El Paquete Update — Cuba’s Largest Private Employer?

el paquete
Written by Larry Press

Is Cuba’s largest underground newspaper owned by the government?

aNewDomainlarry-press-anewdomain cuban internet – I’ve been tracking Cuba’s “el paquete semenal,” a weekly distribution of entertainment, software, games, news, etc. on portable hard disks and flash drives for quite awhile now.

What I’ve come to notice is the compilation and distribution of the material is well organized and complete, leading to speculation that it is run by the Cuban government. (There is actually precedent for this. There once was a government storefront in Havana where one could bring floppy disks to get the latest copies of software releases.)

Even if the government does not run el paquete, they turn a blind eye to its conspicuous advertising and distribution. In return, the package (like the illegal local area networks) does not include any politically sensitive material.

ABC News reports that el paquete is Cuba’s number one private employer, bringing in $4 million a month.

It does not cite its sources, but it is not an outlandish claim. I don’t know how many people are employed in the private sector, but considering the goofy list of jobs that are eligible for self employment, it is believable that this popular, ubiquitous service could be the leading private employer.

And $4 million a month does not sound like a lot of revenue for such a widespread operation. According to the ABC report, terabyte hard drives with the week’s material are delivered to customer’s homes for 5 CUC (about $6.50). The subscriber copies as much as he or she wants and the drive is picked up the next day. That subscriber may in turn distribute material to others on flash drives or their own portable hard disks, thus reducing the cost-per-person usage, in a sense.


Elio Hector Lopez, who claims to be the head of el paquete, described a different price structure in a Forbes interview:

Most customers get the drive at home, where they exchange it for last week’s drive (for) the equivalent of $1.10 to $2.20. (Distributors selling to other distributors charge ten times as much.)”

Regardless, $4 million seems plausible. Lopez went on to say that the original founding group had broken up, but evaded the interviewer’s questions about operational details.

The following video gives another look at the distribution of el paquete:

It includes an interview of “Dany Paquete” (shown above), a 26-year old “who looks more like a lazy college sophomore than a kingpin of a national blackmarket of pirated media.” He is one of two competing national distributors in Havana.

The documentary does not disclose details on the gathering of information, but suggests that editors in Miami and Havana select movies, music, etc. each week.

Dany sounds more like an MBA businessman than a drug dealer and is unafraid to appear on camera. The Cuban government clearly tolerates el paquete. Even if officials are not being paid off, it satisfies many consumers, making them less likely to press for open Internet access. Had he been writing today, Karl Marx would have said “el paquete is the opium of the masses.”

I recently had an opportunity to ask a senior State Department spokesman whether el paquete copyright violation had come up during discussions with the Cubans and he said “No,” but the agenda of the Bilateral Commission includes discussion of claims for damages. The focus will no doubt be on Cuban claims for damages resulting from the embargo and U.S. claims for nationalized property — might that be stretched to include “Orange is the New Black?”

For aNewDomain, I’m .

Ed: A version of this story ran on Larry Press’ laredcubana. Read it here.

All images courtesy ABC