Social Justice for All: Cuba Libre, Internet Libre and Information Libre

Next week Texas Governor Greg Abbott is embarking on a historic commercial trip to Cuba less than one year after President Obama started having discussions with the communist country. The conversations will likely cover many trade opportunities but I hope that Governor Abbott brings up human rights issues as well. The accelerated adoption of Internet use in Cuba should ensure that human rights issues are more transparent domestically and on a global scale.

In 1994 I was an exchange student at the University of Havana in the Faculty of Economics. As a Canadian, we were able to study abroad in Cuba. What was astonishing to me was how much my Cuban classmates knew about American current events and how many of them wanted to live in America and experience the American dream despite the many differences in the ideologies that they were brought up with under Castro. One of the reasons that many of my classmates wanted to leave Cuba was because of the horrific human rights violations that occurred there far too often.

At that time in 1994, my Cuban classmates were reluctant to open up to me and tell me their honest feelings about the Cuban government. Eventually after too many Cuba Libres one night a few of my classmates opened up to me and what they told me was astonishing and sad. They told me that under Castro they had many horrific incidents occurring commensurate with the Rodney King incident that recently occurred in America. Of course I was mortified that they had similar events occurring in Cuba and they told me that this occurred to many people that disagreed with Castro and his ideologies far too often. I asked my Cuban classmates how in the world did they know about the horrific Rodney King event occurring in America?

Late one evening one of my classmates invited me over to his apartment in order to provide color on how they keep up to date with American events. Most apartments in Cuba are incredibly run down as the Soviet Union was crumbling and was no longer able to subsidize Cuba. I was absolutely blown away when my classmate turned on the TV set in his family's dilapidated tiny apartment. On the television appeared a live CNN feed! I asked him how on earth does Castro let you watch CNN? He then told me to come up to the roof of their apartment building. So we climbed up the fire escape onto the roof of the run down apartment building. Then my Cuban classmate pointed to a large building in Havana and said “do you see that?” I said “yes I do that's the international Hotel in Havana.” Then he said “do you see the satellite dish on the roof of the hotel?” Then he showed me a small satellite dish on the roof of his apartment building that his family had made out of pots and pans. They had aimed the satellite dish on the roof of their apartment building directly at the satellite dish on top of the hotel and they were able to steal satellite feeds from American TV! I counted at least 20 of these home built satellite rooftop dishes that night on other buildings which were well lit by the moon.

What's astonishing was that the Cubans were able to have some freedom of information using technology more than 20 years ago. Today you can get Wi-Fi in Cuba, although it is expensive and penetration is low. I suppose that in the not-too-distant future, perhaps using Space X we can have low orbiting satellites broadcasting Wi-Fi or likely different Internet protocols in other countries including North Korea and Venezuela. Government propaganda and information hoarding or control in this day and age is commensurate with putting your hand in a stream and trying to catch a bunch of minnows. It's a futile attempt as the minnows slip through your fingers.

I am pleased to see the Obama administration work on opening up Cuba. I would expect the same thing to happen to Venezuela and North Korea in my lifetime. It's astonishing to witness the role that the Internet is playing in altering the geopolitical landscape. My Egyptian born father still can't believe the impact that social media and the Internet have had on North Africa over the past couple of years. Broadband Internet penetration has truly morphed into democracy’s best friend.

One of the most salient memories of my childhood was watching the late great Ronald Reagan give that mesmerizing speech in front of the Berlin Wall saying off script and right from his heart “Mr. Gorbachev if you seek peace TEAR DOWN THIS WALL”. Given the global penetration of mobile broadband Internet use, I think that speech would not need to be given in this day and age. Rather, freedom of information will prevail likely due to low orbiting satellites in the not-too-distant future which will topple governments that don't believe in equality for all; the tech-optimist in me believes that this is inevitable.

What a blessing it is for us to see Cuba [soon to be] libre which, God willing, will lead to the end of the access of evil through use of the unfiltered Internet access, which is the most ubiquitous democratizing tool the world has ever seen. God willing we can figure out how to deploy low orbiting satellite dishes or some form of broadband based Internet access as edu-tech-transparency can solve most of the world’s problems. It makes me sick to see the global inequalities or lack of civil liberties that still exist. Malala Yousafzai is one of my heroes. More heroes like Malala will likely emerge and have their stories broadcast over the Internet and help make social justice a reality; tech-ed for the masses will make the world a better place.

We must make unfiltered internet access cheap or free in countries where civil liberties don't exist. With ubiquitous access to information we can empower the empowerers to deal with many human rights issues. A child in the middle of Africa today has faster and more access to information than Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. I believe that we can solve most of the world’s problems with education; technology will be the educational catalyst of change. I am optimistic about the role of technology in dealing with 21st century social injustice. Information Libre, Internet Libre; vive la Cuba Libre!