Within the Revolution, Everything 1 Translator’s Note: The title is a reference to “Words to the Intellectuals” (1961), Fidel Castro’s pronouncement on what kinds of art would be promoted and censored during the early Cuban Revolution. His position was: “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

Ernesto Oroza

Listen to this text

This text discusses three spontaneous computer-based protocols that took shape and became systematized in Cuba over the last twenty years. It is about digital practices that question, update, or crack the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution. The three practices — and these have antecedents in past decades and prior productive processes — are popularly known as the Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Package), SNet (Street Net, aka The Republic of Gamers), and Revolico.

The government’s criminalization of these practices has been — at the very least — incoherent, considering that the practices are articulated on the basis of communitarian and antimonopolistic ways of creating. These are the same principles and modes of creation that the official institutions (like Casa de las Américas) defend in other countries and through which they attempt to ascribe meaning to the cultural and technological emancipation movements in the so-called Third World. The government’s official discourse — and not everyday people’s — on the vernacular computational practices I will discuss below are the source of both their characterization as “confrontational” and, thus, their stigmatization. The government response — with the support of the same cultural officials who paradoxically defend emancipatory forms and technological sovereignty in other contexts — has been to restrict them by force (e.g. seizure of means), through legal penalties or the appropriation of their infrastructures. For their part, the generators of these three independent digital protocols and their users have taken on different forms of negotiation with the regime, sometimes to the detriment of their autonomy.
Cultural production over the last two decades in Cuba has been captured, shot through, and interconnected — in one way or another — with the use of these digital protocols that became social phenomena. This text goes over a few of these connections.

The Paquete Semanal, SNet, and Revolico were incubated in urban, domestic spaces that had already been reformulated by other phenomena of vernacular production. I am specifically referring to what I have documented, analyzed, and synthesized as the Architecture of Necessity and Technological Disobedience.

The first of the previously studied practices impacts habitat as well as urban space. It has to do with structural transformations to the home carried out by its inhabitants in order to adapt it to new needs and family growth. Family construction, also known as “construction by one’s own means,” has been the only systematic response to the scarce production of new homes over the past six decades in Cuba. These transformations, which are ongoing and mostly illegal, allow for the housing of up to four generations of a single family in one home. The term I have used to name these complex and unending sequences of adaptation is Architecture of Necessity. In using the term I suggest that the construction(s) be understood as building-diagrams of the relations between needs and resources that are legal, economic, intellectual, technological, and material. Alterations to spaces are completed with new hydraulic and electric connections and entrances to the new divisions and expansions of the home. These modes of adapting the habitat established a way of building by sections and nodes that extends across time and is updated improvisationally. However, the instability of material and technical resources, along with the legal barriers of actually building, have strengthened this productive principle of building by segments and moments. In this kind of architecture, one of the ways of expanding the space of the home is the occupation of common and public spaces. Thus, the transformed buildings end up running into one another and establishing new interstices for circulation within the block. This in turn creates unexpected places for communal meetings. Information about where to get building materials as well as the legal and technical knowledge for transforming houses flows among the inhabitants since the unaltered architecture is, generally, standardized: if one person learns how to carry out a modification, all people learn how to do it. The eclectic homes from the 1930s, which repeat almost seven times per block in many cities, have functioned as vectors for these practices of permanent transformation. In this sense, we can affirm that the practice of transforming homes in Cuban cities determined protocols and the know-how for connecting spaces and individuals.

A building, primarily white and beige, slightly offset from the road, sidewalk, and median strip dotted with various tropical plants and bushes. The house showcases several architectural styles and features, including a doric column, balustrade, wrought iron fences, and terracotta tiles, and appears to have been renovated and annexed on to several times.
Ernesto Oroza, Architecture of Necessity, 1997–ongoing. Photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

The second creative phenomenon that took on national proportions, and which I called Technological Disobedience, is made up of a set of practices developed by Cuban families during the economic crisis of the ‘90s. These forms of production had their origin in practices initiated in the ‘60s that were meant to reopen the factories that had been paralyzed due to a lack of spare parts and the exodus — to the USA and other countries — of engineers and skilled workers. It was in the ‘90s, due to the loss of subsidies and economic trade with the USSR and Eastern Europe along with the inability of a totally nationalized economy to react, that individuals, acting both independently and collectively, assumed the responsibility of ensuring their families’ survival. The period of family production continues to this day. Repair, reuse, and a kind of typological reinvention are a few of the practices analyzed and documented under the idea of Technological Disobedience. The use of the word “disobedience” appeals to the Cuban individual’s continuous disrespect for the closed and exclusive image of the contemporary industrial object. Repair questions the industrial object and its culture from an artisanal perspective. The logics of circulation and use, inscribed in these objects, are permanently challenged. The open objects to be repaired infinitely and the spare parts that overflow like entrails from the shop windows of the state and the portable tables of the black market invite us to think of the city as a continuous technical interior. “Technology,” in the term Technological Disobedience, is understood as unquestionable knowledge and truth, as in a Foucauldian episteme. On the islands of the Caribbean, technology is understood as something that has always come from the outside. First it was the warring invasions of the Caribs, later Spanish colonization, and then North American and Soviet productivism — whose products flooded Cuba during the first and second halves of the twentieth century, respectively.

It is in the framework of this productive experience — which includes the participation of all family members in production; experience with collaborative, communal, and neighborhood practices; logics that are economic and communicative (almost dialectical) for the exchange of goods and services; shortcuts to resource suppliers (almost always illegal); and the constant arrival of technical and computational knowledge — that the Paquete Semanal, SNet, and Revolico emerged.

Though based on computational protocols for the exchange and distribution of information-content, the three practices are hybrid, for they are carried out through analogical operations of production and distribution.

The top half of two glass Coca-Cola bottles, bisected below the embossed logo, and two plastic pieces of hardware, one green and one blue on a plain gray background. One bottle half has been screwed into the plastic hardware to create a small goblet, and the other bottle lays on its side, next to its accompanying hardware.
Ernesto Oroza, Technological Disobedience. Photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

Paquete Semanal

In 1980, using CIMEX (the biggest government-owned import-export company) as a front, the Cuban Ministry of the Interior set up an intelligence operation in the US city of Ocala, near Orlando, to acquire a parabolic satellite antenna measuring seven meters in diameter. “It was the biggest antenna on the market at the time,” according to a protagonist of the operation who was interviewed for this investigation. Satellite transmissions were new in those years. Showtime and CNN, among others, had recently begun offering unencrypted satellite television. The United States’ embargo against the island prohibited the direct purchase of the receiver. The buyer sent by the Cuban government claimed to be living in Key West, Florida. The seller packed up the enormous antenna — including the rotor for pointing it — and sent it by truck to Miami. From there the Cuban agents sent it to Panama, and then on to Havana, where it was finally installed in the yard of a residence in the capital’s Playa municipality. 2 Specifically, it was set up on 222nd Street between Seventh and Ninth Avenues, where Publicitaria Imágenes was set up and remains to this day.

The first attempts at getting the satellite signal from Havana failed. The program that came with the antenna required precise information. The person who had acted as the buyer called the provider in Ocala and gave him the coordinates of the residence in Havana so the seller could give him the exact degrees by which to orient the antenna. So that the location in Cuba would not remain recorded in the transaction documents, the buyer told the seller he had mistaken the latitude and immediately gave him the latitude of Key West.

In the rooms of the house where the antenna had been installed, more than 50 Betamax players were set up. Every week, three North American movies were recorded, especially crime films, horror movies, Westerns, romantic comedies, dramas, historical and epic films — typical genre films from the United States or B-Movies. The tapes were distributed every Friday amongst ministers and high-ranking government officials for their weekend entertainment. Some foreign technicians and diplomatic staff based in Havana took advantage of this pirating service. Stimulated by the benefits and the ease of the operations of pirating and copying, CIMEX created a company called Omnivideo Corp — registered in Panama — with the objective of commercializing North American movies throughout Latin America. To this end, they set up a production system that included the services of translation and subtitling; classification of fiction movies and documentaries; as well as the manufacture, design, and printing of the cardboard sleeves on the back of which Carlos Aldana — Raúl Castro’s assistant — had to add summaries of the video included, per his boss’s wishes. 3

The operation required many messengers, technical personnel, and operators for the different production tasks. These personnel, nearly all of whom were members of the Ministry of the Interior and the army, began to sneakily transfer the content to friends and family. Aware of the risk of the content circulating openly among the population, the high command of the government controlled the video workers and messengers. But the overflow could not be contained, and it led to the emergence of two vernacular systems for the circulation of audiovisual materials, known in the ‘80s and ‘90s as Video Banks (based on VHS rentals) and Cable (a system on the neighborhood scale that connected several televisions to a single video player or parabolic antenna via coaxial cables for a price that fluctuated between 10 and 20 dollars per month). None of these practices were authorized by the government, but they made use of the same resources and illegal activities the government did. The delivery drivers that worked for the ministerial and military elite were the main leaks of the audiovisual content; before arriving at their destinations, the drivers would stop somewhere so that the material could be copied. It was the government that introduced the torrent of North American cinema and television into the island for consumption by the leadership class. Officially, something else was acquired for, and distributed via, national television and the country’s theater system: cinema from the Soviet Union, from Europe in general, and from Latin America. The entrance of North American cinema and television probably occurred behind the backs of a group of Cuban intellectuals who, like Julio García Espinosa (author of For an Imperfect Cinema), were simultaneously debating and developing critical theories about the need to produce and consume revolutionary cinema, as well as calling for a critical frame of presentation for the audiovisual materials produced in capitalist societies. 4 A few shows of this sort have been very popular in Cuban television since then: a presenter, before the film plays, puts forth a critical and historical analysis of the material and its authors for the spectator, trying — though not always successfully — not to give any spoilers.

If the flood of audiovisual materials through videotapes was important, so too was the rapid replication process of satellite antennas — first by the government itself and, afterwards, by the population.

At the beginning of 2003, hard drives that could be connected directly to television sets to play their contents — multimedia hard drives, MMHD — entered domestic Cuban spaces. These external disks, almost always brought illegally from Miami, came with a remote control for selecting and playing their contents. DVDs were becoming more and more available in the illegal distribution circuits. But it was not until 2007 when the Minister of Finance and Prices repealed Resolution No. 322, which had prohibited entry of content players into the country, with Resolution No. 99-2007 (Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba). These events along with the transition of content to digital formats favored the development of what is known today as the Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Package), or simply the Paquete. 5 Back then (2003), storage capacity was smaller, but it allowed for the development of organizational guidelines for content as well as early forms of feedback, by which I mean the demands the consumer made to the distributor. Ways of sneaking digital content into Cuba through flash drives and hard drives were organized in Miami. On the island, frequent use was made of illegal parabolic antennas that received just one or a few channels; these were hidden in rooftop water tanks and covered bird cages. The owners would sell their downloads to the organizers of the Paquete. The sources that have historically contributed content to the Paquete Semanal have been diverse, which is why the documented attempts at finding the people responsible for it never get beyond the first analysis. The establishment of the consolidatory name Paquete Semanal occurred, according to various sources, in 2008; at the same time, they systematized the work of their matrices and distribution networks on different points on the island.

How does the Paquete work from the consumer’s point of view? I will explain one of the common ways it works such that anyone reading will play the role of the consumer. An individual — a distributor, or paquetero (delivery person) — comes, per a prior arrangement, to your house on Monday (almost always on the first days of the week), carrying a hard drive with 1 terabyte of information. The individual, who almost always travels by bicycle, leaves the hard drive with you, and takes off. You will not see them again until the following Monday. You, the recipient, connect the drive to your computer. (To explain how you got the laptop, whether fully assembled or piece by piece, would require another text since commercial access to computers is not possible). After connecting the drive, you select the content you are interested in, and you download it. What can you download? Series, films, soap operas, documentaries, reality shows, all in high definition; music MP3s and videoclips; graphic humor (drawings in JPG format, animated gifs, memes), comics, and cartoons; software, apps, and antivirus software; games; language courses; magazines in PDF format; ads for local businesses as well as an offline version of the ads on the website Revolico, among many other materials. The genres vary and cover almost all family needs. When you’re done downloading, you call someone on the phone — but you do not speak. The person you called shows up at your house and you hand over the 1 terabyte drive, but not before you insert the payment for the service in the hard drive case’s pocket. The person leaves, completing the operation; then they call the next person, give them the drive, and later add their payment. 6 After about 15 people have done this, the last one to do so calls or gets a message to the paquetero — the individual that arrived by bicycle at the start of the sequence — who disappears with the money collected until the following Monday. What can’t you get from the Paquete? There is no pornography, nor is there any content explicitly against the Cuban government. There can be a line of dialogue in a movie that says Cuba is a dictatorship, but in general the matrices’ selection of content for the Paquete is done to avoid starting trouble with the political police. Messages of apology for having to censor in-demand content are frequently sent to consumers from the matrices of the Paquete—however they would rather ensure the survival of the project and not confront the regime.

Seen from above, a black worn harddrive, a black fabric pouch with a small wad of Cuban pesos, and a black cable are neatly laid out on a white sheet of paper on a beige tiled floor.
Ernesto Oroza, Pacquete Semanal. Photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

During the last couple of years, the Paquete has been confronted by two contrapuntal figures: La Mochila 7 (The Backpack) and El Paquetico (The Small Package). La Mochila was launched on November 27, 2017; it was hatched in the regime’s cultural institutions. It was what the government offered as an alternative to the Paquete, following a smear campaign that advocated for the prohibition of the latter. If it is true that a few officials of the regime’s Ministry of Culture looked favorably on the spontaneous, collective, and communitarian nature of the phenomenon, it is also true that they criticized that it could serve to circulate material — without prior analysis — that was ideologically antagonistic to the principles of the Revolution. Initially, La Mochila contained a selection of materials suggested or approved by the government’s “cultural elite,” that is, intellectuals allied to the communist party. At the moment — now that they have gotten over the ideological tantrum that made La Mochila a compendium of Fidel Castro’s speeches and Telesur programs — the service openly replicates the Paquete’s pirated programming. The Paquetico (The Small Package) is the opposite. Its authors — unknown to this day — saw an opportunity in the need to disseminate what was being censored by the dictatorship’s political police and the creators of the Paquete. Materials that openly criticize the regime are distributed through the Paquetico: content from blogs and independent media outlets censored by the government, as well as materials broadcasted by different opposition groups inside and outside of the country. To date, its circulation has been stealthy.

Independent cultural production in Cuba has used the Paquete in different ways. The musicians excluded from official distribution systems have found in this system a means to keep the public apprised of their creations. To this end, the musicians hand over their songs and video clips to the matrices. This model is no different from the use musicians and producers made of the radio during the development of Pop music in England and the United States. The use of a specific medium always impacts the form of what is produced, thanks to the dynamics of consumption and circulation it imposes. In this sense, we can affirm that much of the music produced exclusively for the Paquete is modulated by it. The Tiradera [Diss Track] — the extra-musical narrative that, like a meta-controversy, occurs between musicians — has found an ideal space and rhythm in the Paquete and its weekly distributions. Cuban musicians based in Miami systematically send over their complete records in order to keep the popularity they had earned in Cuba, at the expense of not receiving economic benefits. Some visual artists have used the Paquete as an exhibition and distribution platform for artistic content. To date, the modes they have ventured do not appear to consider the possibilities of the Paquete as a medium, and operate by installing logics of legitimization (for example, adding a section called “Art”) that respond to traditional exhibition spaces, aligning themselves — mistakenly — with the delegitimization efforts of the government. The true impact of the Paquete Semanal is not in its contents, nor in their legitimacy. Its radical value lies in the antimonopolistic character and forms of distribution and production that it promotes—all the more so considering it in a context dominated exclusively by one ideology (whose principle traits are the inconsistency of its ideas, hypocrisy, and opportunism) and the absolute control of the means of production and distribution.

SNet (Street Net)

The second phenomenon of interest to this investigation is a clandestine, community intranet IP that emerged at the beginning of the 2000s, which took shape, and came to be known by the name SNet, around the year 2011. In 2019, when it had more than 9 pillars (central nodes) and more than 30,000 people connected to it (in Havana alone), it was forcefully taken over by a governmental institution known as the Joven Club de Computación (Youth Computation Club).

The first traces of this computer intranet — its first segments and nodes — appeared in the early 2000s. My own first contact with this practice occurred in 2003; a family member was part of one of the first networks in the Havana neighborhood of Monaco. The initiators were young people who had computers either because their family members traveled outside the country, or because the government had assigned them computers for work purposes, or because they had built them piece by piece (in general, with pieces stolen from the government or illegally brought into the country). The desire among them to play StarCraft 8 (Blizzard), to exceed the number of players permitted by the multiplayer mode on consoles (Nintendo, Sega, Sony) and the distances between the houses, drove them to connect their computers using telephone cables (ethernet links) of up to 100 meters in length, creating small networks that were repeated all over the place. Although some of them had WiFi cards built into the laptops of the era, as well as AP (access-point devices), the common thing was to use cables. According to some of the participants, their first thought was to carry their computers (desktops mainly) from one house to another, but this cumbersome task got them into trouble with the police who often confused the scene with a burglary. If you paid attention in those days, you could see telephone lines — hidden among the plants in people’s gardens and yards—that crossed from one house to another. Soon they crossed streets and avenues, using utility poles, and guiding themselves with the electrical connections of other cables. I maintain that the first enemies of SNet were other individuals illegally connected to the electric and telephone circuits; they used to say that the kids, with their LAN networks, would bring more attention from the inspectors and the police. The desire to play on equal terms drove these young people to help each other. In the early years — when the groups were limited to no more than ten people — the players would pool their money or gift each other duplicate pieces with the goal of making gaming conditions fair and leveling the playing field. That is to say that they wanted the graphics, memory, and response times to be similar for all of the participants. Although the primary use was gaming, these early micro-networks also functioned as distribution channels for other content like software (antivirus), encyclopedias like Encarta, music, and templates for customizing programs. It was normal for friends to allow each other access to downloaded files, like encyclopedias. StarCraft, as I have already mentioned, was the first game played on these networks. In news articles and academic texts dedicated to the growth of SNet, there are diagrams about the network’s growth. The most precise models are the ones based on nodes and segments, but there is a tendency to represent the growth radially: circles or round shapes grow and meet until they overlap one another. The diagrams based on radial growth echo the invasion narrative in StarCraft. Perhaps we could explore a parallel with the Zergs — one of the three principal organisms at war in the game — and specifically with their forms of expansion in relation to the mode of SNet’s expansion. Creep — the viscous purple substance whose primary expansion allows the Zergs to invade — in this simile would be the ideal medium, shaped by the minimum technological resources, through which SNet could grow. In proportion to the expansion of the gaming groups, we can imagine that entire neighborhoods ended up within these networks.

SNet was, in the beginning, many SNets. At different moments, networks began to merge with other networks. The edge of one creep dissolved as it met another. Not all of the networks, due to the disparity in resources, could equally assimilate the intense use and activity of many gamers, so growth was slow, difficult — viscous, we could say.

As the youths grew into adults, their uses of the network varied. Other family members began joining, which permitted a diversification of content and uses. Many of the adolescents that had started the networks at the beginning of the 2000s went to college and studied computer science among other disciplines. Their new knowledge had a positive impact on SNet, to the point that it became the biggest community intranet in the world without being connected to the internet. It should be noted that SNet was, for many, a means of learning about the dissemination of democratic practices and community self-management. The massive participation of individuals of different backgrounds and interests gave SNet unique traits beyond its communitarian character. For example, beginning in the network’s second decade, each registered user was charged one CUC per month for a common fund meant for the purchase of new equipment and to take on repairs or replacements due to wear or theft. The administration of this fund was public, and the tables and explanations on the use of the funds were accessible. The administrative protocol became a means of teaching. The user understood the structure of the network and its needs, and learned about the necessary resources and means for the repair process. One was simultaneously a user of its services while having an awareness of the network and of the human and technical principles on which it functioned. The volume of services offered, which has been partially recorded by some researchers, is a sign of the involvement of many users/spectators who became producers of content and digital tools for community interaction.

The survival of SNet until 2019 was made possible through the deployment of common strategies. If it is true that the young founders — after going through university — brought technical and scientific knowledge back to the network, it was also true that they brought their worries and personal experiences with regard to censorship and the ways the government punished dissent. As part of their way of negotiating with the government, some of the network’s moderators agreed to establish rigorous rules that could only be violated once. Here, I cite a few of the most oft-repeated rules: No talking about politics or religion; No offering services within the network — whether internet, television channels, pornography, or any type of service — that falls into illegality; No charging, ever, for services offered on the network; No disrespecting other users of the network; No obscene language; No use of nicknames in a disrespectful manner, or in a way that can lead to a political misunderstanding.

Before its absorption and dissolution by the state, SNet had nine central pillars whose networks covered large areas of Havana. Services and content as diverse as clones of Facebook (Social Habana), sport and “romantic” forums, and selections of guides for passing university entrance exams were kept in the servers. A search for the network was developed to index all of the content, making the users’ explorations easier. Material from the Paquete Semanal and an offline version of Revolico were also accessible within the network.

In 2015, as part of this investigation, we collaborated 9 with an SNet administrator to understand the network’s possibilities. A technician agreed to design a program that he inserted into the servers of one of the nodes. The objective was to produce a collective text which resulted — in the manner of an exquisite corpse — in a poem of almost 3,000 words inserted by users over the course of a week. A programming error allowed the sporadic insertion of words without spaces between them. The existence of these “phrases” reduced the countable interactions to 2,220. The poem — in addition to picking up the use of some words that belong to the vocabulary of both the government and the opposition — showed a recurrence of words in favor of the network’s autonomy and survival.

In 2019, the government began the definitive appropriation and dismantling of SNet. As usual, the process began with smear campaigns, simulated robberies, the provocation of infighting, legal accusations, and the political stigmatization of some of its administrators. The regime’s Ministry of Telecommunications made clear that SNet was in a situation of illegality: the law regulating WiFi equipment only applied to government companies, and the decree of Law 171 from 1992 made its existence illegal. 10 Several texts published on public forums demonstrated the desire shared by the network’s administrators and users to embrace a regulatory law with which to shield their usage. At present, some of the users of SNet have accepted the conditions set by the government and have integrated themselves into the services that are now offered to them by the Youth Computation Club. These services can only exist on the infrastructure “donated” by SNet. As the independent press picked up, at the beginning of the summer of 2019, the officials of the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Youth Computation Club began to use the hashtags that previously vectorized SNet’s practices, for example #redcomunitaria (#communitynet). Organizers and SNet users utilized the tag #yosoynet (#Iamthestreetnet) to organize two peaceful protests — the second failed — before the Ministry of Telecommunications. The political police required the users to delete the tweets and posts on Facebook that were critical of the closure of SNet and its appropriation by the regime; in exchange, the regime would not impose judicial penalties on those involved.

Revolico11 In the official Spanish dictionary, “Revolico” is described as a Cuban word, meaning “stir, commotion, disturbance, agitation.”

During the ‘90s, as the country was becoming computerized, intranets were developed for Cuba’s ministries and governmental companies. Some of these networks remained isolated, but others were connected to each other because the companies that had created them belonged to the same ministries. On many of these intranets’ servers, lists (spreadsheets) began to appear with offers and requests for objects and services. Though the creators of the lists were computer technicians who needed to buy or sell computer pieces, soon enough The Lists became polluted with requests and offers for everyday services and objects. If someone needed to sell a motherboard, a piece of furniture, or coffee, for example, they would access the server, find the file with the list, and insert their offer or request, along with their personal information (phone number or address), and, in some cases, their email. The majority of the users of The Lists could only access them from a computer at their job centers. Between May and December of 2007, two Cuban computer science students developed a webpage that allowed Cubans to offer and obtain goods and services. These young men, who were themselves avid users of The Lists, figured out that they could develop a protocol to categorize, and thus organize, the ever-growing content of The Lists. The process of absorbing content from The Lists only took three months because they quickly had a sufficient flow of offer- and request-entries from Cuba. By the time they launched Revolico.com in December of 2007, they could already do without the always-chaotic Lists. The operation was extremely clandestine; one of them traveled to Spain and set up his post there while the other finished up his university degree. As soon as Revolico came online, a battle began with the political police who rejected — from the start — the existence of the project. The domain Revolico.com was banned on the island; solutions to this issue of accessibility arose over several years. The site was hosted outside of Cuba because it was impossible to pay for website hosting in and from Cuba. In March of 2008, a year after the start of the project, the government blocked access to the site for the first time. With the IP of Revolico.com’s server blocked on the island, users couldn’t find the page when they typed the web address in the search bar.

Revolico changed their IP, but the government blocked it again. The computer techs behind this classifieds site automated the IP change, programming the creation of a new one every hour. The government put an official in charge of blocking the IP each time, but he could not keep up, and the government did not find a way to deal with Revolico’s solution until 2009. At the point that Cuba would connect to the global internet service through the use of the DNS configuration, the government’s computer technicians were able to make it so that every time someone on the island typed Revolico.com they were redirected to Google. Revolico then decided to create many distinct domain names and spread the word through their social media that to access them, users would have to email them and Revolico would send them the domain name. Between 2010 and 2014, Google ended their monetization agreement with Revolico. At the same time, other Cubans began to compete with them by stealing information in the same way that they originally had from The Lists. A few years later, an offline version of Revolico, which was updated weekly, began to circulate on SNet and via the Paquete Semanal.

Revolico affects more than just daily life in Cuba. For many researchers, it functions as an efficient tool for investigating and recording the island’s material culture. Revolico can be read — consumed — as a storehouse of creative patterns. Through the use — as well as the frequency of use — of accepted terms, new research areas can be established. For a few years now, I have been using it to hitch descriptions of vehicles for sale to one another. Through punctual and systematic searches, I have learned of new productive processes that are not visible outside this context. “I’m selling a FIAT 125 with a LADA motor and a MOSCVITCH gearbox”; when this kind of description becomes accepted on Revolico and flows over the threshold of the atypical to become the norm, it signals technological and economic processes that are much more complex. A year ago, I noticed the recurring presence of the word Claria. It is used as an allusion to a type of car. I was surprised to learn that it is the popular nickname given in Cuba to a truck made by the Chinese manufacturer Great Wall Motors (GWM). The vehicle’s durability, the adaptability of its parts, and the dynamic way these parts have invaded the mechanical systems of other vehicles honor the invasive species of catfish from which they get their name. The Claria hunts in the rivers, streams, lagoons, reservoirs, and drainage systems of cities on the island. After their introduction by the government at the end of the ‘90s, the devil fish — as the Cuban santeros call them — escaped their breeding tanks due to human error and flooding provoked by hurricanes. The Claria devours — and in critical amounts — many local species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, along with birds and small mammals that live around the aquatic ecosystems. This type of cannibal catfish possesses a modification to its respiratory system that allows it to remain on land and move outside of water. The term Claria comes from the Greek chlaros and means “living, animated.” The word is now invading the descriptions and offers on Revolico: “Trading CHEVROLET 50 with KIA mechanics, TOYOTA differential with the original emergency brake, VOLGA steering wheel, Claria tires…”

Ernesto Oroza is a designer, artist, researcher, graduate of the Higher Institute of Design of Havana, head of the 3rd Cycle Design and Research at the École Supérieure d'Art et de Design de Saint-Étienne, and Editorial Director of Azimuts. Oroza has been interested in architectures of necessity, technological disobedience, and other topics that link design and society in times of economic and political crisis. He produces and distributes speculative models and research through various publishing methods, exhibitions, collaborative practices, documentaries, and unorthodox forays into architecture, interior design, and object design.



Photo by F. Roure

Yoán, a young man of Cuban and Colombian descent, stands against a brick wall and smiles as he looks off into the distance. He has dark brown hair with a mustache and goatee and wears a black hoodie and black glasses.

The translator for this text, Yoán Moreno, is a musician, writer, and translator based in Miami, Florida. He has been published in LAist and El Estornudo. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Miami.

Shift Space