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Cuban Blogger Arrested
On September 1, Orlando Pardo Lazo, a prominent Cuban blogger and editor of the magazine Voces, was arrested and detained illegally by Cuban police for nine hours. The arrest occurred the same day Pardo was scheduled to appear on a panel at the independent debate forum, Estado de SATS. Pardo was released late that same night after activists staged a protest demanding his release. This arrest was just one of many journalist and opposition arrests that have taken place in Cuba over the past few months. Three journalists have been arrested from the Hablemos Press agency in September alone, including Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who faces up to three years in prison for criticizing the president.
Cubans respond to blackout on Twitter
Cuba was hit by a massive blackout early in September, with an area of over 400 miles affected, including the capital of Havana. For the first hours of the blackout, government and media outlets remained silent, offering no information to the millions of citizens desperate to understand the situation. But not long after power went out, Cubans took the matter into their own hands and began communicating through Twitter, under #Apoganzo (meaning “blackout” and “strike”). Power was restored to most areas within a few hours, and the Minister for Basic Industry delivered an announcement identifying a volt-line failure to be the cause. While blackouts in Cuba are not uncommon, an incident of this scale caused concern and raised fears of Cuba returning to a period of shortages similar to those in the 1990s.
Jamaican Government Expands Internet Access
The government of Jamaica has announced plans to expand access to Internet services to thousands across the country by the end of 2012, as part of its Community Access Points program. This initiative will involve the installation of hundreds of computers with high speed internet access, at community centres and other public areas. The Universal Service Fund, which also involved with this initiative, plans to set up a broadband network that will connect public facilities across the nation, enabling people to access the internet if they cannot do so at home. The Minister of State for Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Julian Robinson, has stated that providing Internet access to youth is the key to closing the digital divide and developing solutions to solve the nation’s problems.
National Assembly President’s Twitter Hacked
Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela’s National Assembly president and a close ally of President Hugo Chavez, had his Twitter account hacked earlier this month. The hackers Tweeted a series of fake messages claiming that a violent coup was taking place. Cabello’s account has since been blocked, and he has publicly stated his belief that the hackers are part of the Venezuelan right wing. This attack comes as the latest in a series of hack attacks on Twitter accounts based in Venezuela, beginning in 2011, in which public figures and celebrities who have criticized the government have been victims. Hackers have mostly used the compromised Twitter accounts to post messages in favour of the government. No culprit has yet been identified.
Google Opens Data Centre in South America
On September 6, Google announced it will open its first South American data centre near Santiago, Chile. The centre will be built to respond to demand from the growing number of people in the region using cloud storage, streaming and other Internet services, in addition to the wave of new South American online start-up businesses. Chile was chosen among other high-demand countries in the region, such as Brazil, because of its infrastructure, low business costs, and its focus on developing Internet policies and programs, such as Start-Up Chile, a program to encourage entrepreneurship in the country. Google will be investing $150 million in this project, which will result in a moderately sized data centre compared to others across the globe.
Vote on Internet Bill of Rights Postponed
On September 19, the Congress’ vote to legalize Brazil’s Marco Civil da Internet (Civil Regulatory Framework for the Internet), a bill which aims to protect online user rights, was postponed until October, following national elections. This is the third time the vote has been postponed. The Marco Civil, or “Internet Bill of Rights,” is the one of the first civil laws being proposed on Internet use, and was developed through discussion with the general public through an online platform . The London group Article 19 has released a briefing analysing the implications of the Marco Civil bill. The briefing recommends that citizens read and support the bill, and also pushes for changes to the bill that would further support free expression. Additionally, the Twitter hashtag #MarcoCivil has generated much discussion about the future of Internet freedom in Brazil, and beyond.
Google Chief Arrested, Google Services Shut Down
The government of Brazil has also come under scrutiny for the recent arrest of the Google Brazil Chief, Fabio Jose Silva Coelho. Coelho was arrested by federal police after refusing a court order to take down a video on YouTube, which criticized a mayoral candidate in the small town of Campo Grande. The arrest took place after Google had began an appeal against the order. Google services were then shut down in the country for 24 hours. Google has released a statement denying responsibility for the content that is posted onto its website, and the user who uploaded the original video has shut down their account. However, after his release, Coelho stated that, “We will continue with our global campaign for liberty of expression….because more information generally means more schools, more power, more economic opportunities and more liberty for people.”
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