You Only Miss It When It Disappears

By Joan Janzen

A couple of quotes to begin: “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry,” and “Happiness is like good health. You only miss it when it disappears.”

It took some time for citizens of Cuba to realize they were missing out on a lot of information, but when they came to that realization, they wanted it. The problem was they obtained their information from the state-run media.

Salvi Pascual remembers growing up in Cuba and having access to two channels; both were censored by the government. It was difficult to get news outside of the government censorship. He recalls only a few people who had connections with the government had the Internet, or you had very little Internet access.

As a Cuban, living in a closed society, Salvi observed how important it is for closed societies to have access to ideas. “The idea that everyone has a voice and everyone can share their voice, and all opinions have to be taken into account helps you grow tremendously,” he said.

Eventually Salvi moved to the United States. In the meantime his family and friends back in Cuba wanted to have access to cultural stuff and the news. They wanted to know the latest trends, to feel like they were part of the world and belonged to the 21st century.

However they could only access the Internet through the government and it was expensive. “People make an average salary of $30 US per month,” Salvi said, and Internet access cost $7 per month, which is not affordable. “It’s another form of censorship,” Salvi said.

Authorities began opening Internet cafes. Soon hundreds of other public spaces began offering Internet access, and people relied on those wi-fi hot spots. Even so, people were finding websites were blocked.

There was no political will to open access to information, so Salvi had friends and family reaching out to him for help. When he tried to help them, the Cuban government would block him.

Although he didn’t plan on it, he created an application to help his Cuban friends and family access the Internet at an affordable cost. It’s now the most widely used application in Cuba. Salvi created a non-profit organization whose goal is to allow Cubans to surf the web free of censorship.

“I think the government doesn’t like what we’re doing because they know they’re going to lose political power if people have access to uncensored information,” Salvi said. “Censorship is hard to fight because you are always fighting against the people who have the power.”

The threat of that power became evident when Salvi returned to Cuba to visit family and was detained by the police for four months. “It wasn’t a nice experience,” he said. “You feel you are truly at their mercy and you have no representation and you feel so powerless. You don’t know how long it will last. They can make up any accusations they want.”

Consequently he now doesn’t feel safe going back to his country to visit family and friends. Nevertheless, he keeps persevering. “You just have to keep doing it and don’t get discouraged. Little by little this is going to change,” he says. “We always challenge censorship in Cuba.”

His story serves as a reminder for Canadians to always challenge censorship in Canada, and to appreciate the freedom we have to voice our uncensored ideas, to dialogue and even to disagree. It’s like good health; we only miss it when it disappears.

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