Cuba's Celebrated Internet Cable MIA

Despite $70M project, access still terrible
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 22, 2012 6:41 AM CDT
Cuba's Celebrated Internet Cable MIA
In this May 11, 2012 photo, people are reflected in an advertisement for Internet, chat, and email at a state-run computer center in Havana, Cuba.   (Franklin Reyes)

It was all sunshine, smiles, and celebratory speeches as officials marked the arrival of an undersea fiber-optic cable they promised would end Cuba's Internet isolation and boost web capacity 3,000-fold. Even a retired Fidel Castro hailed the dawn of a new cyber-age. But more than a year after the February 2011 ceremony, and 10 months after the system was supposed to have gone online, the government never mentions the cable anymore, and Internet here remains the slowest in the hemisphere. People talk quietly about embezzlement torpedoing the much-ballyhooed $70 million project, but nobody has explained exactly what happened.

"They did some photo-op ... and then that scandal came out, and then it just disappeared from human consciousness," says a Cuba expert, referring to rumors that several telecom execs were arrested last year. Diplomats in Havana privately tell consistent stories of corner-cutting on the project that let corrupt officials skim millions of dollars from its budget, while others speculate that the Internet-fueled Arab Spring could have altered the government's plan. "They're afraid of it. They don't want a 'Cuban Spring,'" says the expert. Another theory espoused by a prominent blogger: that the cable is operational but being used selectively. (More Cuba stories.)

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