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Cablegate: Microsoft Helps the United States Ban Encrypted Communication in Cuba

Posted in America, Cablegate, Microsoft at 3:33 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: A confidential cable from just 2 years ago shows the background to Microsoft’s IM ban in several countries that the US views as enemies

IN MAY of 2009 we wrote repeatedly about Microsoft playing along with political sanctions by banning particular countries. The following Cablegate cable, titled “CUBANS DISAPPOINTED BY MICROSOFT; INSPIRED BY IRAN,” shows what diplomats were saying about it. It’s marked “C O N F I D E N T I A L” (far higher than most cables of this kind) and it is easy to see why. We are highlighting a few bits of interest:

DE RUEHUB #0361/01 1701858
R 191858Z JUN 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 000361 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/18/2029 
HAVANA 00000361  001.2 OF 002 
Classified By: COM Jonathan Farrar for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
1.  (C) The decision by Microsoft and others to block certain 
internet communication services in Cuba works directly 
against U.S. goals to advance people-to-people interaction. 
The growing Cuban virtual community has privately and 
publicly expressed its disappointment.  Bloggers remain 
undeterred, however, in their effort to break Cuba's 
information blockade and are inspired by current events in 
Iran and the expanded use of mobile phones to receive and 
transmit information.  This cable contains an action request 
in paragraph 6.  End Summary. 
2.  (C) Cuban bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Claudia Cadelo 
recently expressed disappointment in Microsoft's decision to 
block access to Windows Live Instant Messenger for internet 
users in Cuba (and other state sponsors of terrorism) through 
their respective blogs, Generacion Y and Octavo Cerco.  The 
Cuban Government strictly controls internet usage and 
restricts access to several internet sites (including many 
blogs), even for tourists in Cuban hotels.  In shutting down 
Instant Messenger, both bloggers commented that Microsoft is 
in effect doing the work of Cuban Government censors for 
them.  The bloggers worry that potential further action to 
avoid violations of the U.S. embargo by foreign internet and 
software companies may negatively affect the growing cyber 
community in Cuba.  Tech savvy Cubans can get around the 
restrictions by using proxy servers based outside Cuba or 
third party messenger hosts, but most Cubans are simply 
forced to do without. 
3.  (C) Microsoft and other providers of similar free, 
downloadable software (Note:  Google Talk is also blocked. 
End Note) claim that the encrypted code used in these 
programs is restricted by U.S. Export Administration 
Regulations.  The Cuban official press predictably (and 
hypocritically) took advantage of the situation to criticize 
Microsoft's decision as "the latest turn of the screw in the 
United States' technological blockage against the island" and 
"a truly harsh violation" of Cuba's rights.  Publicity around 
Microsoft's decision comes at a critical time in U.S.-Cuba 
relations as we await the pending implementation of the 
policy changes announced by the White House on April 13 to 
"authorize greater telecommunications links with Cuba to 
advance people-to-people interaction at no cost to the U.S. 
government."  Furthermore, Claudia Cadelo wrote in her June 
10 blog that she had heard rumors that the social networking 
site Facebook may follow Microsoft's example.  Operating a 
Facebook account does not require the user to download any 
software.  Thus, Facebook does not share the same concerns 
related to export restrictions as the downloadable messenger 
sites.  Per conversations with the Department, Facebook 
reported this week that it blocks Cuban access to 
applications and advertising, but not to normal social 
networking operations.  We understand from Cuban contacts 
that Cubans continue to successfully access Facebook 
accounts, although a local USINT employee tried to sign up 
for an account at a hotel on June 17 and received a message 
from Facebook that he was "ineligible to sign up." 
4.  (C) At the same time, Cuban bloggers are paying close 
attention to current events in Iran, in particular the use of 
social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and mobile phones to 
inform and influence domestic and international opinion. 
Yoani Sanchez wrote in her blog on June 17 that what is 
HAVANA 00000361  002.2 OF 002 
happening in Iran and its dissemination through the Internet 
is a lesson for Cuban bloggers.  Sanchez told us separately 
that the use of mobile phones (including iphones) to transmit 
information, share blogs, and even access the internet is a 
significant and growing phenomenon in Cuba.  As a great 
source of information hidden by the official press, she also 
praised the new service called "Granpa" (www.granpa.info) 
that sends news articles to Cuban mobile phones via SMS text 
messages (Note: USINT staff have since signed up for this 
service and receive several articles a day.  As of yet, 
neither we nor our contacts know who runs Granpa.  End Note.) 
 She lamented, however, that Cuba was clearly not yet at the 
same level of connectivity as Iranian society. 
5.  (SBU) Cuban dissidents are also following developments in 
the cyber community.  Well known dissident Oswaldo Paya 
published, through the blog Bitacora, a message of solidarity 
with the Cuban blogger community in early June.  Paya urged 
bloggers to "be the voice of those who have no blog" and 
congratulated them for "this initiative to proclaim the 
people's right to the internet and for their courage in the 
struggle for the liberation of truth, which is imprisoned in 
6.  (C) The Cuban government continues to see the internet as 
a threat and remains committed to restricting and controlling 
access.  Internet communication and social networking sites 
are becoming more and more popular in Cuba as a means of 
communicating across the island and accessing family, 
friends, and information from off the island.  This new media 
is important not just for increasing people-to-people 
contact, but also for helping Cubans share their stories and 
as a way to inform, organize, and mobilize civil society. 
ACTION REQUEST:  Post requests Department assistance in 
removing any regulatory obstacles that limit Cuban access to 
free internet communications without jeopardizing national 
7.  (C) Cuban state telecommunications monopoly ETESCA 
announced earlier this year that it hopes to add 250,000 new 
mobile phone users in 2009, which is nearly twice as many new 
subscribers as in 2008 and a 50 percent increase over the 
current total (about 470,000).  We hear that within days 
ETECSA may announce a significant drop in prices for 
initiating service and making international calls in an 
effort to capture more hard currency.  In this context, a 
liberal implementation of the changes in U.S. policy 
announced on April 13 regarding telecommunications may help 
facilitate Iran-style democratic ferment in Cuba. 

It does not say that among the US population the sanctions against Cuba are overwhelmingly unpopular. Those in positions of power in the US just want to oppress and somehow get rid of the existing Cuban government, even if they do so by hurting innocent civilians (collateral damage). It is actually part of the strategy, as by making the population upset they hope to incite the population against the government and perhaps overthrow it without outside intervention.

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