A Few Days With Nauta

Now you can read your @nauta.cu email on your cellphone

“The line’s long but it’s moving fast,” someone tells me outside a Cubacel Office. After an hour and several shouts from the guard whom we crowded around at the door, I managed to enter. The clerk is bleary-eyed and warns me that I can only open a Nauta email account there, but “under no circumstances is the account configured for a mobile phone.” This provokes a little, “It doesn’t matter, I know how to do it, I already downloaded the Internet manual.” The little twist of the knife works because she asks me, curious, “Oh really… and could you help a friend of mine who doesn’t know how to do it?”

This won’t surprise my readers, we’re in Cuba where restrictions and chaos mix. Where the same entity that should help its clients ends up asking them for help. So I lent a hand with the friend and her email activation.

After gaining her trust, I was able to get a little information from the bored clerk. “I’m sure the Internet will be available soon on cellphones,” I let fall, just another comment. She clicked her tongue and offered, “Don’t get your hopes up,” turning to me from the desk. Then I attacked, “Well, if it’s the Venezuelan cable, I imagine the service will expand.” And that’s when the employee hinted to me, “This cable comes from somewhere else,” while putting her index finger near her eye as the signal for “vigilance.”

I go home, stumbling at every step because I’m looking at the cellphone screen where it shows new messages. First I write several friends and family members warning them that “this email @nauta.cu is not reliable or secure, but…” And then a long list of ideas for the uses of a mailbox that isn’t private, but that I can check any time from my own cellphone. I ask several acquaintances to sign me up for national and international news services via email. Within an hour a flood of information and opinion columns is stuffing my inbox.

I spend the following days searching out the details of the service, its limits and potential. I conclude that for sending photos it’s much cheaper than the previous method through MMS messaging. Before, the only option was to send an image, with agonizing slowness, costing 2.30 CUC ($2 USD). Now, I can do it through Flickr, TwitPic and Facebook through their email publication service, paying 0.01 CUC for each kilobyte. The average photo for the web doesn’t exceed 100 Kb.

Among its possibilities, is also the ability to maintain a flow of long texts — far beyond the 160 characters of an SMS — with Cubacel users who have already activated the service. In the first 48 hours I managed to create news feeds for other activists in several areas of Cuba. So far all the messages have arrived… even thought the Nauta contract threatens to cut off the service if it is used for “activities…against national independence and sovereignty.”

I also tested the effectiveness of the GPRS connection, needed to send and receive emails, from several provinces. In Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Camagüey and Matanzas I was able to connect without major problems. There are some stretches of road where there aren’t even signals to make calls, but the rest of the tries were successful.

It’s not all good news

Coinciding with the new email service on cellphones, there has been a noted deterioration in the sending of text messages. Hundreds of messages in recent days never reached their recipients, although the telephone company quickly charged for them, which points to an act of censorship or the collapse of the networks. I would prefer to think it’s the latter, if it weren’t for the fact that among the greatest failures were activists, opponents, independent journalists and other “uncomfortable” citizens.

On the other hand, let’s not be naive. Nauta has all the hallmarks of a carnivorous network that swallows information and processes our correspondence for monitoring purposes. Very likely there is a filter for key words and minute-by-minute observation of certain people. I don’t discard the possibility that the content of private messages will be published in the official media, should the government deem it appropriate. Nor do I rule out phishing to damage the prestige of some customers, or the use of information–such as emails published on social networks–to impersonate others.

All these possibilities need to be taken into account when using the new service, because there is no independence between the telephone company and the country’s intelligence services. So every word written, every name referenced, every opinion sent via Nauta, could end up in State Security’s archives. We need to avoid making their job easier.

After a week with Nauta, my impression is that it is a crack that is widening. Through which we can project our voices, but also through which we could be abducted. A poor imitation of the web, a handicapped internet, their service is very far from what we have demanded as 21st century citizens.

Nevertheless, I suggest using this new option and pushing its limits, like we have done with text-only messaging. Used cautiously, but with a civic conscience, this path can help us to improve the quality and quantity of information we receive and of our own presence on the social networks. Its own name already says it, if we can’t be internauts… at least we can try being nautas.


18 thoughts on “A Few Days With Nauta

  1. The Venezuelan Central bank is getting the desired results in the black market for dollars with the devaluation of Bolivars….in no time it is going to shrink to the point it does not undermine fiscal policy and Central bank policies….

  2. regarding the Venezuelan economy…Chavistas know how to fix it…devaluation of the bolivar, domestic gasoline price increase over 3 yrs., joint ventures in the oil and gas industry with Chinese, Russian and Indian Co’s. Loans from China the SICAD 2 monetary exchanges. The dollar shortage that is making paying for imports impossible can be resolved. OPEC fixed crude at $100/barrel creating a flooring for members like Venezuela. Venezuela cut crude deliveries to PetroCaribe by 23000 barrels per day. This crude that was used for Cuban doctors, food, (not much dollars) is now being used for export at $97/barrel. Maduro implemented e-cards for people so they could buy subsidize food in government stores. If you want to travel, you have to exchange your bolivars for dollars at $11.30/dollar instead of the $6.37bolivar/dollar the government pays to people that deal with them. Inflation is starting to come down from 56% (normal for Venezuela is 25 to 32% inflation). Unemployment is at 6% go figure…”noise” in the internet claim that using Petroleos de Venezuela dollars to pay for social programs and private institutions is recklace. Specially because PDVSA needs money for investment in the company. This will be fixed with new joint ventures. Gas production by a French company will be on line later in 2014. Venezuela can be an exporter of gas too….”


    BLOOMBERG NEWS: Venezuela Lets Bolivar Depreciate 88% on New Sicad II Market – by Anatoly Kurmanaev, Corina Pons and Katia Porzecanski

    Venezuela allowed the bolivar to weaken 88 percent on a new currency market after loosening controls, a move to increase dollar supplies needed to alleviate a record shortage of imports including medicine, food and toilet paper.

    The bolivar was sold for an average 51.86 bolivars per dollar yesterday on the new system, the central bank said on its website. The government’s official exchange rate used to import medicine and food is 6.3 bolivars per dollar and a secondary dollar auction system last sold greenbacks at 10.8 bolivars.

    “This is a devaluation any way you look at this,” Tamara Herrera, chief economist at financial research firm Sintesis Financiera, said by phone. “The government is trying to bring down the black market rate with this new market, with the consensus that the dollar should be trading for about 50 bolivars.”

    The bolivar was sold for 55 bolivars per dollar in the first transaction on the new trading platform, according to Paul Leiva from Banctrust & Co. in Caracas. On the black market, the bolivar has strengthened in the past weeks to 58.6 to the dollar from as high as 85, according to dolartoday.com, which tracks the exchange rate along the Colombian border.

    The central bank did not immediately say how much was sold yesterday.


    Eleven years of currency controls have made dollars increasingly scarce, causing shortages of imported products ranging from diabetes drugs to laundry detergent. More than one in four basic goods was out of stock in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy in January, according to the central bank, which stopped publishing up-to-date scarcity data this month.

    The shortages are fueling the world’s fastest inflation and have triggered more than a month of protests, with opposition parties and students staging daily marches. At least 31 people have died in the unrest.

    Companies and individuals yesterday were allowed to buy and sell dollars in cash and bonds for the first time in four years. The exchange rate in this market, which is regulated by the central bank, will be determined by supply and demand, Economy Vice President Rafael Ramirez said when the system was announced last month.



  4. Neutral observer: A sarcastic comment for fun…but, Castro now has an easier way to find out what activists are doing….

  5. Simba Sez: Nick, Possibly you should reread Yoani’s blog, and this time attempt to hone your comprehension skills? A quick idea is to watch for the part where she talks about mail monitoring. In line with your question as to where Cuban authorities may have learned of such an idea I pointed out it had been around for a long time now. Only trying to help you understand the blog.

  6. Simba,
    Nick sez: Seems a little strange that your normal style of comment is to admonish others for not sticking to Yoani’s chosen ‘topic of the week’, and now you’re going off on a complete tangent about World War 2.
    Simba surely you must be aware that this departure from your norm is just a touch inconsistent.
    I will take this opportunity however, to point out for the umpteenth time the following:
    There are countless people on this world that think the USA is ‘big and bad’ as you put it, or ‘The Great Satan, as others like to phrase it.
    I am not one of them.
    I have been fortunate enough to have spent a considerable period of time over on your side of the pond and I have always found your country to be of interest with much to admire.
    I do think the USA is imperfect and has a (recent) history of some barbaric foreign policies.
    The reason that I frequently point out the USA’s imperfections (and barbaric foreign policies) is because this blog consists largely of people from the USA (and the occasional erratic Canadian sycophant) dishing out illiberal, one-sided criticism toward Cuba (and recently Venezuela).
    The manner in which this criticism is unleashed suggests that it coming from a country that has managed to achieve some level of perfection or which stands on some moral high ground overlooking it’s less well off southern ‘backyard’.
    The simplest way of applying a counter argument to this one way traffic of criticism is to point out the flaws in the country from which it flows.

    As Terry Demalanga has pointed out, the good ol’ USA, although in my own humble opinion not inherently ‘bad’, ain’t no paradise either.

  7. Castro fans can go on the US internet and lash out at the USA and express their admiration of tyrants and terrorists trying to destroy the USA.

    They can post or say any garbage they want.

    They do this in total freedom, without fear of the slightest repercussion…

    and then they complain that the US government doesn’t respect their privacy?


    I wonder what it’s like to be completely insane?

  8. Another classic line from a Castro army ant:

    “the privacy rights in Cuba are just as good as the privacy rights in the United States”

    Omar, do you know how funny you are?

  9. por favor ,critican ha cuba pero yo vivo aqui en ,Nashville,tenessee,,y se lo que hay en la olla , el sueno en el paraiso del diablo es aqui en EE.UU. usted no es libre aqui ni durmiemdo , el despertar , mire su alrededor en Nashville, esta proibido caminar por la hacera usted lo puede hacer pero cuando lo vea una patrulla de la policia te llevan para una carcel que no hay ningun derecho ,la discriminacion en una escala gigantesca que te aplasta constatemente, dia 1 pagar la renta tan cara que no comes , denle gracias que en cuba se camina por la hacera como si nada ,TV propaganda todo el tiempo de engano , hay mas carceles que escuelas ,respire profundo en el trafico si queda vivo……

  10. Well…now the Cuban People can have the privilege of being watch as close as we are watch in the U.S….between the NSA, FBI, Police, DEA and others that I can’t even remember…the privacy rights in Cuba are just as good as the privacy rights in the United States…our 4th Amendment which basically say that we have the right to be secure in our own privacy cannot be enforced thanks to technology….this is a two edge sword…a catch 22….I don’t know whether I should feel happy for the Cuban People or simply shake my head …be careful what you wish for….technological conveniences come with a price ….usually in liberties…..

  11. Sounds a lot like the Cuban postal service.

    Send a letter and pray for a miracle.

    Now it’s send an email and pray for a miracle.

    Every time I don’t hear from a Cuban friend for several months I wonder whether it’s because they couldn’t afford the dollar to access a computer or because they sent an email that got lost in Castro’s updated and perfected socialist communications network.

  12. Mr. Nick,

    The one place they didn’t get the idea from is the USA, where you need probable cause and a warrant from a judge for any wiretap.

    US government surveillance and eavesdropping of its citizens is almost non-existent compared to most states.

    Unfortunately, the US respect for privacy goes way too far when they apply it to dangerous criminals.

    In thug states like the Soviet Union, Cuba or Venezuela, the police can bug your phone and open your mail any time they feel like it.

    Everybody in Cuba knows they are being watched 24/7. There is no such thing as a privacy agreement in Cuba.

    What Castro is most afraid of is the honest, peaceful and courageous citizen.

    Like those Ladies who carry flowers on their way to church as a sign of protest.

  13. ***
    A big improvement! In the USA–you watch your cell phone. In Cuba–the cell phone watches you! Don’t forget your smile, Yoani!
    Un Gran mejoranza! En los Estados unidos–ves su telephono cellular. En Cuba–su telephono cellular–ve a ti! No olvida su sonrisa, Yoani!
    John Bibb


    Disconnected in Cuba’s virtual black hole – by Christopher Baker is a professional travel writer and photographer, and leads tours of Cuba for MotoDiscovery and National Geographic Expeditions. His six books about Cuba include MI MOTO FIDEL: MOTORCYCLING THROUGH CASTRO’S CUBA (National Geographic Adventure Press), winner of two national book awards.
    Internet access in Cuba is notoriously expensive and slow although has improved recently as ETECSA has set up an increasing number of Telepuntos, which offers reasonable Internet access for US$ 6 per hour. The national system requires that you buy a scratch card with user name/password, which you then enter into the terminal. The national nature of the system means that you can use any unused part of the time at any other Telepunto location.

    In Havana, a number of the more upmarket hotels offer wi-fi access for US$ 6-8 per hour. This is an incredibly popular service since it allows you to use your Blackberry/IPad/laptop and not be restricted to a Telepunto computer. The quality of service varies and will almost be slower than you expect. The best hotels for this are the Iberostar Parque Central and H20 Hotel Panorama (Although the Panorama has been more unreliable recently). The Meliá Habana and Meliá Cohíba are reliable in terms of sale of cards at least but are sometimes overwhelmed resulting in poor service.

    Outside Havana, options are more limited and even though most major hotels will have their own internet cafes, the speed of access is often enough to make you dream of your old dialup connection back home!

    Roaming options on your mobile phone may be a good option but you need to check your company’s rates (see below).

    Does Skype work in Cuba
    Skype does work in Cuba from a limited number of locations that offer wi-fi service. Periodically, attempts have been made to block this; however, it does seem to function reasonably well from hotel lobbies such as the Parque Central or the Panorama in Havana.

    Will my cell phone work in Cuba?
    ETECSA, the national phone company, has roaming agreements with most major international carriers (excluding US carriers) so theoretically your phone should work in Cuba. It is worth checking rates before you go since horror stories abound of people who have used their cell phones to access data packages as well as voice and received huge roaming bills back home! As a general rule, roaming is great for texts, extremely expensive for voice calls and variable for data access.

    For Canadian visitors, Rogers and Bell offer very good Caribbean roaming plans. Increasingly, many other international carriers also offer reasonable roaming plans, which include Cuba. This can run for as little as US$ 60 per month for data as well as some Internet surfing.

    For those people who bring their smart phone but do not want to use the roaming services, then make sure that you keep your phone on airplane mode at all times since especially IPhones may start to pick up 3G signals and start racking up a bill!

  15. Simba Sez: Nick, Maybe they got the idea from WW II when all mail was monitored. Surely you remember when the big bad old U S pulled the Brits out of the fire when Germany was kicking their butts.

  16. Interesting blog from Yoani.
    It would seem that she is suggesting the Cuban State may be monitoring communications between members of the public.
    How very devilish of them….
    ….wonder where they got they got that idea from ?????

  17. Yoani, if you’re connected check out Tiber.com free real time texting with anyone else using Tiber

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