03/09/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information
Technology - 2001[Part 3]
by Nelson P Valdes
[Cuba-L Direct is providing our readers with this unpublished report that
was written seven years ago. The report was prepared for the Ford Foundation
by the Cuba Research & Analysis Group. Despite the 2001 date the basic
concepts and history are accurate and useful. Hopefully, the series will
help frame any discussion on the subject today].
THE CUBAN TELECENTER EXPERIENCE: JOVEN CLUB NETWORK 
The digital divide within nations has led many countries to establish public
access to Internet services. In some African nations they are called e-touch
centers, in Peru they are "cabinas públicas," in England they are called
"easyeverything." The approach is simple: to offer local computer terminals
and elementary computer services to the public at large, at minimal or no
cost. The telecenter concept has become a significant part of how agencies
such as the IBRD, Inter-American Development Bank, IDRC, FAO, UNESCO, ITU
and USAID have attempted to address the stratification of access in poor
countries, and disadvantaged regions and small towns within countries. A
recent press story reported that the Interamerican Development Bank had just
decided to announce support for "public Internet cabins." The report noted
that the initiative would be "a rural alternative to the for-profit Internet
cafés that already populate most Latin American cities. The idea is to bring
the Internet to some communities that might now share one telephone line.
The IDB would pay to install computers in village facilities equipped with
communal phones." The telecenters, as a rule, reach the poor who have
some education but tend to have no impact on those who do not have any
The telecenter concept and experience of offering local communities such
services began in Cuba in 1987 in the form of the Joven Club de Computation
y Electrónica, or Joven (Youth) Clubs (JC) network. Patrik Hunt, a
leading researcher of telecenters in Latin America, has written that no
other network in the region has the "depth of experience," the "network
reach" and "ongoing research" of the Joven Clubs.
The JC network was created by the national leader of the Union of Young
Communists. The intention was to begin a campaign of computer literacy that
was to reach children, adolescents and young adults. The JCs would address
interests or application problems found in their respective communities,
including rural areas. Patrick Hunt has written that telecenters have worked
"to fashion a range of responses to the social development problems they
face. Some of these responses are common to all while others are unique. The
experience of Cuba's Joven Club de Computation y Electrónica is instructive
in this sense and provides an example of telecenter services responding to
community-based needs." The JC network developed computer programs based
on the study of user needs in their respective communities, free of charge.
Havana University sociologist Rosanna Más Robaina has shown that the JCs
became centers that promoted a computer and information culture and served
also as center of community participation seeking to find local solutions
through the use of computer science and technology. Among its tasks are to:
. generalize the learning and improvement of computer and communications
techniques among young people and propitiate a computer literate culture in
the general population.
. assist young professionals and technicians who may wish to learn or
enhance their own knowledge in the use of these technologies while
addressing practical production or community needs.
. discover children and youths who may have unusual computer or technical
aptitudes and systematically help them in enhancing their skills and
. seek and carry out applications that may benefit the local economy and/or
society while incorporating the community in the solutions.
. contribute to the better training of JC instructors in the areas of
telecommunications and computing.
. support the establishment of Study Circles in primary and secondary
schools in order to attract young people to those two areas within their
respective local communities.
. develop the use of personal computers in the transmission of data, be
short or long distances, making sure that children and youths learn the most
The JCs began with 32 telecenters throughout the country: 15 in the city of
Havana (one for each municipality), one in the Isle of Youth and the rest in
all of the country's 14 provincial capitals. One scholar states "in the
majority of the places where they were established, it was the first time
that children and youth had contact with computing equipment. At the time we
had no idea of the long-term significance that the effort would have in the
cultural development of the population. Within two years we were taking
steps to increase the number of installations to 100 throughout the country.
The new ones were to be built in areas with high concentration of youths and
a scientific potential." By April 2001 there were 300 telecenters in
Cuba's 167 municipalities. Seventy municipalities had two JCs each, and in
each of the 14 provincial capitals there were at least 2 JCs as well. The
city of Havana, due to the high population concentration, has 48 Joven
Each JC began with 5 PCs. As the number of Clubs increased over the years,
the stock of PCs climbed, first six to each JC, then 7 PCs per telecenter.
As of April 2001, each Joven Club had at least 10 personal computers. Some
centers may have as many as 20 PCs. As of May 2001 they had 3,181 PCs, 2,941
of which were Pentium III. Three thousand new computers are being added by
In the last 13 years, 264,308 persons have graduated from courses offered by
the network. By April 2001 the JCs could were offering courses to 103,874
youths. There are four types of courses offered: introduction to computing,
electronics, and programming in different languages, utilities and
applications. There are 1,662 instructors and 1,239 staff members in the
network. The Joven Club intranet (called TinoRed) offers email, listservers,
ftp, www, irc, ftp-mail, web hosting, mail hosting, and PPP.
The Joven Club experience has another practical side. Examples of specific
projects are related by Florentino Bueno Mesa, who writes,
Searching for solutions to solve problems involves the community and the
Joven Club, creating an incentive to develop research. Each center developed
a work plan based on local characteristics and needs, which ranged from
manufacturing processes to computer games. A number of collaborators became
involved, including local governments and health, education and other
institutions to develop work plans to address local needs. For example: 1)
in the municipality of Amancio de las Tunas a program was developed to deal
with delinquent children; 2) in Contramaestre, Joven Club is developing
software for the local citrus processing plant; 3) in Manicaragua we are
working with a hotel to automate information processing; 4) in Viñales
training is provided for people working in the tourism sector; 5) in
Cabaiguán programs are being created to assist in the work of cleaning up
rivers; 6) each Joven Club center works with historians to record local
The JC network also has four mobile units that reach isolated rural areas to
teach, entertain and show the use of email. It trains municipal and
provincial administrators and reaches out to the disabled as well as youth
with behavioral problems. Since 1990 the Joven Clubs have fostered national
youth competitions on the use of computers, the use of networks, computer
assisted design, computer generated video and multimedia, and computer
assisted music and information applications for teaching History.The
JCs try to export the Network's organization and experience to workplaces,
and if accepted, computer youth clubs are set up within the labor force.
They also have four national teams in Sancti Spíritus, Las Tunas, Santiago
de Cuba and Matanzas that produce software games.
The main goals of the Joven Clubs for the next three years are the
following: to have at least 5 of the most modern PCs in each JC, to connect
those JCs that are not part of the Joven Club to TinoRed, to guarantee
Internet access to every club, to extend the use of mobile JCs and to
elaborate an action plan that will work in tandem with the national strategy
of "informatization of the society."
The modernization of equipment and the further extension of services and
reach are the future prospects of the Joven Clubs of Cuba. At the Summit of
the Americas in Quebec in April 2001, the Inter American Development Bank
stated that a rural telecenter equipped with 10 computers and Internet
access would cost about $20-25,000. The estimate does not take into
account the cost of labor associated with running such telecenters. Hence,
the social inclusion of the population can be an expensive proposition. It
should be noted that the reports from Latin America point to an marked drop
in the commitment of governments and philanthropists.
OTHER GOVERNMENT SPONSORED PATHS TO CONNECTIVITY
Another path to extending ICT has been to give priority to health
institutions in the island's 14 provincial capitals and 30 of the 154
municipalities in the island. There are, at least, 3000 e-mail accounts
issued to medical institutions. The new internal communications have begun
to link the existent health system of polyclinics, hospitals, research
institutions and local family doctor offices. Infomed resources supply
the latest information on health from Cuba and the world. Cuba provides,
free of charge, the complete text of 37 medical publications,14 virtual
texts (book length), and 4 daily bulletins.
Post Office - Subsidized Cost
Cuba has 1,044 post offices throughout the country; perhaps there is no
other institution with such a widespread presence. There is currently an
effort underway to offer e-mail to customers at a subsidized but direct cost
to the user. The next step would permit access to intranets within the
island, and, in time with financial resources permitting, connectivity to
the WWW. The Minister of Information and Communications envisions a
situation where, "the mail service can very well develop a system of e-mail
imbedded with the public national communications network that allows a
professor in Guantánamo who wants to communicate with Havana or New York, or
who wants to find some information at CENIAI [the major Internet provider in
Cuba] or the Science Pole [scientific communities aggregated in different
parts of Cuba] or a university in London, will do so from Guantánamo, using
his mail box, nearby. The person will have the possibility of having access
to email just as you have a mail box, and from an electronic mailbox the
person will be able to receive and download his correspondence and also send
it, at certain cost."
In May 2000 an experiment began at Zona 6, Havana, with e-mail at a post
office using access fee cards paid in Cuban pesos. In 2001 new postal zones
were included in Miramar, Plaza de la Revolución and Alamar, which represent
the largest urban concentrations in the island.
Computer cafés in Cuba, on the other hand, charge but at prices still below
the real cost of connectivity. A recent report describes a user, "Tony
Borrego, a Havana poet and literature specialist," who "spends a few minutes
each day checking his e-mail in a little cyber-café hidden behind blue doors
at Old Havana's historic Plaza de Armas. For 10 pesos a month . he and other
Cuban artists have unlimited access to four computer terminals, and a door
to the world outside Cuba." A more typical computer café, aimed at the
foreign tourist, is found in hotels, it charges in dollars and it costs
about $0.10 per minute. One can log on to any Internet browser-driven email
There are very few computer cafés in Cuba and such individual options are
not considered solutions by authorities, for two main reasons. First, they
tend to favor individual consumption and pricing. Second, computer cafés are
not conducive to research. Rather, the result is what one author calls
"cibercafezinhozación." Internet is "consumed" through engaging in chats, in
passive "shopping" or in vices such as searching for porno. The computer
café, in other words, underutilizes productive and educational possibilities
associated with the technology. Thus, the necessity is to create a
cultural awareness of the usefulness of the Internet to a less developed
Access and Purchasing Power
Throughout the Cuban economy there are different means for distributing
goods and services. Some are distributed free of charge to the population,
as is the case with education, health and social security. Others are
available at prices below the cost of production and delivery, as is the
case with food distributed through the rationing system. Water, electric and
phone services are subsidized below cost up to a certain level of
consumption and then a progressive increase of price occurs with increased
consumption. Finally, there are goods and services sold on the basis of open
market mechanisms. The latter is the case found in those stores that sells
goods in dollars.
Such varying means of distribution can be found as well in the distribution
of computing and connectivity. Those sectors considered socially useful have
access to ICT gratis. Schools, hospitals, research institutions, government
agencies, mass organizations and local communities do not pay for using
email or the Internet when access is provided. Post offices will charge, but
the price will be below the actual cost of the connection. The computer café
or the email and web services available in hotels to tourists depend on the
ability of the consumer to pay in dollars. The prices are high and not
within the reach of the average Cuban. Such services in fact are in line
with others directed towards foreigners with the economic objective of using
the generated income to ensure and expand services available to Cubans.
Prices vary depending on the service, the amount of time on line and the
speed of the transmission. It has been reported that there is a "variety of
connect speeds and service options that include hourly billing and flat rate
plans that range from about $30 to $600 [per month] depending on the
options. All have installation charges ranging from about $75 to $200 [one
time entry fee] depending on the service selected." Such prices are
often asked of foreign enterprises and embassies.
The cheapest regular, individual account is WebMail offered by ColombusNET.
Colombus was established in 1995 by COPEXTEL Corporation. Colombus is
an ISP net with POP connectivity in 13 provinces, including the Isle of
youth. In Havana it possesses four subnodes that are tied through a T1 high
speed broadband connection. It also has 17 medium range segments (MAN) and
multiple LAN segments. If one has access to the national network (this
requires an "aval" - a statement from some institution to the effect that
you need such an account), then it is possible to obtain a WebMail account
(driven by an Internet browser). The account costs $20 per month with
unlimited use. It does not provide search capabilities. An account is set up
at http://www.islagrande.cu. Another route, used by foreign personnel, is to
establish a full Internet account using ColombusNET. Its prices are the
cheapest of all available ISPs in Cuba. The high prices serve to subsidize
the use of those who have social access.
ColombusNET Prices, May 2001
Type of Service Connection Entry Fee (one time)
International Mail $75
National Mail $75
Internet (8pm-6am) $75
Internet daytime (5 hrs/month) $75
Internet daytime (10 hrs/month) $75
Internet - 200 hrs/month $75
Internet - 150 hrs/month $75
Internet - 100 hrs/month $75
Internet -- 60 hrs/month $75
Internet -- 30 hrs/month $75
Internet -- 20 hrs/month $75
Internet -- 10 hrs/month $75
The Informal Economy and Access
Besides the regular accounts available through government and social
mechanisms, the informal economy and personal networks also play a part in
the development of Internet and email connectivity. Among those pathways
Black market accounts in dollars: These are issued by means of "virtual
servers" resident within an approved server either because the system
operator(s) allow it, or because they are unaware that the server is
stealthily used. The challenge is gaining access to the port of entry.
Surreptitious accounts: where some people involved in running a system set
up several extra accounts within the real server, and provide prospective
users with such accounts as if they were legal users. In most cases, no
money payment is involved.
Account sharing: where someone has a legal account and allows others to use
it. The users' e-mail does not reside within the server that is used to
enter the Internet; rather, the e-mails are kept in a server outside the
country - be it Hotmail, Netscapemail, etc.
Distributor account: where someone has a legitimate account that is used to
receive, collect and deliver email to others. Only one person has access but
he/she serves as the real distributor of electronic mailings. The person
could also send e-mail on behalf of the multiple users. This is not
uncommon. In fact, email at most research centers is handled in this manner.
Messages are passed between end users and distributors on diskette.
Of course, the situation is somewhat more complicated with the Internet than
with electronic mail, although the same principles hold. In the case of the
"distributor account," for example, that account holder does the search on
behalf of the clients. In this mode, as a rule, there is some money paid by
these clients. Of course, it is impossible to know how many users can be
found in any of these modes. Obviously, Cubans will spend their limited
resources buying basic needs before they can engage in using email or the
Internet. But the use of both is more widespread than often assumed in
journalistic or academic treatments. The relatively high educational level
of Cuba's population has made it possible and enticing to enter this new
 The Joven Club page is: http://www.jcce.org.cu
 Guy Girardet, Public Access to Internet Services, Presented at the
African Internet and Telecom Summit, Banjul, 5-9 June 2000.
 Elliot Blair Smith, "Latin American Leaders See Potential in Net
American Summit to Examine Online Opportunities," USA Today (Arlington,
Va.), April 20, 2001.
 The most thorough description of the Joven Club has been written by
Florencio Bueno Mesa, Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica: Una
experiencia pedagógica comunitaria cubana sin precedentes en América Latina,
Dirección Nacional de Joven Club, The Hague, Netherlands: International
Institute for Communication and Development. August 28, 2000.
 Patrik Hunt, "True Stories: Telecentres in Latin America & the
Caribbean," EJISDC No. 4-5, pp. 1-17 (Fundación ChasquiNet, Quito, Ecuador)
 Rossana Más Lobaina, El Joven Club: una entidad de nuevo tipo en la
comunidad, Universidad de La Habana, Facultad de Comunicación, 2000.
 Rossana Mas Lobaina, Los Joven Clubs: Génesis de un movimiento,
surgimiento, organización y desarrollo, Universidad de la Habana, Facultad
de Comunicación. Manuscript. No date.
 "Impedimentos técnicos condicionan a Cuba su acceso a Internet," EFE
(Madrid), March 3, 2001; "Suman 300 clubes de computación en el país,"
Agencia de Información Nacional (Havana), April 28, 2001; "Anuncia Fidel una
nueva etapa para los Joven Club," Agencia de Información Nacional (Havana),
April 4, 2001.
 "Colosal esfuerzo por socializar la informática y la computación,"
Granma (Havana), March 20, 2001.
 See http://www.jcce.org.cu/MisyObj.htm#objetivos
 Florencio Bueno Mesa, Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica: una
entidad de nuevo tipo al servicio de las NTICs en las comunidades cubanas,
(Modelo cubano para el desarrollo de la Informática y las NTICs en la
comunidad), La Habana: Movimiento Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica,
2000. Sitio Web: http://www.jcce.org.cu
 Rossana Mas Lobaina, Los Joven Clubs: Génesis de un movimiento,
surgimiento, organización y desarrollo, op. cit.
 Inter American Development Bank, Summit of the Americas Strategic
Programs - The Agenda of the IDB, Quebec, Canada, April 2001
 Scott S. Robinson, "Una reflexión sobre el futuro de los telecentros
de México y America Latina," Facultad de Antropología, UAM IZTAPALAPA,
Mexico, March 2001. http://www.chasquinet.org/telelac/puebla.html
 The health network is called Infomed. The national network is made up
of provincial nodes in Havana [linking Isla de la Juventud, Pinar del Rio,
Matanzas], Villa Clara [linking Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus], Camagüey
[with ties with Ciego de Avila and Las Tunas] and Santiago de Cuba [Granma,
Holguín and Guantánamo]). For a thorough description of the net and its
services and resources see: http://www.sld.cu/acerca
 "Entrevista a Ignacio González Planas, titular del Ministerio de la
Informática y las Comunicaciones, La conectividad es la clave," Giga, vol.
3, No 4, 2000.
 Yirmara Torres Hernández, "Hacia un correo informatizado," Juventud
Rebelde (Havana), July 18, 2000. For a somewhat biased report see: Vanessa
Bauzá, "Cubans learn how to use computers, but Internet searches are done by
a select group," Sun-Sentinel, March 1, 2001. Laurie Goering, "In Cuba,
Internet Access A Patchwork of Luck and Censors," Chicago Tribune, February
23, 2001. ] Scott S. Robinson, "El jardín de los senderos digitales:
Caminos que se bifurcan," IV Taller Latinoamericano de Internet, Mérida,
Venezuela, May 29, 2001, Departamento de Antropología, UAM Iztapalapa,
Mexico. email@example.com Jason L. Feer and Teo A. Babún, Jr.,
CubaNews Business Guide to Cuba, Miami: CubaNews, 2000, p. 5-24.  For a
detailed description of Copextel see:
P. Valdés and Mario A. Rivera, "The Political Economy of the Internet in
Cuba" Cuba in Transition, Vol. 9, 1999, p. 153,
TO BE CONTINUED
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