We’ve got a special post today, an Open Letter written for us by Lizet González Rodríguez, a mother from Cienfuegos who recounts her battle against the ETECSA monopoly, in addition to giving us important details about her life and way of thinking. It also serves as a gloomy reminder of the constant and flagrant violations this company commits against the privacy of its clients.
We’ve faithfully honored this author’s text. It’s a bit extensive, but it’s worth it.
Thanks to the kindness of the Revolution and not my own, after 7 years of living with a Latin American student from the ALBA project in the field of Medicine, it is with a clean human conscience and without an eye for greed, that it was because of him, during the last year of his career, I was granted telephone service as a reward for my hard work, gained in large part due to my effort and sacrifice, and not due (at all) to the Cuban Revolution. It was through his stay in the house that we got to know other foreign students that would visit us out of the friendship and familial support our home provided.
It’s well known that our only telecommunications company, ETECSA, famous for their poor understanding, or their complete ignorance of the difference between quality service and cost, offers internet services to foreign students in Cuba. Since the company does not provide telephone services, these students visit homes like mine near the school of Medical Sciences that have telephone service in order to ask for permission to use the family phone and to link their internet account to our telephone number so they can stay in touch with their family abroad, thereby using the full palette of options. They can do this without signing a contract, or without any explanation of the ins-and-outs of the service, the account owner cannot use the service that is being linked to their own, and no favors, or exchanges of any kind takes place. As another option, they sell a certain amount of hours for a price, and if they go over their allotted time, they incur extra cost; all this for an astronomical cost. After some time, practically at the end of the student’s course study, the one we let use our telephone service, we find ourselves summoned by ETECSA; they accused me, as the named owner of the telephone account, of committing fraud against the company, and I, as the account owner, and not the foreign student who had a contracted service with ETECSA, could do so without needing to authorize, nor officially sign as owner.
My story begins at the end of 2014, one morning I heard shouting in the streets and it was directed towards my husband. I got close to the door and saw three people, one in particular, a supervisor from ETECSA, Yoiner Besada Chaviano, whose photo I’ve attached to my letter, I got it from his Facebook profile, because I consider him to be the most sadistic and sarcastic person that could exist in this company, truly fear inspring; he’s followed by two people, one who is the whistle blowing agent from MININT, who days earlier had been interrogating the neighbors. But, not to get off topic, I’ll tell you how things went down. Not wanting to explain myself from behind the fence and in front of the neighbors, I invited them in my house. Amusingly, supervisor Besada said they were there due to anomalies in my service and they wanted to check the service connection in the house, of course, without a service order, or warrant. I agreed since I had nothing to hide. They didn’t find what they were looking for. Afterwards, I told them to come outside to the patio to where the telephone connection hooked up and again, they didn’t find any “anomaly.” We went back into the living room where I asked them exactly what type of anomalies they expected to find? He said he wasn’t sure, but they were under orders from the anti-Havana office’s fraud department. I kept pressing the question and he continued to be evasive. Finally, I asked the million dollar question: “Do you think it’s from an internet connection that a medical student has linked up with my phone?” He answered with another question as would any of his kind, “Ah, why do you have an internet connection?” “You should know,” I said, “it wouldn’t come in through thin air, nor satellite, but through a dated, telephone cable.” That’s when he gave me a summons and had me sign to the affect that my husband, who is the account owner, should appear at his offices next week to explain the use of the telephone services and another form where it said that our telephone service was under investigation. I didn’t sign this last form because I didn’t agree with it, not to mention, I wasn’t the user under contract.
My husband went to the interview where we left practically accused by a commission of telephone fraud and were to await a judgement. Two days later our service was cut off and the company had us under investigation. We were notified that same day of the suspension, which had to be done within 30 days, and our service remained cut off for 2 months despite the fact that the investigation was suppose to take only 9 days. Ok, fine, my questions are thus:
How can they sell an internet service to a student without providing a personal line to link it and force him to give 2 telephone numbers of third parties in order to get service?
How do you charge a telephone account, month after month, for access to ENET and continue collecting fees from a student for internet service if according to your company, it was fraudulent?
How do you investigate and prosecute a national user if he never had a contract for said service and as a consequence, his link, if he wasn’t notified to verify what happened and inform him of his national rights and duties, or is that something too unimaginable to ask for?
And finally, how could this national user be prosecuted for a fraud he didn’t commit due to not being the person authorized to use the said service, without being notified, but investigated, stepped on, judged, bullied instead of it being the foreign user who is the exclusive party?
In February of 2015, after 2 months and several weeks, the judgement on the investigation found the national user committed “telephone fraud” and was issued a excessive fine, based on the company’s losses, which as we all know is a totally inflated rate, it’s extremely expensive, well out of the financial reach of people who work and is compensated with only a part of their salary. This supposed fee for “the alleged economic losses” incurrec by ETECSA, was expected to be paid in CUC, which is not the customary, monetary form of payment for services. This case is based on subjective proof and threats, in findings of espionage through the use of the telephone service likely by cell phone (my cell phone), while they violated the terms of confidentiality of clients without any recourse, and they were always sure to note they wouldn’t give any data if we got a lawyer, and all the while, this threatened to uncover our own pandora’s box: that our mobile telephone service, which we Cubans pay a veritable fortune, has become our worse enemy; they tap all our calls and listen to our messages in a truly despicable manner and later use them against us.
And fine, I ask myself:
Where does this leave this dominated people’s rights to citizenship, to humanity?
How far can the impunity of man go? How can they reduce us to a bare minimum?
In this abusive and arbitrary, and somewhat polemic case, I was found to be acting as “head of a group,” named without much explanation (since I wasn’t the account owner, but my husband). Just the chilling image of a video conference, they’d say from Havana, could very well be from the office next door, explaining via antiquated and stupid equipment run by a paid underling which they claim are the same services used by the Highest Offices of the Province so they can speak to their families abroad, some because they can’t afford it economically, and others so they’re not monitored by machinery used for spying by those they flatter and defend. Betraying themselves when they seem lost, the very occurrence of making a call to a third party in the outside world as a suspected fraud. How long are we going to be prisoners of a system that doesn’t let us communicate with the real world so that people continue to live under the shadow of an expired world model without knowing reality, a reality that we all know is censorship and being manipulated by a system imposed on our country, that they shout to the four winds does not deprive us of these services, that instead, it is the fault of a brutal imperialism that makes them and limits our development, the very same imperialism with which they are currently seeking to re-establish relations. Even though our rights are neglected in contemporary Cuba. How far and for how long are we to suffer the despotism and trampling of rights normally bestowed to any individual in other parts of the world, making us prisoners on our very soil.
Given everthing that was exposed, I had to “hand over” my telephone service to a neighbor in order to pay the “compensation.”
A year later, in February 2016, the second part of this nightmare begins. The neighbor that I gave my telephone service to was called in by ETECSA for suspicion of fraud, which we thought was the result of some leftover data error that reappeared from the last case that came to the surface now that she has no internet access. I mean, since December 2014, that phone did not have an internet link tied to it. In her case, the same history was repeated in those offices, she was surrounded by “a commission” of 8 individuals, like a firing squad, and through her affirmations it showed their accusations were true, the same intimidations, where they told her that her telephone service was under constant monitoring during the last year (once again, a clear violation of citizen rights). During the questioning, it became know that I, so and so, had “transferred” my telephone service, to which she explained that I had done so due to the problems previously described and my desire to not continue with this named entity’s service. Afterwards, they continued questioning why she used services like “3 party calls, call waiting, and busy signals, etc. (Ah, fellas, isn’t this . . . phone service?) to which shed alleged that she didn’t stop those features because she didn’t think it was necessary, plus they questioned the use of a card to call long distance to which she gave her own explanation. They argued that it was through that same avenue that fraud continued to be committed, something totally impossible and stupid (which now is sadly a common occurrence), ironically, even by them themselves.
When she asks why she’s being investigated and accused by this “commission,” all of this, mind you, without any proof of internet access and without knowledge of the subject, is when they asked her about me, if Lizet González, daughter of . . . if I’ve visited her home, used her telephone, if she’s given me an illegal extension, what’s my relationship with her, etc. to which she responded, No. This is when they tell her, clearly intending to create conflict between neighbors, that I’m tricking and using her (I guess, telepathy, or magic), and since I don’t have a phone, I have somehow interfered with her connection, making it some kind of receiptor so that I can continue my “telephone fraud.” It is inexplicable for a reasonable person to understand, always arguing even amongst themselves, questioning the sheer possibility of it all, and in the end, thinking “yes, it can.” Nevertheless, without giving much explanation, after an afternoon of shock and visible deterioration, my poor neighbor was advised to go home, to change her telephone number, cancel all her services with ETECSA and that afterwards, she’d be required to give her “ultimate verdict”-to either pay a high fee, or end her telephone service. This is where we are in this moment and of course, there’s much friction between the families, but once more, this is just another sad example of Divide and Conquer.
I ask myself. Now, do I truly warrant this type of high-level attention as if I worked for the CIA, or NASA?
This has an indisputable not so hiddent connotation: politics.
Political views vary within my family. My father is a retired, General of a Brigade. My husband, on the other hand, is one of the few direct family members of Luis Clemente Posada Carriles that live in Cuba; this is reason that neither of us can have communication with the exterior without being monitored by “them.” They wanted to stay on top of what we thought, even what we ate, and this intensified after my husband presented an invitation for an entrance visa at the U.S. Interest Section in Cuba for his radicalized cousin in 2013. She didn’t have anything to do with his previously mentioned Uncle, but it left us MARKED and of course, the visa was not granted, so we wouldn’t have gone through this nightmare if it hadn’t been for that.
Since that time, a relentless pursuit began, to strangle us with never-ending fines (related to other entities), all arbitrary and inexplicable, asphyxiating our family’s economy of which I have the proof.
The goal of this letter is to relay my story, one of thousands as a victim of a system that as of late, I DO NOT BELIEVE; the one that my father, a man who I admire and respect, fought for, one that promised and didn’t deliver as we all know, that brags about non-existent human rights that are constantly violated; that represses, that abuses; that blocks; that persecutes; that brands anyone who wants change as counter-revolutionary, those who intend to revolutionize problems; or has the concept already changed?
This letter could cost me dearly, but it’s necessary for the world to know the reality we live in and all the deprivation and spying the Cuban people are subjected to. That’s why I am demanding my rights and liberty and nothing more than what should be ours. I don’t think we should wait anymore for it, but instead, we should pursue the truth. Change is within our grasp, that’s why every day WE ARE MORE, we are voices that rise up to denounce the oppressive abuses of those who suppress us as a people, as Cubans.
Lizet González Rodríguez
Natural de Avenida 30 entre 47 y 49, edificio 2, apto 9. Cienfuegos. Cuba
Person referred to in my letter
Yoiner Besada Chaviano, ETECSA Inspector
Translated by Y. R. Someillan