Investigative blogger Yoani Sanchez and journalist Reinaldo Escobar discovered that Cuba’s state-run telecom monopoly is banning text messages based on keywords. Eliecer Avila, the head of the opposition group Somos Mas, took part in the investigation. He said 30 key words had been identified that would lead to a text message being blocked, but there may be more. Some of the banned words include the Spanish words for “democracy,” “human rights” and “hunger strike.” The names of some dissidents are also being filtered. It is not clear how long the filter has been in place.
“We always thought texts were vanishing because the provider is so incompetent, then we decided to check using words that bothered the government. We discovered not just us but the entire country is being censored. It just shows how insecure and paranoid the government is.” — Eliecer Avila, Head of Somos Mas
Reuters had its journalists independently verify that text messages were being filtered in Cuba. According to their tests, messages containing the words “democracy,” “human rights,” “Somos Mas” and the name Yoani Sanchez did not reach their destination, although they appear as “sent” on the sender’s phone. Texts containing the Spanish word for “protest” did go through.
Cuba has claimed that the United States is attempting to use telecommunications to subvert the government. As a result, Cuba has blocked a wide range of websites and media it believes to be funded by the United States. Sanchez and others have been called mercenaries by the Cuban government, which claims they are working for the United States. However, the websites of a few critical newspapers, such as El Nuevo Herald and El Pais, are not blocked.
Cuba has been slow to implement modern telecommunications. Cell phone service was only made available in 2008, and Wi-Fi was only approved in the country last year. Only about 25% to 30% of the Cuban population has access to the Internet due to the high cost. The Obama administration has made some recent attempts to give American ISPs access to the island, but Cuba has shown more interest in working with Russia and China to improve its communications technology.