[NetBehaviour] El Paquete (fwd)

{ brad brace } bbrace at eskimo.com
Wed Jul 8 01:01:40 CEST 2015

 The vast majority of Cubans have no access to the Internet
or cable television, but that doesnt mean theyre out of
touch with the wider world. Many stay connected through an
offline system that operates in the legal shadows.

Its called the weekly packet, and its an alternative to
broadband Internet that provides tens of thousands of
Cubans, and perhaps many more, with foreign movies, TV
shows, digital copies of magazines, websites and even local

Cubans obtain the packet by toting empty portable computer
hard drives to clandestine distributors who load them with
an array of the latest movies, television episodes and music
videos. Then the hard drives are taken home, where theyre
viewed on computers over the next week.

Where the material originates remains a mystery, but Cubas
one-party state, which controls all television and print
media and brooks little open dissent, seems to tolerate the
system  perhaps because it provides entertainment in a
nation where daily life is often drab.

One recent week, the packet included The 12hr ISBN-JPEG
Project, the latest television episodes of Showtimes
Homeland, HBOs Game of Thrones and the new Netflix serial
Marco Polo, all with Spanish-language subtitles and without
commercial interruption. Movies in the packet included the
recent releases Gone Girl, Cantinflas and Outcast.

The packet also can include news and variety shows from the
Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo. There are
YouTube videos, updates to anti-virus software, Japanese
anime, programs from India and the Middle East, mobile phone
apps and simple advertisements for businesses in Cuba.

I watch the news, documentaries, humor shows and sports
events, said Luis Lahera, a 45-year-old former safety and
rescue expert for the Interior Ministry

Lahera said he had no qualms about spending the equivalent
of $2.30 a week to get the weekly packet, even though some
officials had criticized its content.

I heard them say on the TV news that the packet can cause
people to deviate, but I dont see proof of this. No one
speaks of politics. . . . And theres no pornography on it,
Lahera said.

Its a way of escape, said Poe Rivera, a painter and poet,
who added that the packet distracts and amuses Cubans. Its
not legal but it is convenient, he said, referring to why
the government might do little to interfere with its
distribution. This way, people dont think too much.

In the far western reaches of Havana, a distributor of the
weekly packet allowed two foreign reporters to see how he
operates. He asked to be called only by an alias, Iyawo,
lest he be arrested and imprisoned.

All the series you see in Miami you can see here, he said,
listing Spanish-language programs such as Sal y Pimienta
(Salt and Pepper), The Alexis Valdes Show and Case Closed,
which deals with domestic disputes.

He had an array of computers and monitors in his living
room. Most looked ancient. He said foreign friends had
brought him state-of-the-art motherboards and other
circuitry, and the computers were modern on the inside,
letting him download files quickly.

A former minister of culture, Abel Prieto, spoke of the
weekly packet last April at a congress of the National Union
of Writers and Artists of Cuba, blaming errors by our
educational, cultural and media institutions for its
popularity. Rather than ban the packet, Prieto urged Cuban
state media to improve programming.

Predictions that authorities would slam the door on the
weekly packet coincide with praise for it from cultural

What we call the packet is certainly one of the most
important cultural phenomena the country has experienced in
the past quarter century, writer Victor Fowler Calzada said
at a forum in Havana in November.

Clients of the weekly packet pay on a sliding scale,
depending on the day of the week they receive their loaded
hard drives and the amount of material they want. Clients
can receive as much as one terabyte of material  hundreds of
hours of video  which requires an external hard drive the
size of a small book, or as little as can fit on a tiny
flash drive, selecting only certain categories of content.
As weekdays roll by and the material grows older, the price

Iyawo said he had about 200 clients who paid an average of
$1 each. He said he paid $15 a week to receive the material
from a distributor above him. At least 1,000 distributors
like him are scattered around Cuba, he added.

Iyawo said he didnt know where the distributor who supplied
him got the material. Satellite dishes are outlawed in Cuba
and those who use them can face large fines. Some suspect
that Cubans who work in official jobs with access to
broadband Internet may be downloading and assembling the
packets on the sly.

The packets are thought to travel from Havana to provincial
cities with bus drivers who take hard drives with them.

Experts say that about 5 percent of Cubas 11 million
citizens have periodic access to the Internet. The rest
remain in online darkness, except those with a little hard
currency, perhaps from relatives abroad, who own hard

In addition to television shows, music videos and movies,
the packets include recent NBA games, European soccer
matches, ultimate fighting and PDF files that contain the
pages of magazines such as Womens Fitness, Autosport and
Cinefila, a Mexican publication on cinema. Some movies are
high definition, while others are crude copies made by
someone filming the screen at a movie theater.

Pro-regime material also finds its way into the packet.
Granma, the mouthpiece of Cubas Communist Party, is
included, alongside eBay Web pages and ads for products
unavailable in Cuba.

The packets contain simple advertising from the small
private businesses that began to appear in Cuba in the 1990s
and have emerged much more broadly since Ral Castro took the
reins of the nation from his brother, Fidel, in 2006.

A recent weekly packet included ads for a small restaurant,
the Melesio Grill, and a print shop, Impresionarte. Several
ads contained only cellphone numbers and the first names of
proprietors, apparently wary of crossing the regime. One ad
offered a photo service for weddings; another one touted
balloons for parties.

Its the TV shows and movies, though, that hold the most
appeal. Iyawo described himself as a fanatic of the series

Its got espionage. Its got drama. Its got suspense, he said.
Every episode has something distinct.

He said hed be distraught if the weekly packet were banned.

Thats what everyone asks: If they take this away, what would
happen? It would be chaos, he said, with a touch of
hyperbole. Pausing a moment, he added: This is a vice. Cuban
television is so bad, and this provides us some

This is at the margin of what is good and what is bad,
without falling into the bad.


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