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Cuba employs hundreds of people to attack, hack and adulterate opinions on the Internet

Eliécer Ávila, now a dissident, talks about his past as chief of a division made up by young Cubans faithful to the regime and oriented to control Internet, with ideological purposes

(by @joanantoni70) – Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall (Translated by J. A. G. V and Raúl García)

In a recent interview with Yoani Sanchez published on YouTube, Eliécer Avila talks about his participation in Operation Truth, as leader of a division oriented to control Internet with ideological purposes. He explains that at the beginning of the project, around 2007, 300 people were used for this job, a task which took place 24 hours a day and which counted on the help of analysts in charge of elaborating responses to every critical opinion circulating on Internet; students and state workers were participating in a series of actions, attacking people critical of the regime, with the sole purpose of discrediting them. Castro’s regime actually has a plan to analyze and influence public opinion. Ávila assures that he doesn’t regret what he did and confesses that, after everything else he has read and lived, he now has other opinions.

Video in Spanish:

An IT engineer and producer of the alternative show on YouTube “1 Cubano Mas” (‘One More Cuban’), Eliécer Ávila had an exchange in 2008 with Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly of Popular Power at the UCI. He was the head of a project of technological and political vigilance for the University of Information Technology (UCI), one of the specialties of the so-called “Operation Truth”, dedicated to monitor the internet, publish reports, and carry out cyber-combat.
During the interview, Avila explained that periodical meetings were held with militants and other members of the Communist Youth Union in the Conventions Palace of Havana. The Ministry of Culture, Abel Prieto, suggested in 2007 the creation of a project organized in the UCI which would serve to “transmit to the world the truth which the government stated about Cuba towards the exterior“, as well as the Cuban stance in regards to “the 5 heroes” (5 Cuban spies jailed in the United States).
Although this project kicked off between 2007 and 2008, “it had been in function for a long time“. Ávila was the “main person” responsible for this project, specifically of a “technological vigilance” division, which aimed to “constantly monitor all the information regarding Cuba and Fidel Castro“. The monitoring would operate 24 hours a day. Another sector of this job was to “create technology which would promote government sites on international search engines“, or to make it so that search results would only display official sites, and not alternative ones.
The Operation Truth project worked, according to Ávila, “as a team” of students and analysts which “harmonized the responses for each case, whether it be a blog or a debate which took place“. One of the main objectives was not so much to respond or contradict the criticisms but rather that “everything be based on attacking the person, removing all their credit“, he outlines.
The work of the people who participated in the project was measured with “productive goals“, with which they had to elaborate reports with the amount of comments and opinions on blogs. The components of Operation Truth were “the most ideologically pre-prepared and committed to the University Student Federation (FEU)“.
During their beginnings, the team was made up by 300 people who guaranteed a control of the network during 24 hours a day. Work shifts were established, even on special occasions (elections in Venezuela, for example), operating at night and in the mornings to “follow all the details of opinions or to insert matrices of concrete opinion“.
The division headed by Ávila had complete access to the internet, without censorship, considering that “it was supposed that they were ideologically vaccinated“. The team even received visits from members of the State Council, where concrete orders regarding the contents of the network which “did not abide by the revolution’s morale” originated. In any of the cases, assures Ávila, the regime acted under the principle of “to each, his dose“.

Ávila adds that all those who participated in the project could be permeable to certain “contagion” and, in his case, defines himself as “a rebel within the system“. In regards to his participation in the project, he admits that it was his own suggestion to form a group of three or four people who would “go in depth” in tasks of hacking to “destroy certain sites” considered enemies. Among the “fundamental” targets, he assures, was the Venezuelan news portal NTN24.
Far from diminishing, the Operation Truth project “has expanded“. The regime promotes the apparition of bloggers who, despite being stationed in one same place- like UCI- give off an image of individuals hailing from all over the country, who carry out their blogging tasks in a spontaneous fashion and in defense of the government, without receiving any orders. But that is not true. Ávila manifests that those blogs do not have a spontaneous origin, considering that the subjects they tackle are decided by others and that the authors have to report details of their “work“, number of entries, updates, as well as measures to increase visitors to their sites.
The performances of the regime on the internet are perfectly guided and organized. They respond to ideological necessities and their purpose is to respond to criticisms and establish informational filters. A perfect example of this is the Ecured platform, known as the Cuban Wikipedia, to which members of Operation Truth must contribute to by writing articles, despite that they do not know anything of the subject. “We had to write monthly articles to put some substance in those libraries“, affirms Ávila.
Ávila, now a dissident, considers that the regime should “provide internet” to everyone in the country. In the event of having to consider it as an opportunity, he would defend whatever he wanted, but under “an individual title“. Ávila started to ask himself the reason for why in Cuba “no one could be spontaneous“. The response was that the regime considered that before the arrival of internet, the country should be “prepared“, establishing filters on information, whether it comes from the outside or whether it left Cubato the outside world. “Everything had to be refined, both in the arrival and exit points“.
The first thing I have to say is that I do not have much to feel remorse about because, at that time, I was doing what, according to my knowledge and my studies, I should have been doing. And I was very aware of what I was doing.
Today, the dissident does not regret what he did in Operation Truth: “The first thing that I have to say is that I do not have much to feel remorse about because, at that time, I was doing what, according to my knowledge and my studies, I should have been doing. And I was very aware of what I was doing. And now, I do what, inspired by facts, information, debates, of what I have read and have learned, seems rational to me. Now, in my case something simply happened. At that moment I was nearly sure that the problem was not the system, but that the problem was all the people who were doing things wrong“.
Ávila was removed from his position after the questioning of Alarcón, he explains. They left him to focus solely on his thesis. He remarks that before that he had already distinguished himself as “a rebel within the system“, questioning even the leadership of Raul and Fidel Castro. Now, he perceives that many bloggers in the official sphere are experimenting with changes and an evolution according to the measure in which they come into contact with other views, and he signals that the guardians of the regime are not pleased that some of these young bloggers make friends with independent circles.
The dissident affirms that in a future Cubahe wants to see opinions which respond only to the spontaneity of their transmitters more than to organized plans. “I want to debate with free and independent men. That really is a Revolution“.

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Interested in Cuba? Follow me on Twitter @joanantoni70
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