Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ethan explains himself (rather well) - UPDATE to: Graham Sowa: Our Man @ Havana (Times)

Given the current dispute over the value of educational, religious, and other people-to-people travel to Cuba raging in the news and in Washington, DC, I think it would be wise to ground ourselves by looking at some of the reports that are starting to trickle in from a few of the students who have begun to spend time down in Cuba as part of organized educational trips.

I know that I have received a barrage of requests from both undergraduate and graduate students planning trips down to the island to set them up with some of my none-too-party-line contacts on the island.  I have been more than happy to oblige.

A group of journalism students from the University of California was even brave or naive enough to include an afternoon session with Yoani Sanchez and other citizen journalists as part of their 2-week educational tour of the island.  Here is here photo of the encounter via Twitpic:

Another group of journalism students from SUNY Stonybrook was down in Havana during the January intersession and since returning has set up the great website, "Journalism Without Walls: Cuba 2012," profiling their work.

As luck would have it, some of those students did an interview with Graham Sowa, as part of a story about US medical students studying in Havana.  I did a previous post on Graham Sowa's response to that interview.

After reading my post, as well as Graham's own post on it, Ethan Freedman wrote me the following message giving his side of the story.  Here it is:

Hello Mr. Henken,

My name is Ethan Freedman and I am the student journalist mentioned in Mr. Sowa's article. Internet was one of the three topics I covered from Havana, and I thought I might want to share the contents of our trip here, since you blogged about it. I did articles on Che Guevara, Internet and Americans who have received political asylum in Cuba.

The site for all the student work is here.

As for the article, I had developed an idea of how the Internet functions in a country like Cuba, not because of arrogance, ignorance, or hypocrisy, but because I found it to be statistically true. I felt that the access to the Internet there was empirically bad for most, particularly when compared to the United States.

There are several statistics I list in the article, one about internet penetration citing the World Bank and a study from the International Telecommunications Union that found that Cuban access to internet and cell-phone service ranked 149th in the world, out of the 152 countries it looked at.

Several other statistics I found were cut out of the article by my editors. One was one from the Internet information provider Akamai Technologies, Inc. They found that 93 percent of Cubans have a narrowband connectivity (a limited Internet connection less than 256 Kbps), compared to the global average of 3.9 percent.

Furthermore, Cuba, at least for most, uses an "Intranet", regulated by a third party, in this case, the government, as opposed to an Internet, which is unregulated (I completely agree with Sowa on Net Neutrality, but I'm writing a story on Cuban Internet, not American). Other countries that have "Intranet"? North Korea and China. And, soon to be, Iran.

I get that things should always be put into context. That's why I'm posting the article here. Hope you have time to read it.


Here's an interesting, nuanced article on the Internet in Cuba by Graham Sowa entitled, "My First Interview in Cuba," to get you thinking published at the increasingly rich and penetrating Havana Times. (You can read more from Sowa about technology and connectivity here, here, and here.)

Sowa is a "good ole' boy" from Grapevine, Texas who is enrolled in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana. (More on that here.)

In the article, he relates the experience being interviewed about Cuban Internet access by a team of somewhat ill-informed (in his estimation) visiting students from SUNY Stony Brook. The article also touches on the debate in the U.S. over net neutrality and what Sowa sees as a tendency toward American arrogance, ignorance, decontextualization, and hypocrisy when covering Cuba.

Sowa sums up his argument with these words:

"The limited Internet access in Cuba is not a moral anomaly nor does it occur in a vacuum."

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