Friday, March 11, 2011

The Internet in Cuba: Democracy, Development, or Destabilization?

Ted Henken

Cuba in Transition, Vol. 20, Papers and Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE).

A few excerpts:

The Internet does indeed lay a good foundation for the “battle of ideas,” but it does not necessarily
choose sides.

Expanded access to the Internet does not move societies in a single direction, partly because different constituencies within any country view the potential of the web in different ways.

Is the web a place to download democracy, boot up development, or plant the virus of dissidence and destabilization?

For many governments, especially those like the Cuban government that struggle against underdevelopment and the “digital divide” that continues to separate wealthy from poor countries in terms of Internet cost and connectivity, new ICT has the potential to be harnessed as a veritable “economic miracle” allowing a country to “leapfrog” into the modern era.

At the same time, citizen journalists and blogger-activists often understand the web (and especially the potentialities offered in many web 2.0 applications and the cutting edge mobile technologies made widely accessible by the new generation of smart phones) as a kind of revolutionary “Roman senate” where they can open up a closed system carrying out a “net roots” reform movement they like to call “blogostroika.”

Meanwhile, governments around the world have become wary of the security risks posed by increased and nearly universal connectivity with financial, military, and other secrets potentially exposed to malicious hackers often working at the service of their foreign adversaries. For them, the same web that could be embraced to boot up development, should also be feared as a potential “Trojan horse” where its enemies, real or perceived, can unleash the “virus” of dissidence and destabilization.

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