Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Talking - and screaming - about text messages to Cuba

Nelson Rubio at a tequila factory. Photo: Facebook
A shout-out to Nelson Rubio for inviting me this morning to his morning news show on Actualidad 1020, an A.M. radio station in Miami. We discussed a U.S.-financed text-messaging campaign targeting Cuba.
A few points I made:
  • State-run media organizations in Cuba have characterized the planned messages as spam. I don't agree. A description of the contract with Washington Software, Inc., says cell phone users in Cuba will have to subscribe to receive the messages. They'll all have user names and passwords. That doesn't sound like spam to me.
  • Washington Software, the company that was awarded the contract, received a separate contract in July to handle an "email blasting subscription service” for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG.
  • The Asian-American-owned firm has 11 employees and reported annual revenue of $560,000.
  • Text-message services are common and widespread. This would certainly be useful for Cubans who have difficulty gaining access to news and information outside Cuba. The question - and I'm just posing it, not taking a position on it - is whether U.S. taxpayers should finance such a plan. Or should this kind of activity be left to non-governmental organizations?
Even though the text messages in the campaign don't appear to be spam, at least in my view, I imagine that this kind of email service would be useful in getting out the word to dissidents and others if civil unrest were to break out and spread.
Democracy advocates contend that the Castro government opposes the text-message campaign because it fears a free flow of information. And they've been circulating a photo illustration on Facebook that shows a cell phone and the terrified face of Fidel Castro. The illustration was adapted from the famous painting, "The Scream," by Norwegian artist Edward Munch.

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