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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by transcript Verlag November 29, 2019

Unpacking El Paquete

The Poetics and Politics of Cuba’s Offline Data-Sharing Network

Steffen Köhn
From the journal Digital Culture & Society


With online access heavily restricted, Cuba has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world. Yet, Cuban citizens have found a way to distribute all kinds of web content in the form of El Paquete Semanal, a one terabyte collection of data that is compiled by a network of people with various forms of privileged internet access and then circulated nationwide on USB sticks and external hard drives via an elaborate network of deliverymen. In this article, I show how El Paquete has come to constitute a nested media ecosystem that facilitates the publication of independent local media content, hosts several digital marketplaces, and offers an otherwise non-existing space for advertisement. Its enormous local relevance and scope sets it in competition with the Cuban state that reacts ambiguously: it largely tolerates the Paquete as long as compilers continue to self-censor overtly political content. While state officials have repeatedly criticised the “banality” of its material, the government recently felt obliged to distribute its own alternative weekly data compilation called Mochila (backpack) via its youth computer clubs and official cybercafés. I therefore seek to understand El Paquete as an arena in which the relationships between citizenry and the state are currently being re-negotiated.

Published Online: 2019-11-29
Published in Print: 2019-12-01

© 2019 by transcript Verlag