The Sovereignty of Cuba in a Digital World
Cuba has an undersea cable to Venezuela which is almost unused. I want to explore why I think this could be the case and how Cuba can open to the digital revolution without necessarily opening up to the Internet.
In Cuba, there exist at least these systems of passing digital information:
- Street Net (SNET), an interconnected unofficial mehs-network of Cubans.
- The Weekly Package, a terabytes per week package of movies, games, apps, digital tools, …
- The official Internet Access points
Why would the State of Cuba not give Internet-Access to all people? I think, this is a manifold question with several aspects:
- power consumption
- hardware and import deficit
- informational sovereignty
For the first two I would argue that they are not the driving factor as there exist ways which already pass around this.
Digital sovereignty plays a huge role in the opening of Cuba to the internet. What we can see currently, is a user behavior of internet services at these hotspots because Cubans can not run their servers on time-limited hotspots.
Cuby is close to have control over its land mass. It is able to feed the people in a healthy way. It has education and health care. The approaching battle is that of keeping the data in Cuba.
Imagine two scenarios:
- Cuba is a sole user of external services. Then, they put their knowledge and digital process in external hands.
- Cuba has imported hardware which is run by external companies. This might be network infrastructure or services such as Google. As long as these are not controlled, they can turn against the governmental interests. They might be hacked.
How to Sustain Informational Sovereignty
For Cuba to remain sovereign in a digital world, in an information world, they need sovereignty in hardware and software. Additionally, it is may not be sustainable to have these central services which bundle the infomation flow and send it away from Cuba. The digital flow through the data cables is still in state control.
Cuba has a lot of agricultural communities and a system for teaching and knowledge management. This system guarantees Cubas independence in food production.
An equivalent system can be established for the digital world though community mesh networks. These networks can reach in far regions. They allow interconnection between the people of a community.
An example community network could look like this: In the center of the town, there are community owned servers. They run the online version of libre office, a mail server and a wiki. This way, people in the community can still communicate digitally and exchange information even if not connected. Tools like syncthing allow decentral synchronization of files instead of using dropbox. The town is connected via cable or wireless mesh. The SNET shows there is expertise on how to establish this.
The communities are connected via links which are not as good as the link in the city. The internet connection might be even worse but usable. This way, we ensure the decentral practice of communities. Open-source software can support the digital sovereignty of the communities.
This example marks a snapshot of the system at a point where it is sovereign by the people. The question is, how to keep it this way, once established. There will be developments under way, open-source software may travel behind new services boosted by money.
There are essentially three categories for software from the perspective of power.
- Foreign software - you do not own it, you do not know what happens.
- Open-source software - you know what happens and you can influence where it is going
- Self-made software - you control it 100% - if you have enough power to keep it secure.
Why is using open-source software a path to sovereignty?
If you do not know what runs on the device, you do not own it. You can not change it. If you do not know what runs the Cuban internet and services (i.e. you can not look into Google), you surrender your data and freedom to them. This is by capitalistic design, even if you trust the people.
Open-source software however is maintained by open communities. They will not surrender to an external pressure and takeover. There is a way to take over a community: by taking over the lead developers - Hintjens. If this happens, you can still fork the software and not being taken over. The case of home-made software as a fork applies here as always as an option in case of take-over.
If you are part of an open-source community, you know that ligitimate development power drives the project. This is where Cuban sovereignty comes in: If Cuba can afford enough man power in the most essential software they need, they can benefit from the protection and development power of on-line communities.
A Personal Opinion on SNET
This Internet, SNET, is owned by the people, not the telecoms. If I needed to forbid Internet access to keep the power in the hands of the people, I would do that. SNET looks to me as the track to go for an Internet of Cuba which can not be taken over by foreign interests. It can not even be taken over by state interests. The knowledge and spirit is in Cuba to implement a decentral digital agenda.
In this thought assembly, I outlined, how Cuba can keep its informational sovereignty as it kept it in agriculture. The knowledge is there, see SNET, to build decentral infrastructure. By using open-source software and investing into it, Cuba can sustain an informational sovereignty but also support its community infrastructure. The pressure ramps up to open to the digital world and it can break the Cuban system if opening to the internet means opening to data-slavery. However, as Cuba has managed with agriculture, it is possible to go another way, strengthening the communities and building new ones to find decentral solutions to the problems they face.
- There is research on how to build up community networks with local services