Cuba says US ruling loosening Internet services to island meant to aid ’subversion’

By Paul Haven, AP
Monday, March 15, 2010

Cuba criticizes US ruling on Internet access

HAVANA — Cuba says a U.S. ruling that makes it easier for companies to provide Internet communications services on the island is meant to destabilize the country, not loosen Washington’s 48-year economic embargo.

“The government of the United States has said clearly that its objective is to use these services as a tool of subversion and destabilization,” Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs office, said Monday in a written response to questions from The Associated Press.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it would allow the export of Internet communications services and software such as instant messaging, e-mail and Web browsing to Iran, Sudan and Cuba to help people in those countries communicate.

Cuba has the lowest level of Internet penetration in the Western Hemisphere. What services exist are prohibitively expensive for most people on the island, and many Web sites are blocked.

Opponents say Cuba’s communist government intentionally keeps the Internet out of reach in an effort to control information.

Cuba counters that the U.S. economic embargo is to blame for blocking construction of a fiber optic cable, leaving the island dependent on slow, expensive satellite links.

Vidal Ferreiro said the new measures announced by the Treasury Department would apply only to individuals, not businesses or institutions, and would do nothing to loosen the grip of the embargo, which Cuban officials refer to as a “blockade.”

“It shows once more that the U.S. government is not interested in changing its policies nor in developing normal communication with Cuba,” she said. “This is not a measure that loosens the blockade against Cuba.”

In December, American government contractor Alan P. Gross was arrested in Havana for allegedly handing out communications equipment to members of the island’s tiny Jewish community. Cuba has accused him of spying, though it has yet to press formal charges.

Gross has been jailed with limited consular access at a high-security facility in the capital. His arrest has been a major factor in the worsening relations between Washington and Havana.

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