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Access impeded to Internet platform hosting popular blogs, other websites

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is concerned that Cuban Internet users face impediments when seeking access to blogs on the http://www.desdecuba.com platform that hosts, among others, one of the most popular blogs in the country, "Generación Y", run by Yoani Sánchez.

The platform has been inaccessible from public connection points in cybercafés and hotels since 20 March 2008. The few private connections, used for professional reasons or in secret, take at least 20 minutes to download the homepage of the site. Editing and moderating posts has become impossible.

"It is hard to believe that after 10 days desdecuba.com is simply having technical problems, even if there are real problems in getting an Internet connection from Cuba. This situation is in contradiction to recent steps taken by the authorities to ease access for Cubans to communications, especially the Internet," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Since you cannot have one without the other, the promise of greater openness given by Raúl Castro must include greater freedom of expression."

Desdecuba.com hosts an online magazine, "Consenso", and six blogs, including "Generación Y" ( http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony ), created in April 2007 by Yoani Sánchez and regularly visited by large numbers of Cubans. More than one million Internet users visited the young blogger's page in February 2008.

There have also been difficulties accessing http://www.cu.clasificados.com and http://www.revolico.net , both of which post classified ads. The public company ETECSA, Cuba's sole access provider, has not offered any explanation.

The problems in getting access to Internet webpages comes at the end of a month marked by several announcements about decisions to ease private acquisition of some consumer goods. On 28 March the government said it was allowing Cubans to buy mobile phones and that the entire population would have access to a mobile phone service. Three days earlier, it legalised the sale of computers, televisions and tape-recorders and authorised the import of DVDs. Moreover, since 31 March, Cubans are allowed to go into hotels, which were previously restricted to foreigners, allowing Cubans access to the international Internet network available in these hotels.

These steps are part of a policy of greater openness promoted by Raúl Castro, who officially took over as head of state from his brother, Fidel, on 24 February, after 20 months of holding interim power. He promised Cubans that he would put an end to "excessive bans and regulations."

The Internet in Cuba is highly controlled. There is a "national" network which gives users an e-mail address and allows them to send e-mails abroad, but that does not allow them to surf the net. The "international" network, which costs three times as much, gives access to foreign news websites like the BBC, "Le Monde", and the "Nuevo Herald" (a Miami-based Spanish-language daily). But if you type in "google.fr", for example, you are redirected to the pages of the official Cuban newspaper "Granma" or the news agency Prensa Latina. Cuba figures on RSF's list of "Internet Enemies", released on 12 March 2008.

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