Websites are unblocked wholesale: Hints or mistakes?

HAVANA, June 19, 2014 — Several Cuban websites heretofore blocked were unblocked a few hours ago. Without any previous announcement, some doors have been reopened but no one can be sure that they won’t be shut again.

Sites like, the most important Cuban bazaar, Skype, or Cubaencuentro, a digital magazine originating in Spain with an editorial line contrary to the Cuban government, are loading without any trouble in computers connected to the Internet in various ways and in several provinces.

At least that’s what was reported by users involved in higher education and the press — two of the most important and busiest users — in provinces like Villa Clara, Havana, Ciego de Ávila and Isle of Youth.

Many users have been surprised and have drawn various inferences, some of them ironic. “URGENT: Some cable burned out somewhere, or they finally understood that censorship is NOT the solution, but they’re not blocking pages in Cuba,” one user reported in Facebook.

The news has spread through the social networks among frequent users. Many take advantage of the opportunity to navigate into contents that until today could only be accessed by using anonymous proxies.

Elena Rodríguez, 25, a kind of native geek who uses her workplace computer to experiment on the Web as much as she can, said that she couldn’t believe that she could access Skype from the island, for the first time.

“I was able to talk to a friend in Italy. It’s thrilling to speak for the first time to the whole world,” she said, enthusiastically.

Everyone finds it odd, although for several years now what’s forbidden suddenly becomes permitted, often without any explanation from any government authority.

In 2008, Cubans saw the lifting of the prohibition against the purchase of cell phones, after an unexplained ban that lasted years. That same year, the government authorized the sale of computers in hard-currency stores and the importation of computers by natural persons.

In April 2012, Resolution 146/2012 of the Ministry of Communications allowed Cubans to buy Internet access in hotels, a service that until that time had been provided only to foreigners.

Until today, the reasons why many websites were blocked can only be guessed at. The users can only wonder.

“It doesn’t suit the government for Revolico to compete with the dollar stores. Besides, they know that a lot of junk is swapped there,” said a Revolico “fortune hunter” whose job is the daily monitoring of “specials” (mostly clothes sold wholesale) with which she can “feed” underground businesses.

Until yesterday, she used one of the dozens of alternative URLs that has obtained to facilitate its access by Cubans, thus evading the ban on its principal domain.

Some other “liberated” websites, such as MartíNoticias and Cubaencuentro, have reportedly been blocked in the past because of their political stance. So has, blogger Yoani Sánchez’s site. When it first appeared, it was redirected to, but today it’s fully accessible.

In the past, prior to the visit of personalities, like Pope Benedict XVI in May 2012, or during international events, such as the Summit of Non-aligned Nations in September 2006, the authorities “loosened up” the blockade of websites. In fact, they have been gradually doing just that, but what’s surprising now is the unblocking without an explanation.

The ability to access Skype — even with the slow connections that predominate on the island — is a pleasant surprise, all the more if we consider the recent statements by the director of Institutional Communication at ETECSA about Internet calls being the cause of financial losses. Users of Skype avoid the high prices that ETECSA has imposed for international telephone communications.

In a forum that opened today in the CubaSí website (an ETECSA site), the company recognizes that “an important part of the dissatisfactions and expectations of our clients and the population in general are related to the prices and diversity of offerings in cell phone service and the access to the Internet.”

ETECSA adds that “to the degree that the necessary investments are made, our company will be able to achieve increasingly competitive levels in terms of quality and development.”

This opening of access to certain Internet sites that were “frozen” in the past can indicate much — or nothing — in this country, where the policies of communication and the notion of the right to the access to information remain relatively indefinite and frequently allow for discretionary strategies.