After thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday in a rare show of frustration with the authoritarian regime, the government on Monday shut down social media and messaging apps, making it impossible for people to share videos and information on the troubled island.
Service outages continued through Tuesday and early Wednesday, with people complaining on social media that cell phone data connections had been disrupted in some areas. Dissident journalist Yoani Sanchez, who posts daily comments about Cuba on its social media channels, said Wednesday noon she was relieved to have her internet connection again to share with her followers the analysis of the last days on the island.
“After the extraordinary break we had in the last two days, we can talk once again about the question that so many people are asking – what is happening in Cuba?” she said during a podcast, adding that repression continues, with large military presence on the streets and “thousands of people detained”. She wondered if there would be more internet outages this week as reports of arrests continued to come to light and at least one death had been confirmed.
The demonstrations, the largest in decades, appear to have started in a small town southwest of Havana and spontaneously spread to cities in several provinces, a massive display of dissent in a country where unauthorized public gatherings are illegal. The internet was essential in helping people spread the word about rallies.
NetBlocks, a London-based nonprofit that monitors Internet access, said the Cuban government restricted access to social media and messaging platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp starting Monday, and that the outages were continuing on Tuesday. The organization said the targeted restrictions restricted the flow of information to and from Cuba.
“NetBlocks metrics show that communication platforms WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and some Telegram servers have been shut down in government-owned ETECSA, including Cubacel, the mobile network operated by Cuba’s only telecommunications company. The findings confirm user reports of service outages, ”said a statement on the organization’s website.
Blocking internet access to crack down on dissent is not uncommon in Cuba. It is a tactic that has been used to varying degrees before, including a massive data cut in January after a group of about 30 artists gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture to demand greater civil liberties.
The Cuban government can do this because it owns Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, or ETECSA, which controls Cubacel, the only mobile network and data provider. The telecommunications company owns all of the internet and telecommunications infrastructure in the country, so it can control traffic and decide on targeted outages.
Because every single device that accesses the Internet has a unique number, ETECSA operators can blacklist all of those numbers in the same way that companies can block employees from accessing them. on certain websites that are considered inappropriate or against company policy.
The Cuban government could also target apps and service providers like WhatsApp and Facebook by blacklisting them in local internet infrastructure, said Lokesh Ramamoorthi, a cybersecurity expert and lecturer at the University of Miami.
“The fact that the whole infrastructure is basically controlled by the Cuban Ministry of Communications means that they can move users or sites to the blacklist whenever they want, and that is what leads to data interruptions and interruptions,” he said. ai.
It is impossible for the government to seek to restrict information sharing on Monday when it was making dozens of arrests following mass protests and when families were seeking news of relatives who were arrested late Sunday, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s US director. .
She said the government is likely to be surprised by the scale of Sunday’s protests and decided to censor communication and exchange of information by Cubans in a bid to discredit “very clear dissatisfaction” with the regime.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said during a press conference on Tuesday that the internet outages were due to power outages in parts of Cuba, but gave no details.
“It’s really true that it does not exist [internet] “but those used for medical purposes,” he said, reiterating that those problems, as well as food shortages and power outages, were caused by the US embargo.
Internet access in Cuba is expensive and a relatively new thing. Although Cuba went online in the 1990s, the island had very limited connections until 2008, when it expanded access to privately owned computers. Then, in December 2018 the public finally got access to mobile internet through data plans provided only by the state telecommunications monopoly.
Just in mid-2019 Cuba legalized private Wi-Fi in homes and businesses, though you still need to get a permit to access it. The country also allowed Cubans to import routers and network equipment.