Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cuban official defends Internet controls

Cuban official defends internet controls

By JOHN RICE, Associated Press WriterWed Feb 14, 1:11 AM ET

A senior Cuban official has defended the country's Internet restrictions as a response to U.S. aggression and called for controlling "the wild colt of new technologies."

Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes opened an international conference on communication technologies Monday by complaining that Washington is choking Cuba's access to the Internet even as U.S. military and intelligence services use it to undermine the communist government.

Internet technologies "constitute one of the tools for global extermination," he said, referring to U.S. policies, but they "are also necessary to continue to advance down the path of development."

He defended Cuba's "rational and efficient" use of the Internet, which puts computers in schools and government computer clubs while prohibiting home connections for most citizens and blocking many sites with anti-government material.

"The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled," he said.

Valdes, who has fought alongside and then governed under Fidel Castro since 1953, is an influential figure in Cuba's communist hierarchy, although he was not among the small group Castro named to oversee its affairs under acting President Raul Castro after he fell ill in July.

Valdes expressed dire suspicions of U.S. intentions for the World Wide Web, citing post-Sept. 11 security measures and news reports that technology giants Microsoft and Google have cooperated with U.S. intelligence agencies.

"These actions bring the destabilizing power of the empire to threatening new levels," he said.

U.S. law calls for efforts to overthrow Castro's government through a sweeping commercial embargo and other policies. Valdes said those have choked the island's attempts to extend its Internet connections.

Valdes said there were about 1,300 delegates from 58 countries at the conference. The U.S. trade embargo with Cuba discourages many companies from doing business with Cuba — a fact emphasized by the lineup of conference exhibitors, which was weighted heavily toward companies from leftist allies such as China, Vietnam and Venezuela.

Since 1996, Cuba has used a relatively low-capacity satellite link to connect to the outside world because the United States has blocked it from connecting to nearby fiber-optic networks that run to the U.S. or through U.S.-administered Puerto Rico.

To overcome that problem, Cuba signed an agreement with ally Venezuela last month to lay a 965-mile fiber optic cable across the Caribbean Sea connecting the countries. It was not immediately clear when that line might be built.

Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Tuesday that although Internet use in Cuba is hampered by the U.S. blocking access to fiber-optic networks, an October report by the media advocacy group found that access is deliberately restricted, with less than 2 percent of the population online.

"It would anyway have been astonishing if a country that has no independent radio or TV station or newspaper did allow unrestricted access to the Internet," the group said.

Valdes said a way should be found to eradicate "the diffusion of pornography, encouragement of terrorism, racism, fraud, spread of fascist ideologies and any kind of manifestation of cybernetic crime."

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