Friday, May 2, 2008

Of communism, computers and Cubans

Apparently the ordinary Cuban citizen is now graciously permitted by his communist overlords to buy his or her own computer.

This latest generosity follows last month's launch of consumer DVD players and cellphones.

Of course, what the average Cuban can actually do with a computer is still severely circumscribed. The Internet is heavily controlled and very hard to access. Most private citizens haven't got a hope of getting a connection. (For that matter, most private citizens haven't got a hope of getting a telephone!)

It all stems from Uncle Fidel's (justified) paranoia. Like most dictators, he knew that if you let your people have free access to information, particularly (gasp!) foreign information, they might learn enough to realize what a totalitarian doofus you are - and kick you out.

Can't have that, you know.

I recall when television arrived in South Africa. It had been banned there by Government diktat for many decades. The National Party apartheid government didn't want Black citizens (whom it denied were citizens) getting ideas, which might make them uppity. Furthermore, the Dutch Reformed Church (frequently described in those days as "The National Party At Prayer") didn't want ordinary South Africans exposed to things like sex, drugs and rock-'n-roll (not that the only legal broadcaster, State-controlled, would have tolerated such nonsense).

As a result, South Africa was one of the few countries in the world that couldn't watch, live, as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon in 1969. The English-language newspapers had a field day, accusing the anti-TV forces of ostrich-like behavior (and a few other things besides). Eventually the government capitulated, although it refused to allow private TV stations - everything would be State-controlled, censored and pro-apartheid.

I can recall watching the first TV broadcasts in South Africa in 1975. The local programming was ghastly at first, and the only things worth watching were overseas productions. Still, it was a crack in the door, allowing many South Africans (particularly the illiterate) to get a glimpse of another way of life. It did, perhaps, have its part to play in getting rid of apartheid, even though the excesses and evils of that policy were never shown.

I hope Cubans enjoy their computers, and I hope they get access to the Internet as quickly as possible. If anything can destroy totalitarianism, it's free access to uncensored information.


1 comment:

HollyB said...

Just like there was Radio Free Europe, isn't there a Radio Free Cuba, or whatever...? Or aren't they close enough to pick up broadcasts from Miami?

Surely, there are some educated Cubanos who can figure out a way to hack into Internet access. I am the first to admit I'm cyberlexic...but I thought all computers came internet ready these days.
Having raised two teenagers and being the Aunt to a NASA - IT Geek, who set herself on that path at age 8, I will never underestimate the ingenuity of Teen Geeks, or their determination.