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What the BBC Missed

Cuba, Hurricanes and the Internet

by NELSON P. VALDÉS

Fernando Ravsberg of the BBC reports that Cubans now are permitted to have  access to the Internet via the Cuban Post Office. [1] Such a decision has  been characterized as "free access" to the Internet. Actually, the service  is not free because the Cubans will have to pay per minute of use. In  fact,  the BBC notes that the service is "expensive." Thus, free apparently does  not refer to how much it costs but to the fact that anyone who has money can  have access to it. You know, freedom is a function of capacity to purchase.  

In the 1950s it used to be called "people’s capitalism." Strangely, the BBC  did not discover that Cubans invented, over 15 years ago, a service by which  access to email is free via the Joven Clubs and the Viejo Clubs within each  municipality. In the last 5 years more of those neighborhood clubs offer  connectivity to the Internet at no cost to the user. Granted, the service is  similar to taking a book out of the library. You have to sign in so that you  are allocated time of access on a particular day and time. But, the BBC  really meant "free" from government interference, if you can pay. This  raises another point, as Saul Landau has noted, "People who criticize  socialism love to attack Cuba for anything ‘capitalist’ that it does — like  charge for Internet use, like Starbucks." [2]

The source for the BBC story, we are told, was the Gaceta Nacional de Cuba,  the Cuban version of the US Federal Register. That issue, apparently, is not  yet online. Unable to find that item, I opted to read at the most recent  issue of the legal compilation from August 19, 2009. That particular  issue of the Gaceta contains a number of other laws and regulations. Oddly  enough, neither the BBC nor anyone else seem to pay attention to the Gaceta,  although one can assume that the BBC reporter reads it. One piece of  legislation caught my eye. It dealt with the aftermath of hurricanes in  Cuba.

Robert Sandels has noted, "Cuba has an unmatched record of saving lives and  property during hurricanes.  Cuba does not wait until the damage is done and  then CNN rushes to report the dollar amount of damage. Cuba prevents most of  the damage by preventive measures such as mandatory evacuations, including pets and household goods."  [3]

Resolución No. 90/2009 covered Work and Social Security. [4] Apparently this  item is not as important to the BBC as getting connected to the Internet.  Yet, the Cuban legislation states that when workers are unable to go to work  because of a natural disaster, they will continue to receive pay. What an  outrageous idea!. Moreover, during or after a natural disaster, if a male or  female worker has to take care of a child because a child care center cannot  open, the worker will continue to receive his/her basic salary. How come the  BBC did not report on that?  Seemingly, connectivity is the key in this age,  not salary security.

Also if a worker’s home has been destroyed or partially destroyed, the work  place will release the person or persons from regular employment so that he  or she can work on rebuilding or fixing his/her home.  During the period of  absence from regular work , the worker or workers will be paid the basic  wage.  How much time a worker will be granted to labor at the home outside  the workplace will be agreed by contract with the employer. Those darned  Cubans think that a home is more important than Internet.

Even more disconcerting, the workplace is to help the worker find  construction materials for the home. If the worker does not have  construction materials available, and the employer cannot find such  materials, then the worker would be expected to return to work until the  materials are found and then he or she will be released from his/her regular  job responsibility until the home reconstruction is terminated.

The worker will be allowed to stay away from work up to a year if he or she  can demonstrate that the absence was necessary for home reconstruction. The  worker will continue to receive a salary.

"A worker in England or the US would get o time off to fix his house. And if  he takes too many bathrooms breaks per day he get warned and then fired if  he doesn’t hold it in. He also works much harder than the Cuban and gets  sicker and more nervous and anxious. All that is the way it is supposed to  be."  [2]

Let’s face it, we have to keep the embargo on news from Cuba. Those darned  Cubans have a lot to learn from how such things are done in the civilized  capitalist world. They do have DSL in New Orleans’ Magnolia Projects,  don’t they? As Ned Sublette informed me, "Nolia has been bulldozed and no  longer exists." Enough said about home building, the Internet and labor  legislation. [5]

Nelson P Valdés is the Director of the Cuba-L Project.

This commentary was written for Cuba-L Analysis and CounterPunch.

Notes.

[1] 09/14/09 –  BBC (London) – Cuba autoriza acceso libre a Internet

[2] Saul Landau email communication,09/24/09.

[3] Robert Sandels, email communication,09/15/09.

[4] http://www.gacetaoficial.cu/edicante.php .

[5] Ned Sublette email communication,09/15/09.

My thanks to Ned Sublette, Saul Landau and Robert Sandels.