Satellite dishes help lift Cuba’s veil of secrecy | 08/05/2006 | Satellite dishes help lift Cuba’s veil of secrecy
2006_08_01t121905_450x332_us_cuba.jpg But in Cuba, TV satellite dishes are illegal without an almost impossible-to-obtain government permit. So people here build their own and often sell the signal to neighbors through homemade nets known as telarañas — spiders’ webs.

The small electronic components usually are smuggled in from the United States, and the dishes are built here. If the signals are encoded, relatives abroad can pay for the service as though it were for their own use, obtain the proper decoding procedures and pass them to Cuba.

While their exact number is not known because of the underground nature of the dishes, U.S. officials have estimated there are 10,000 to 30,000 — an important source of outside information for Cubans in addition to the few Miami AM radio stations that can be heard here.

Cuban authorities severely jam the U.S. government’s TV Martí broadcasts, and to a slightly lesser degree jam Radio Martí’s AM and shortwave radio broadcasts.

These days, Cuban TV has been offering a mixture of sports shows, the nightly Round Table news program, a documentary on the revolution’s late heroine, Celia Sánchez, and declarations of support for Fidel and Raúl Castro, the defense minister who temporarily holds the reins of power.

But through their satellite dishes, some Cubans have been able to see images of Cuban Americans dancing on the streets of Miami’s Little Havana, doctors speculating on what exactly ails Fidel Castro, and analysts wondering why Raúl Castro still has not appeared in public.

Cubans say they pay $5 to $10 a month for the illegal cable hookups, a princely fee in a country where the average monthly salary is about $40, but a sum within reach of the many families that receive cash remittances from relatives abroad.

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