Members of Cuba’s small Twitter community gathered on Friday for the first time to put faces to names in a meeting where political viewpoints were off limits but complaints about the island’s poor Internet connections were not. About 50 people showed up at a civic center in the Cuban capital for the event - called #TwittHab - organized by Leunam Rodriguez, a student and reporter at the state-run Radio Cubana.

It is not known how many tweeters there are in Cuba but invitations were sent out to more than 450 people on Facebook, tweeters said. Former leader Fidel Castro has a Twitter account in his name but does not personally tweet, state media has said. Well-known dissident blogger and tweeter Yoani Sanchez initially said she would come with some of her fellow dissidents but they did not attend.

The Cuban government has begun using social media in its ideological war with the United States but Rodriguez said it was not involved in this event. The tweeters compared notes on their experiences with Twitter, and said it was a wonderful way to make friends, some of whom they now had the pleasure of meeting.

One participant, Agustin Lopez, stood and said he was “a social thinker” opposed to the lack of freedom on the communist island but was quickly hushed by other tweeters who told him politics were not the purpose of the meeting. “What we wanted was that people who appeared in virtual space come out to this real space,” Rodriguez said. “The idea of #TwittHab is not politics, the idea of #TwittHab is to share.”

Twitter has been used in the Arab Spring popular uprisings this year, as well as in other instances, to pass along anti-government messages and organize protests. But in Cuba Internet access is limited and public opposition to the communist-led government little tolerated by authorities. Tweeting can be costly in Cuba, too - the equivalent of $1 per tweet if sent via cellphone, which is a lot in a country where the average monthly salary is equivalent to $20.

Tweeters said they longed for better Internet connections on the island, where the Internet comes through a satellite, is slow, expensive and not widely available. “There is a lot of difficulty with the issue of connection through the satellite. It’s true that Cuba has many problems (with the Internet),” said Pedro Alejandro Cruz. But he and others hoped for better Internet on a new undersea fibre optic cable connecting Cuba with socialist ally Venezuela. “I think the cable will be a way to be able to connect and bring the Internet to all the people like it is in all parts of the world,” Cruz said.

Government officials have warned that, due to logistical issues, for the first few years Internet via the cable will be limited mostly to the government, academia and businesses.

July 3rd, 2011 - 12:51 UTC
by A.Sennitt
(Source: Reuters)