HAVANA -- Leading Cuban dissidents who are denied access to the Internet at home now have their messages posted on Web sites, thanks to the work of exiled friends and family abroad.
Oswaldo Payá, who five years ago used his bicycle to begin doggedly collecting signatures for a referendum on civil liberties, has no access to e-mail.
But his Web site (
"We have to do it from outside Cuba, because we can't here," Payá, winner of the European Parliament's 2002 Andrei Sakharov prize for freedom of thought, said recently. "We want to express our point of view, which we cannot do here due to the lack of freedom."
Cuba, like China, restricts Internet use. The government decides who can access the Web, although passwords can be purchased on the black market.
Since Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother in July after undergoing emergency surgery, Cuba's communist authorities have released three dissidents from jail, but there is no sign that Cuba's policy on limited Internet access has changed.
The wives and mothers of jailed Cuban dissidents, known as the "Ladies in White" because they dress in white to march in silence demanding the men's release, have a Web site that was built for them by Cuban exiles in Spain (
"I've never seen it. I don't have access to Internet," said Miriam Leiva, a founder of the women's group whose husband was released in 2004, after 20 months behind bars for criticizing Castro's government.
A leading dissident in Cuba with close ties to the exile community in South Florida, Martha Beatriz Roque, has since 2004 had a Web site (
Even if Payá, Leiva or Roque could freely surf the Web, they still would not see their sites because they are blocked in Cuba, as are other sites of staunchly anti-Castro exiles.
"The Internet is a basic tool in today's world, but the government doesn't want Cubans to have outside information and only grants access to certain people," Leiva said.
Leiva said the site helps inform the world about the group's campaign to win the release of 59 of the 75 dissidents jailed since March 2003. The others were freed on medical parole.
The Cuban government calls dissidents "counterrevolutionary mercenaries" who are on the payroll of its ideological nemesis, the United States, and have little support in Cuba.
The dissidents' lack of access to the Internet comes on top of the everyday shortages that all Cubans deal with -- such as the limited transport that led Payá to use a bicycle to seek petition signers.
Cuba says it restricts Internet use because U.S. trade sanctions deny it access to underwater telecommunications cables, forcing it to use expensive satellite links through other countries.
Cuba last month announced a plan to bypass the U.S. embargo with an underwater fiber-optic cable to Venezuela, its closest ally.
Last year, dissident Guillermo Fariñas went on a seven-month hunger strike to demand open access to the Internet for all Cubans. He was on an intravenous drip when he called off the protest.
For free Internet access, some people go to the U.S. Interests Section, the American diplomatic mission in Havana, which has 23 public terminals and takes about 200 users a week, by appointment.