A special permit is required to use the Internet. Access to the Internet is heavily controlled, and all e-mails are monitored. As a result of computer ownership bans, computer ownership rates were among the world’s lowest. However, since buying a computer was legalized in 2007, the ownership of computers in Cuba soared, dramatically increasing the number of Internet users. But, the rates still remain quite low, partially due to the high costs of systems and Internet usage per hour in contrast to the average monthly wage. By January 2018, there were public hotspots in approximately 500 public locations nationwide providing access in most major cities, and the country relies heavily on public infrastructure whereas home access to the Internet remains largely inaccessible for the general population.
The government continues to balance the need for loosening its socialist economic system against a desire for firm political control. In April 2011, the government held the first Cuban Communist Party Congress in almost 13 years, during which leaders approved a plan for wide-ranging economic changes. Since then, the government has slowly and incrementally implemented limited economic reforms, including allowing Cubans to buy electronic appliances and cell phones, stay in hotels, and buy and sell used cars. The government has cut state sector jobs as part of the reform process, and it has opened up some retail services to “self-employment,” leading to the rise of so-called “cuentapropistas” or entrepreneurs. Approximately 476,000 Cuban workers are currently registered as self-employed.
The Cuban regime has updated its economic model to include permitting the private ownership and sale of real estate and new vehicles, allowing private farmers to sell agricultural goods directly to hotels, allowing the creation of non-agricultural cooperatives, adopting a new foreign investment law, and launching a “Special Development Zone” around the Mariel port.