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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Cuba's PC dilemma
Cuba has been under a US economic embargo for more than 40 years
Havana shows the sign of years of embargo
Cuba is keen to promote the use of computers. But few Cubans have computers and the government controls their sale, as Thembi Mutch reports in her third article from Havana.

Grethel is one of the lucky ones.

As a translator working in a government department, she enjoys access to the internet via a computer at work.

She is one of the few in Cuba who are wired.

There is no chance of me owning a computer

Grethel, translator
In terms of computer ownership, only a negligible percentage has a PC at home.

The US estimates only 60,000 of the island's 11 million people have internet accounts.

There are a few computers in evidence in Havana. Outside the capital, in the rural areas, the problem is even worse.

"There is no chance of me owning a computer," said Grethel, though she adds that she does not mind. "I love the revolution and I love my job."

Politics vs economics

In any case, buying a computer has to be authorised by the Ministry of Internal Commerce.

The internet means nothing to the majority of people

Albelardo Mena, National Museum of Havana
Since 1959, Cuba has been a one-party state led by Fidel Castro, who exercises control over virtually all aspects of life through the Communist Party and its affiliated organisations.

The authorities have seized computers from government opponents, preventing the internet from posing a serious political threat.

Cuba blames the shortage of computers and internet connections on economic, rather than political, constraints.

The average national monthly wage is $12 a month.

"We are an underdeveloped country which fights everyday just to feed and clothe itself, the internet means nothing to the majority of people," said Albelardo Mena, curator of the National Museum of Havana.

Few phones

Foreign investment has gone into modernising the island's antiquated telephone network.

But in 2000 it still only had 4.4 phones per 100 people. And even for those with phone lines, logging onto the internet is painfully slow.

Ironically Cuba has one of the highest literacy levels in the world, taking education very seriously.

Wired Cuba
60,000 internet users
Four internet service providers
473,031 telephones
2,994 mobiles (1997 figures)
Source: CIA World Factbook
It is now aiming to train young people on computer skills to create its own software industry.

In the long term, Cuba, along with Argentina, Chile and Mexico, aims to create its own operating system in Spanish to replace Windows from the US software giant Microsoft.

At the moment, all the software in government departments is from Microsoft and many of the computers are American-made.

The state buys them in bulk from Canada, Italy and Nordic countries as, due to the US economic embargo, Cuba cannot directly purchase American goods.

Officials deny the software they use is pirated.

"I like [Microsoft chairman] Bill Gates, but his company is made of people," explained Carlos Mas Zabala, the director of the Centre for Information and Applied Systems of Culture.

We are people too, and we are sharing what they are creating as part of humanity, because we are part of humanity too."

See also:

06 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cuba
19 Oct 00 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
09 Sep 01 | Americas
Cuba learns to shop online
23 Apr 00 | Americas
Elian sparks heated emails
04 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Cuba tests online waters
05 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Cuba's wired generation
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