Intellectual Freedom, the Digital Divide, and Cuba
February 23, 2009

I’ve started doing some research for an intellectual freedom project that examines the relationship between the government and the media in Cuba.  By way of the “Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom” blog, I came across this article that the Guardian ran last May.  The issue of the Cuban government restricting access to Cuba’s most popular blog is, of course, disconcerting if, admittedly, emblematic of the current information environment in Cuba.  What surprised and concerned me perhaps even more significantly, was this line: “Old Havana has just one internet cafe, a state-owned enterprise charging £2.50 an hour for computer use, a sum that is a third of the average Cuban monthly salary.”

Having the ability to access information is an essential element to intellectual freedom.  In the States, much of the significance of the First Amendment, in regards to intellectual freedom, has just as much to do with being able to freely and easily access diverse information as it does with being allowed to speak freely.

Of course, this is not the first time that I’ve perceived a connection between the digital divide and what I like to call “equality in information.”  But I think that it is imperative that we frequently remind ourselves of how interconnected digital divide and intellectual freedom issues often are.  Addressing one and not the other often overlooks a significant portion of a bigger issue.  In this case, Raúl Castro could lift all governmental bans on access to the Internet today, which would be a cause for joy, in terms of intellectual freedom.  Yet, until the digital divide is bridged, a majority of Cubans would still be unable access this information.

Addressing the digital divide and intellectual freedom in Cuba are both daunting and, in many ways, distinct tasks.  I will be focusing my efforts on intellectual freedom, but I need to remember that it is important to often take a step back and look at the whole equation.  This can be overwhelming, but it should also provide an even stronger impetus to address these issues head on.