Sat, Feb 03, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Cuba protests US Internet task force, US ‘manipulation’

AP, HAVANA

Cuba is protesting the creation of a US task force on increasing Internet access in the country — a measure that is part of US President Donald Trump’s hardening of US policy on Cuba.

The new policy that Trump outlined in June last year requires the creation of a task force “to examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding Internet access in Cuba,” including US federal funding for independent media and “Internet freedom.”

The task force is to hold its first meeting in Washington on Wednesday. The US has not released a list of task force members or any other details of its work.

Cuba late on Wednesday said it delivered diplomatic notes of protest to the top US diplomat in Havana and to the Department of State in Washington.

The notes “rejected the goal of manipulating the Internet to bring about illegal programs with subversive political ends,” the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The ministry “reiterated the Cuban government’s determination to not tolerate any type of subversive activity or interference in its internal affairs,” it said.

Dismissing the protest as “preposterous,” US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Thursday said it was “certainly not a secret” that Cubans enjoy limited access to the Internet, adding that while Cuban authorities have opened the Internet up somewhat, they should open it up more.

“The Cuban government has called this to be a subversive act. We disagree with that. We think that’s ridiculous,” Nauert said.

US attempts to increase Cubans’ access to information have been the source of extreme tension between the two governments in recent years.

US contractor Alan Gross was imprisoned for five years in Cuba for bringing illegal satellite equipment into the country on behalf of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

His release was part of the deal that led to the renewal of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba and a broader move toward normalization by former US president Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.

USAID also sponsored the creation of a text-messaging-based, Twitter-like Cuban social network called ZunZuneo, which was meant to morph into a platform for political organizing and potential unrest.

Internet access was rare and prohibitively expensive before the start of normalization, but access has spread dramatically and dropped in price since Obama and Castro’s 2014 deal. There are 508 public Wi-Fi access points across the country and Cuba has begun providing home Internet access in cities.

The government said it plans to begin offering mobile Internet access this year.

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