Cubans relive Obama visit with 'offline Internet'
By Frank Jack Daniel
HAVANA, April 15 (Reuters) - A curated collection of news and features about U.S. President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba last month has become a hit on El Paquete, the island's illegal but tolerated digital media magazine better known for music, films, and soap operas.
Often called Cuba's offline Internet and featuring downloaded Internet pages and commercials along with pirated entertainment, El Paquete is a hugely successful dose of content distributed on hard-drives in neighbourhoods across the island, where only about a third of people have access to the Web.
Cuban state media transmitted live much of the March 20 to 22 visit by the first U.S. president to set foot in Cuba in 88 years, including his keynote speech to the country.
But many people missed the broadcasts because the events took place during work hours.
With Internet access expensive and restricted, for many Cubans their best chance of hearing Obama's speech was through El Paquete, or The Package, which passes from hand to hand and has become a source of income for the thousands of people who distribute it.
"For the time being, El Paquete replaces the Internet for those who don't have it," said Elio Hector Lopez, who helped create the system eight years ago to earn a bit of extra money and watched it expand into a national phenomenon.
"It has become a responsibility, if tomorrow El Paquete disappears I don't know what people would do, it's like water, or a pill for the Cuban body."
His invention is perhaps the most striking example of the declining information monopoly that was for decades held by the Communist Party, which holds its first congress in five years this weekend at a time of growing decentralization in Cuba's economy and society. Continuación...