Cuba has restricted access to social media and messaging platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp, global internet monitoring firm NetBlocks has said, in the wake of the biggest anti-government protests in decades.
Thousands of Cubans joined demonstrations throughout the Communist-run country on Sunday to protest against a deep economic crisis that has seen shortages of basic goods and power outages. They were also protesting against the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and curbs on civil liberties.
NetBlocks, based in London, said on its website on Tuesday that Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram in Cuba were partially disrupted on Monday and Tuesday.
“The pattern of restrictions observed in Cuba indicate an ongoing crackdown on messaging platforms used to organise and share news of protests in real-time,” said NetBlocks director Alp Toker. “At the same time, some connectivity is preserved to maintain a semblance of normality.”
Cuba’s government has said the demonstrations were orchestrated by counterrevolutionaries financed by the United States, manipulating frustration with an economic crisis largely caused by the decades-old US trade embargo.
The protests, rare in a country where public dissent is tightly controlled, had largely ended by Sunday evening, as security forces were deployed to the streets and President Miguel Diaz-Canel called on government supporters to go out and fight to defend their revolution.
But another protest flared late on Monday in the southern Havana suburb of La Guinera, where one man died and several others, including members of the security forces, were hospitalised with injuries, according to state-run media on Tuesday.
It did not say what caused the death. No other deaths and injuries have been officially confirmed so far.
Hundreds had taken to streets in La Guinera, shouting slogans such as “Down with communism” and “Freedom for the people of Cuba” according to two residents and video footage seen by the Reuters news agency. Some started throwing rocks at security forces who eventually responded with gunfire, said resident Waldo Herrera, 49.
“I think the Communists have lost control, they won’t have a solution to this situation,” he said. “The people are tired of so much humiliation, so much repression.”
A Reuters witness saw dozens of people carrying sticks departing La Guinera late on Monday.
Activists say the government is using so-called rapid-reaction brigades – government-organised bands of civilian recruits – to counter protesters.
Mobile internet disrupted
They also accuse the government of trying to disrupt communications. Introduced just over two years ago, mobile internet has been a key factor behind the protests, giving Cubans more of a platform to express their frustrations and enabling the word to get out quickly when people are on the street.
In the capital, there have been regular and atypical mobile internet outages since Sunday, according to Reuters’ witnesses.
Facebook Inc, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said that it was concerned about its services being restricted in Cuba, in a statement to Reuters late on Tuesday.
“We oppose shutdowns, throttling, and other disruptions of the internet that limit the debate of our community. We hope connectivity will be restored as soon as possible so that Cubans can communicate with family and friends,” said Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman.
Asked whether the government was intentionally restricting internet connections, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a news briefing the situation was “complicated.” He said power outages could affect telecommunications services and “Cuba would never renounce the right to defend itself”.
Telegram did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter Inc said it found no blocking of its service.
“Our weapon is the internet. If they take away the internet we are unarmed,” said Havana resident Gino Ocumares, as he tried but failed to connect to the internet at a government WiFi hotspot. “The government does not want people to see the truth.”
The protest in La Guinera was spearheaded by “antisocial and criminal elements” that had tried to reach the police station with the aim of attacking its officials and damaging infrastructure, said the state-run Cuban News Agency.
When security forces stopped them, they vandalised homes, set containers on fire, and damaged the suburb’s electrical wiring, attacking officials with stones and other objects, the agency said.
State-run media also reported on Tuesday that Raul Castro, who stepped down as head of the ruling Cuban Communist Party in April, attended a meeting on Sunday of the political bureau to address the “provocations”.
Diaz-Canel said in April he would continue to consult Castro on matters of utmost importance.
The Cuban Bishops Conference said in a statement it was worried that the response to protests over legitimate concerns would be “immobilism” rather than an attempt to resolve them, and even a counterproductive hardening of positions.
Reaction to the protest in Latin America split along ideological lines, with Mexico’s president blaming the US embargo for fomenting the unrest, while Chile and Peru urged the government to allow pro-democracy protests.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday that the United States “stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights”.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Havana government to open all means of communication, online and offline.
“Shutting down technology, shutting down information pathways – that does nothing to address the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Cuban people,” Price told a news briefing on Tuesday.
This article was originally published by Pivot, an independent, non-profit francophone news outlet based in Québec — PressProgress and Pivot are working together to translate and republish each other’s stories.
Québec Nouvelles, the online media outlet, has links to individuals close to the Conservative Party of Québec (CPQ) and to Alberta’s pro-oil lobby groups.
Mysteriously, after Pivot asked a few questions, evidence of these links began to disappear on the Internet. Well, almost.
Québec Nouvelles, the news and opinion website, was launched in the fall of 2019.
Québec Nouvelles (Facebook)
Québec Nouvelles claims to be different from other media outlets. Unlike those that “demand taxpayers’ money in the form of subsidies, taxes, and other imposed measures,” this “alternative independent media outlet” survives solely thanks to donations made by its readers, according to its website.
It claims the media outlet owes its survival to the fact that it “speaks to the people and defends the people against political corruption and the dishonesty of certain elites.”
But the articles that have disappeared suggest a slightly different story.
In spring 2020, a similar news site, but published in English, The Westphalian Times, came into being. At first glance, aside from the editorial position, the connection between the two publications is not obvious.
However, the page devoted to donations on the respective websites makes it clear that the two entities are, in fact, linked to a single company, named Dominion Media, which has links to the CPQ and pro-oil lobby groups.
Very close ties with the Quebec Conservative Party
Headlines such as “I support Éric Duhaime, the only politician who can save Quebec,” leave little doubt as to Québec Nouvelles’s editorial position.
In fact, the website’s content shows that the media outlet maintains particularly close ties with Duhaime and his party.
Québec Nouvelles (Facebook)
For example, on November 22, 2020, the media outlet acquired exclusive access to the logo the former radio host was about to unveil during the launch of his Conservative Party leadership campaign.
More recently, Québec Nouvelles published an article announcing, in advance, the results of a poll on voting intentions in Quebec, even before they were released by Utica Resources, the oil and gas company that had commissioned the poll.
The results had also been given to the CPQ ahead of time, which raised questions about the possibility of a breach of the rules governing donations to political parties.
We asked Québec Nouvelles who — from Utica Resources or from the CPQ — gave the survey to the media outlet, but we did not get an answer.
Furthermore, the business registry indicates that Samuel Racine sits on the board of Dominion Media, which owns both Québec Nouvelles and The Westphalian Times.
He publishes under the pseudonym Samuel Rz in both media outlets. From his LinkedIn profile, we learn that at the Université de Montréal he was president of the Conservative Party of Canada’s campus association.
Samuel Racine, under the pseudonym “Sam Rz,” is also the moderator of a Facebook group in support of Éric Duhaime: “Appuyons Éric Duhaime, chef du PCQ.”
This group appears to have the party’s backing, since its administrators and moderators include such CPQ figures as Fred Têtu (Éric Duhaime’s friend and biographer), Donald Gagnon (national vice-president of the CPQ), André Valiquette (chair of the CPQ’s political commission) and Raffael Cavaliere (executive director of the CPQ).
Ties with the Québec Fier pressure group
Another administrator of the “Appuyons Éric Duhaime” Facebook group is Nicolas Gagnon. He’s also an active contributor to the Québec Nouvelles website in addition to being one of the people in charge of the Québec Fier pressure group.
Québec Fier is a pressure group that is part of an ecosystem of similar groups that belong to the Canada Strong and Proud network.
Nicolas Gagnon is also an administrator with the Proudly New Brunswick, West Coast Proud, NS Proud, and Québec Fier organizations. This network fights mainly for the development of the fossil fuel industry in Canada.
Québec Fier was co-founded by Maxime Hupé, the former director of communications for Maxime Bernier. According to a report in the Huffington Post, Éric Duhaime offered advice to Jean Philippe Fournier, one of the former hosts of Québec Fier’s Facebook page. Fournier was himself a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada and the CPQ. He no longer has ties with Québec Fier.
During the 2019 federal election, Québec Fier received $45,000 from the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a conservative advocacy group that was recently renamed Canada Strong and Free Network. This organization has also contributed $240,500 to the Canada Strong and Proud network.
During the 2021 federal election, Québec Fier received close to $93,000 from Canada Strong and Proud and nearly $2,500 from the Modern Miracle Network, a fossil fuel advocacy group.
We asked Québec Nouvelles if the media outlet received any money from the Modern Miracle Network, from the Canada Strong and Free Network, or from the oil industry. All responses, which were written by a certain Michael Binnion, have also disappeared, without explanation, from the Québec Nouvelles website. Fortunately, a number of archived versions are still available.
Michael Binnion and the influence of Alberta oil
On April 1 of this year, an open letter published in The Westphalian Times defended “the moral imperative” of exploiting Canadian hydrocarbons within the context of the war in Ukraine. The author of this letter is Michael Binnion, an Alberta businessman.
On April 4, Québec Nouvelles published this letter in translation, but without naming its author.
Westphalian Times, Québec Nouvelles
Michael Binnion is the CEO of Questerre, an Alberta oil and gas producing company that has interests in the Saint Lawrence Valley.
This little detail is not mentioned by either The Westphalian Times or by Québec Nouvelles. Binnion is also the chairman of the Québec Oil and Gas Association.
Binnion also chairs the board of directors for the Canada Strong and Free Network (formerly the Manning Centre) and is the founder of the Modern Miracle Network.
In 2019, the Globe and Mail revealed that some conservative politicians and heads of oil companies held a meeting at the invitation of the Modern Miracle Network. The goal of the meeting: Come up with strategies for overturning Justin Trudeau’s government.
Québec Nouvelles claims, in all seriousness, that while several Québec media outlets have forsaken impartiality for ideology, it provides “quality information.”
This statement would be much easier to take seriously if Québec Nouvelles owned up to its political and financial ties and if articles didn’t disappear each time a reporter asked a question.
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The Justice Department subpoenas follow an ongoing probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission into whether Digital World broke rules by having substantial talks about buying Trump’s company starting early last year before Digital World sold stock to the public for the first time in September, just weeks before its announcement that it would be buying Trump’s company.
Trump’s social media venture launched in February as he seeks a new digital stage to rally his supporters and fight Big Tech limits on speech, a year after he was banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The Trump Media & Technology Group – which operates the Truth Social app and was in the process of being acquired by Digital World – said in a statement that it will cooperate with “oversight that supports the SEC’s important mission of protecting retail investors.”
The new probe could make it more difficult for Trump to finance his social media company. The company last year got promises from dozens of investors to pump $1 billion into the company, but it can’t get the cash until the Digital World acquisition is completed.
Stock in Digital World rocketed to more than $100 in October after its deal to buy Trump’s company was announced. The stock traded at just around $25 in morning trading Monday.
Digital World is a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, part of an investing phenomenon that exploded in popularity over the past two years.
2:24 U.S. Capitol siege hearings focus on Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn 2020 election
U.S. Capitol siege hearings focus on Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn 2020 election
Such “blank-check” companies are empty corporate entities with no operations, only offering investors the promise they will buy a business in the future. As such they are allowed to sell stock to the public quickly without the usual regulatory disclosures and delays, but only if they haven’t already lined up possible acquisition targets.
Digital World said in a regulatory filing Monday that each member of its board of directors has been subpoenaed by the grand jury in the Southern District of New York. Both the grand jury and the SEC are also seeking a number of documents tied to the company and others including a sponsor, ARC Global Investments, and Miami-based venture capital firm Rocket One Capital.
Some of the sought documents involve “due diligence” regarding Trump Media and other potential acquisition targets, as well as communications with Digital World’s underwriter and financial adviser in its initial public offering, according to the SEC disclosure.
Digital World also Monday announced the resignation of one of its board members, Bruce Garelick, a chief strategy officer at Rocket One.
Janz should not be investigated by the city’s integrity commissioner, or as I would recommend renaming the position, the city’s social media censor.
It should be obvious I’m not a big fan of Michael “Mosquito Mike” Janz, the city councillor most responsible for ending the city’s mosquito-spraying program. The flying pests are noticeably worse this summer; I’ve got the bites to prove it.
Thanks, Mosquito Mike.
In general, I don’t care for Janz’s politics and especially his anti-police harangues. Check out his Twitter feed. He complains about police about once a month, sometimes even more often.
He accuses them of race and class double standards. He thinks they slough off investigations of alleged crimes against lower-income Edmontonians and routinely mislead the public to cover their own misdeeds.
I find it particularly detestable that he is alleged recently to have retweeted a post from a Calgary account referring to police as “pigs.”
(Calling the police “pigs” is not only detestable, but laughably archaic, too. Hey, Councillor, the late ’60s called. They want their tie-dyed shirt and peace medallion back. Groovy, man.)
Yet, so long as Janz must account to his voters, he should be free to tweet and retweet as he sees fit. The relationship is between the electors and their elected representative. If they disapprove of his online behaviour, they can vote him out of office.
Janz should not be investigated by the city’s integrity commissioner, or as I would recommend renaming the position, the city’s social media censor.
It should be up to the voters who elected Janz to punish him, if they so desire, not some appointed adjudicator who doesn’t answer to voters directly.
A complaint has been filed with the integrity commissioner, Jamie Pytel, by sometimes local Liberal candidate, Thomas Deak. In the complaint, Deak says Janz retweeted the following post, “So this week a co-worker got a $409 ticket for failing to stop his bike at a stop sign. It was 7 a.m. in a residential area, the roads were empty, except for the pig hiding in the bushes.”
Get outraged. Compose an email to the Sun. Post your own tweet condemning Mosquito Mike for his retweeting of juvenile, anti-police name-calling.
But don’t go running to the censor asking her to clap Janz in irons just because you find his opinion (in this case his second-hand opinion) infuriating. Grow up. This is a democracy. We get to have opinions, even unpleasant ones, so long as we respect the right of others to opinions we vehemently disagree with.
Remember, that any government tool that can be used to hush-up your opponents will almost most certainly be turned on you one day, too.
I find it hilarious that Janz, in his own defence, insists there is a plot to “erroneously paint me as some sort of anti-police radical.” Nothing “could be further from the truth.”
Apparently, in his own mind, Janz is a big fan of police.
But remember, Janz was recently also hauled before the integrity commish for tweeting, liking or retweeting nearly two dozen anti-police posts near the end of last year.
Hmm, he certainly has an odd way of showing his love and respect for the Edmonton Police Service.
Own it, councillor. You don’t like the cops much.
But that is his right. He gets to have a seat on council and hold juvenile, archaic, anti-police opinions until the voters in his ward tire of his schtick and punt him from office.
Even after that, he still gets to hold his objectionable views, he just can’t do it as a councillor anymore.
In his run-in with Pytel earlier this year, Janz was not sanctioned by Edmonton’s in-house play-nice-children scold.
And he shouldn’t have been, just as he shouldn’t be reprimanded now.
The whole integrity commissioner ideal just gets in the way of democracy.
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