Cuban officials deny blocking Internet access to ordinary citizens

Saturday, March 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HAVANA (AP) _ Rejecting suggestions that Cuba's communist government blocks Internet service to ordinary citizens, officials are promising more access once Cuba improves its infrastructure.

Authorities are working toward ``providing technological information to the masses,'' Vice Minister of Informatics and Telecommunications Melchor Gil Morel told reporters Friday.

Improved technology will allow Cuba to provide faster and better Internet connections this spring, Gil Morel said. The government also hopes to replace old phone lines with fiber-optic cables by about 2005 and may also provide Internet access at post offices, he said.

The government is expanding the number of computer clubs operated by the Union of Communist Youth from 176 to 300 this year, according to a fact sheet distributed at the news conference.

``We do not fear counterrevolutionary information,'' Gil Morel said, rejecting suggestions that the government blocks access to prevent citizens from reading anti-government propaganda. ``Counterrevolutionary information is based upon lies.''

Cuban officials in recent months have bristled at such suggestions in foreign news reports, saying Internet access is limited purely for technological and financial reasons.

``Cuba is a poor and economically blockaded country that rations its food and has shortages of medicine,'' Sergio Perez, director of the state Internet provider Teledatos, told the Communist Party daily Granma recently. ``How could citizens' access to the Internet not be limited?''

Cuba now has five Internet providers and about 60,000 e-mail accounts. But most Cubans who have e-mail access through government jobs, schools, universities or Young Communist Youth computer clubs do not full access to the Web.

In some cases, Cubans have access to a limited number of selected Web pages provided on government intranets. For instance, physicians allowed access to the state's Infomed service can look up scientific information in their specialties.

Aside from those with access through a job, school or club, most ordinary Cubans cannot obtain Internet service except through the black market, where illegal access can be purchased for $30 to $60 a month.