The Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) met for the first time on February 7 amid concerns that its mission constitutes a violation of Cuba’s sovereignty. President Donald Trump formed CITF in June 2017 with the goal of improving internet penetration on the island where the state dominates the current information infrastructure.
The task force includes various representatives from the State Department, Commerce Department, Federal Communications Commission, and U.S. Agency for International Development, according to ABC News. Reuters reported this initiative is part of a larger strategy by the Trump administration to put forward a tougher stance on Cuba than that of former-President Barack Obama.
Supporters of CITF argue that increased access to the internet will allow Cuban citizens to spread anti-communist messages and undermine Raul Castro’s regime. Protesters began using the internet as a method for destabilizing dictatorial regimes during the Arab Spring, when activists organized to topple Middle Eastern dictatorships using Twitter and other forms of social media.
Critics of CITF claim that it makes the U.S. appear hostile, diminishing rather than increasing U.S. influence on the island, reports Reuters. According to ABC News, after Obama’s normalization of relations, internet usage in Cuba experienced its largest uptick in history. The Council on Foreign Relations noted that Google even signed a deal with the state-owned Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) to improve internet access.
Trump’s efforts to increase internet penetration have allowed the Castro regime to frame CITF as a Western attack on Cuban institutions, a tactic Castro has used in the past to curb foreign influence. Cuba expert Alan Gross notes that even phrasing the group as a “task force” makes the operation seem like a military plot to topple the Castro regime.
Cuba itself has raised concerns over the formation of the task force. The first CITF meeting assembled in response to an offcial protest submitted by the Cuban government to U.S. diplomats which claimed that the initiative violates Cuba’s sovereignty and constitutes interventionist, illegal activity.
According to Reuters, independent Cuban media outlets which had begun to flourish during rapprochement are now receiving accusations of collusion with the U.S. government in an attempt to control Cuban channels of communication.
The CITF constitutes another attempt to reverse the Obama administration’s e orts to improve relations with Cuba. For now, the future remains unclear. However, experts suggest that the Trump administration will continue down this path of hard-line policy against Cuba in the upcoming years.