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Cuban Government Blocks The Internet In An Attempt To Thwart Protesters


For the third day in a row, Cuba's government has blocked many social media sites and messaging apps. The internet has only recently been widely available in Cuba, and it has proved to be a critical tool in this week's unprecedented protests against the government. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Yunior Garcia is a co-host of a popular Cuban podcast called "El Enjambre." It drops every Saturday.



UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Last Saturday, Garcia and friends were talking about the rise in COVID cases in Cuba, and Garcia presciently interjected this tidbit in the opening remarks.


YUNIOR GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: They say in Cuba that the revolutions always occur in the summer, he said. The next day, Garcia was on the streets following the protests on social media. Many Cubans, angry about everything from rising prices, food shortages, long lines and lack of freedoms, were posting videos in real time.


KAHN: But by late Sunday, the government had shut off many social media sites.


KAHN: Garcia's WhatsApp number went unanswered. He and dozens of others had been rounded up and detained. Alp Toker of NetBlockers (ph), a London-based internet global monitoring firm, says since Sunday evening, the state telecommunications company, ETECSA, blocked social media sites, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

ALP TOKER: The Cuban authorities have selectively switched off internet access to major platforms. This affects most, if not all, of the general population at the present time.

KAHN: Toker says the government can pick and choose which apps to remove from general use. He says last November, when a much smaller group of artists held protests demanding freedom of speech, the government simply shut off Twitter and YouTube. It's unclear how long the current outage will continue, since the government needs the internet, too, says Ted Henken of Baruch College.

TED HENKEN: To shut down and control information also is shooting itself in the foot, in this sense, because it needs that for economic development, to also spread its own messages.

KAHN: Cuban officials say the U.S. provoked the unprecedented protests. They blame the decades-long embargo for strangling the country's economy. And yesterday, Cuba's foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, accused the U.S. of funding a multimillion-dollar cyber campaign to foment social unrest.


BRUNO RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

RODRIGUEZ: These days, the U.S. doesn't need missiles or Marines, he said. They have bots and automated cyber accounts. Internet users, independent journalists and influencers say it's the Cuban government waging war on them. Podcaster Yunior Garcia was released from jail, but worries how he'll keep working without the internet. I reached him on a phone line in Havana.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says this keeps us disconnected, uninformed and unable to participate in peacefully solving Cuba's problems.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Garcia says he'll keep speaking out, even if he has to do it over an old-fashion phone line.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.