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RSF and Cuba: the 'embedded watchdog' loses its bite

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RSF and Cuba: the ‘embedded watchdog’ loses its bite

By Tim Anderson

The planned ‘cyber-demonstration … against online censorship’ by Reporters Without Borders (RSF by its French initials) fizzled out on 14 March. UNESCO denied that it supported the RSF campaign and online contributors were blocked from posting any comment to its website.

This US Government-funded ‘watchdog’ of press freedom had targeted 15 countries as ‘enemies of the internet’. Many of the 15 are states targeted by the Bush administration: Iran, Syria, Vietnam but especially Cuba. RSF has become ‘embedded’ in US projects, much like the embedded journalists of Iraq.

RSF is specifically funded for anti-Cuban campaigns by the US-funded ‘Centre for a Free Cuba’ and the ‘National Endowment for Democracy’, though its website says funding from these ‘private foundations’ has ‘decreased slightly’.

The RSF online demonstration refused to allow online ‘demonstrators’ to post a single comment on its website. All that was possible was a ‘click’ on a pre-written slogan, attacking each of the countries.

When I complained about this to Clothilde Le Coz, of RSF’s Paris-based ‘Internet Freedom Desk’, she replied “Pre-written slogans are made by us. … Each slogan is related to the country you are in. What disturb you and what do you like to say?”

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When I responded that I wanted to comment on my eight years experience of using the internet in Cuba, and how I remained in email contact with 45 friends, colleagues and students in that country, I received no response.

Many of the “more than 21,000” said to have joined in the RSF online ‘protests’, like me, probably clicked on a slogan, imagining this was a prerequisite to being able to post a comment. But no comment was allowed.

RSF claims sinister surveillance of Cuban internet users. It fails to point out that in the same month as its “cyber-demonstration” against ‘enemies of the internet’, the US Government shut down nearly 4,000 Cuban-linked sites (especially dot-coms).

RSF also fails to point out that the US refuses to accept any internet cable from Cuba and that people connecting to many US sites from Cuban domains meet with messages such as these: “This product is not available in your country” (Google Earth) or “We are sorry but it appears that you are located in a country that we are unable to export to in accordance with United States law” (MacAfee).

The challenges of internet development in Cuba are unlikely to be understood through this self-proclaimed watchdog, ‘embedded’ as it is in US government campaigns.

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Tim Anderson is an academic and social activist based in Sydney, Australia

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