RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Mobile internet connection in Cuba is still cut off three days after the protests. However, a minority have recovered data service, and some young people are managing to access the network with the help of VPN platforms and ingenious tricks.
When writing this article, most Cubans were still without Internet access on their cell phones, which in practice means an almost total blackout since only a small minority of households on the island can afford a wi-fi connection.
Citizens -especially young people- from all over the country resort to VPN services -such as Psiphon or Thunder- and tricks to circumvent censorship and access 3G and 4G mobile data networks, controlled by the state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa.
“You have to activate the data and then the VPN and set it to the US region. Then put the phone in airplane mode for 5 seconds, and when you remove it, it connects,” explained a 26-year-old woman who managed to access the internet this Wednesday after remaining disconnected for two and a half days.
Exceptional cases have also been reported of Cubans who have intermittently recovered the connection without the help of VPN platforms, although they could not access some applications, such as WhatsApp.
Private wi-fi networks and public spaces did not stop working in Cuba, although with intermittent WhatsApp restrictions.
Mobile internet service was disabled on Sunday as protests by Cubans spread across the country, encouraged by a video in which residents of San Antonio de los Baños (30 kilometers east of Havana) took to the streets to protest the lack of food and medicine, and power cuts, amid a severe economic and health crisis.
Experts believe that the government has cut the Internet to prevent this from happening again. However, they also consider that the measure could be counterproductive by increasing the population’s discontent with the authorities.
In fact, the data outage has disrupted the routine of some of the country’s workers, as telecommuting has become widespread during the pandemic in some sectors, such as education, where face-to-face classes have been eliminated.
In addition, many regret not having been able to communicate with their relatives abroad for days since the Internet is the most common way for Cubans inside the island to keep in touch with the diaspora.
Etecsa has not given any explanation for the blackout, and neither had the government until Tuesday when the foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, related it to “electricity interruptions” and difficulties in food or transportation.
“There is indeed a lack of data, but there is also a lack of medicines,” said the Foreign Minister, without explicitly recognizing the responsibility of the Government.
The citizen demonstrations launched on Sunday throughout Cuba have been the largest in 60 years, with the only precedent of the “maleconazo” of August 1994, limited to Havana.