship, which arguably is the most effective form of censorship,” Xynou said.

Since its launched in 2012, OONI has been mapping global censorship on the internet in an effort to increase transparency. The organization has developed free software to examine a network and gather information to determine who censors and how it’s done.

With this technology, the OONI team also verified that in Cuba censorship is carried out in a way that is not clear to the user. The user can’t tell if the site or service is blocked, or whether there is just a bad connection. This is the case with Skype, which is blocked on the island through a method known as “packet injection,” a technique that has been used in countries such as China and prevents users from realizing if the service is intentionally blocked or not.

Although ETECSA uses the technology of the Chinese firm Huawei, the report authors could not determine if the same technology is used to censor.

“Our analysis of the Cuban internet was limited to what we could observe publicly, at the network level, by sending and receiving data,” said Xynou. “It would have been much more difficult and also risky, to fully understand the internal implementation of the Cuban censorship apparatus… We decided not to go down that route.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres



14ymedio, September 5, 2017

“To Set Men Against Men is an Appalling Task”

By Rosa Maria Paya

In the early hours of September 1st they did it again. It happened just as it did 14 years ago when, in March of 2003, the Cuban regime arrested dozens of Varela Project activists and independent journalists. This time the assault lasted 10 hours.

Listening to the narration of the vexations perpetrated by the political police at the home of the former prisoner of conscience Iván Hernández Carrillo was like reliving the horror unleashed in 2003, when the repression tried to abort Cuban Spring, as my father, Oswaldo Payá, called the historical conjuncture where the dictatorship felt more exposed and cornered than ever.

Over two days, the repressors of the Ministry of Interior broke into the houses of most of the leaders of the Varela Project, most of whom were dear friends of our family. The triggering cause was that this legal initiative was getting the support not only of civil society, but also of a large part of the citizenry, which was sufficient reason to imprison 75 peaceful opponents throughout the island. On that occasion the searches seemed to go on forever, as they do today, and were and are brutally humiliating.

Iván Hernández was beaten at the doorway of his home where he lives with his family, in the municipality of Colón, Matanzas province. It was before dawn, when the family was still asleep. He asked for some time to get dressed before opening the door and it was then that they broke down the door and opened it by force.

The police entered with two German shepherd dogs. With great violence they pushed him against the wall while twisting his neck.

They immediately put handcuffs on him with his hands behind his back and did the same to his mother, Asunción Carrillo, a lady of 65 years. Then the two were pushed into the patrol cars, and arbitrarily detained until the evening.

Then the search began, followed by the robbery. About 50 people, including police, special troops and State Security agents, minutely searched every space in the house, including the garbage bins. They took everything they found in their path: both the cell and landline phones, fans, computer, old fax machine, a tablet, the clock, the television, all the family’s work and personal papers, the scarce office supplies, pencils, pens, staplers. Like neighborhood shoplifters, even some of clothes and shoes were stolen.

They also took away all the books, about 2000 volumes collected for years and years, which made up the family’s independent library and private collection. All were books that they made available to the community as loans, completely free of charge.

In this way, the entire collection of José Martí’s Complete Works was stolen, which State Security’s G-2 officials probably have not read nor will read, ignorant of even the phrases of reproof that the man we Cubans call ‘the Apostle’ dedicated to Marxism, as a doctrine of hatred: “To set men against men is an appalling task,” José Martí wrote, on the occasion of Marx’s death.

But, just like 14 years ago, the main message of this police attack is not aimed at the courage of the opponents attacked, but rather, it aims to discourage their families, neighbors, friends, and other Cubans, wherever they live. The message is terror in its pure state: that was the source and will be the legacy of the so-called Cuban Revolution. The goal is the paralysis of our people. The reason is the fears of a regime that knows itself to be vulnerable.

In truth, this cruelty exposes how weak the elite corporate-military perceives itself to be, though by now it certainly has all the power in Cuba and has hijacked our national sovereignty; but it didn’t know, does not know and will never be able to deal with differences, which is why it only attempts to annihilate them.

But the task of exterminating differences is humanly impossible, the socioeconomic system in Cuba failed decades ago and the dynasty has nothing to offer. That is why it represses without question, but that is also why it must disappear as a regime. We are much closer to freedom today than it seems to them with their atrocities. Because Cubans, like all other human beings, want to be the owners of our own lives (lives in truth, not in faked loyalty), to be able realize our most creative ideas, and to take advantage of the opportunities that we ourselves are capable of creating.

For this noble cause, Iván Hernández works with many others, promoting the Cuban people’s right to decide through the citizen campaign Cuba Decides, to which all are invited. The democratization of a country that does not deserve to be left out of the assembly of contemporary societies is a cause that cannot fail. It is the cause through which, sooner rather than later, the Cuban nation will rise.