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Technology conference focus of government criticism in Cuba

posted 21 Jun 2012, 11:53 by Mpelembe   [ updated 21 Jun 2012, 12:02 ]

Cubans gather for a technology festival in Havana, despite government criticism of the event.

Cubans and foreign visitors gathered in Havana on Thursday (June 21) for a controversial technology conference aimed at promoting the use of the internet in Cuba, despite government criticism of the event.
The "Clic Festival" is being held in Havana between June 21 and June 23 that has the stated aim of "fomenting the use of the web in Cuban society" and will include seminars on issues such as digital journalism, the use of Twitter and the role of digital publications in Cuba.

On Tuesday, the Cuban government's Cubadebate website said the Clic Festival was "cooking up a subversive monster" and that the location of the festival was "a meeting place for counter-revolutionaries conspicuous for their mediocrity".

Event organizer Jose Luis Antunez, who organized a similar conference in his native Spain, denied that event had any political affiliation.

"The Clic Festival is first of all a technology event. It's nothing political and is very inclusive. We want visitors from any ideology, and we want, above all, to examine these latest technological trends," he said.

Cuba's media is state-controlled and criticism of the ruling Communist Party is forbidden, but recent years have seen limited use of the blogs and website by members of the opposition.

Well-known dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said on Thursday that the event could help transform Cuban society.

"We Cubans are ready to turn into people of the 21st century. We want access to the internet, to enjoy it, and above all learn about new technologies like any citizen of the world. That's basically what we are doing here (at the festival). Technology can unite us. Technology can bring us together. Technology can help remind us we are members of the global community," she said.

Sanchez' "Generation Y" blog has an international following and is much despised by the Cuban government.

Eliecer Avila, a former student, said that the internet can help Cubans understand their own society through interaction with the rest of the world.'

"The message (of the festival), especially to Cubans, is that they should be united, to be uneasy, to not conform, to ask for the internet and ask for a connection. Because incorporating these tools into their lives will improve them and we will be able to interact with professionals, students, people from around the world. That will enrich our understanding over the phenomena that take place in our country," he said.

Cuban Alfredo Fernandez, an employee of Cuba's Academy of Sciences, said that Cubans must use the internet to effect change in their country.

"I belong to a generation that keeps doing the same things, but that has understood that if we follow this path, the country won't definitely change. We must do things differently, from pacifist positions, from democratic positions, and that's why I'm here," he said.

Communist-run Cuban monopolizes communications in the state-controlled economy. There is no broadband Internet in Cuba and the relatively few Internet users suffer through agonizingly long waits to open an email, let alone view a photo or video, which also hampers government and business operations.