Island in the Net - How Internet activism is changing Cuban politics and society

Steffen Köhn, Nestor Siré, Lesly Fonseca Tundidor

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How do people in authoritarian systems build their own alternative technological infrastructures when internet access is constrained? How does gradually increasing connectivity impact political debate within an authoritarian system? A discussion between Cuban digital activist Lesly Fonseca, media artist Nestor Siré, and anthropologist Steffen Köhn.

As the Cuban government has reluctantly allowed greater Internet access while trying to defend its revolutionary project, citizens have become active players in a genuine digital revolution. While the Cuban internet is still characterized by slow speed, high cost, and inadequate infrastructure, people have found ingenious ways to compensate for these shortcomings. Activists have created vernacular infrastructures such as grassroots community computer networks or “sneakernets” based on portable hard drives and USB memory sticks, thriving digital black markets and new spaces for political debate, which have come to erode the Communist Party-led state monopoly over the economy, politics, and mass media.

Anthropologist Steffen Köhn (University of Aarhus) who has studied Cuban digital culture for many years will discuss with Cuban online publicist and activist Lesly Fonseca and media artist Nestor Siré how increasing access to digital technologies has irrevocably changed Cuban politics and society.

Lesly Fonseca is a cultural commentator, curator, technocultural researcher, and activist who frequently publishes in the independent Cuban online press. Nestor Siré's collaborative artistic practice revolves around the island’s communities of tech enthusiasts who have created autonomous spaces of community outside of totalizing state structures.

Together, they will debate the possibilities that increasing internet access grants citizens in authoritarian settings and their limits.

Nestor Siré's participation at re:publica 23 is kindly made possible by the Robert Bosch Foundation. 

Foto Steffen Köhn
Assistant Professor of Visual and Multimodal Anthropology Aarhus
Nestor Siré Portrait
Independent artist