Cuba government filtering mobile text messages, dissidents say

Cuban government is filtering text messages for key words such as democracy and human rights and then blocking them, renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez charged at the weekend, an accusation confirmed by Reuters on Monday.

HAVANA, CUBA (SEPTEMBER 5, 2016) (REUTERS) – Cuba’s government is filtering mobile phone text messages for key words such as “democracy” and “human rights” and then blocking them, dissidents said on Monday (September 5).

An investigative report by blogger Yoani Sanchez and journalist Reinaldo Escobar concluded that text messages failed to reach their destinations if they contained Spanish words for democracy, human rights or hunger strike, among others, as well as the names of some dissidents.

Eliecer Avila, head of opposition youth group Somos Mas, which participated in the investigation, said 30 key words that triggered the blocking had been identified but there could be more.

“To our surprise, a group of friends started trying all the words that seemed controversial and obviously they are being blocked. We discovered there are more than thirty terms, words, phrases, but they are probably hundreds. Well, the very name of Yoani Sanchez, Jose Daniel Ferrer, UMPACU, Somos Mas, are terms associated with alternative movements and independent or opposition leaders in Cuba,” Avila said.

It was not clear for how long the filter had been in place.

The full report was published by Sanchez’s online newspaper,

“The terms which are being censured have to do with the proposals of the opposition, but the entire country is being censored. That is, if my grandmother, who has nothing to do with the opposition, tries to send a message telling her grandchild, who uses a foot size of 14 and a half, that message will not arrive and her granddaughter will be left without shoes, simply because she used a term which the government associates with a dissident message. Then I get the impression that to reach that point of censoring grammatical structures, clearly shows how fearful, insecure and paranoid the government is. A government that is seeing how populist governments are collapsing throughout Latin America and at some, that will happen to them too,” Avila added.

State telecommunications monopoly ETECSA could not be reached for comment.

Cuba has repeatedly charged that the United States wants to use telecommunications to subvert the government and brands Sanchez and other opponents as mercenaries working with Washington.

Reuters on Monday unsuccessfully tried to send messages containing the words “democracy,” “human rights,” “Somos Mas” and Yoani Sanchez. Other messages containing the Spanish word for “protest” went through. The messages that did not reach their destinations appeared as “sent” on the users’ telephone.

Cuban student, Sofia Ferrero, said she had not had major problems.

“Normally yes, sometimes there are some difficulties, even I get the delivery report but it does not reach the person, or it is delayed, but usually no, I have no problem,” Ferrero.

Cuba arrived late to modern telecommunications, authorizing mobile phones in 2008 and Wi-Fi internet access only last year. Online, it blocks dissident websites and media it believes to be funded by the United States, but permits the websites of critical newspapers such as El Nuevo Herald and El Pais.

There currently are about 3 million mobile telephone accounts with local provider CubaCell, which is part of ETECSA.

Despite efforts by the Obama administration to link U.S. internet providers with the country as part of a detente begun in December 2014, Cuban authorities appear more interested in working with Russia on cyber-security, while China provides most of the Caribbean island’s communications technology.

Experts estimate that between 25 percent and 30 percent of Cuba’s 11.2 million residents has some Internet access, mainly through Wi-Fi, though it is sparsely used because of high rates.

Some 5 percent of the population enjoys home-based Internet, which requires special government permission.

Associated Links

  • El Pais
  • CubaCell
  • El Nuevo Herald
  • Somos Mas
  • Opposition to Fidel Castro
  • Philologists
  • Yoani Sánchez