A Look Inside El Paquete, Cuba’s Black Market Entertainment Pack [exclusive]

cuba larry press el paquete
Written by Larry Press

Lots of Cubans rely on El Paquete Semanal, a weekly pack of pirated movies, magazines and software available only on the black market. Our Larry Press scored a copy. Here’s what he discovered. [exclusive]

aNewDomain — Because fewer than five percent of Cubans have been able to access the Internet, since 2008 many have turned to the illegal, but tolerated, El Paquete Semanal. Provided by unknown sources, it’s a weekly collection of pirated movies, TV shows, software, games and magazines lots of Cubans have been getting off the black market every single week since about 2009.el pacquete el paquete

Now, I’ve wanted to check out a copy of El Paquete for some time. I was finally able to examine it this week, thanks to a source who provided me with the El Paquete for March 16, 2016.

I found some intriguing things inside.

The first thing I noticed about El Paquete was that there was no user interface software included with it — at least, there wasn’t in the copy I looked at. Maybe that’s good enough for El Paquete distributors who are familiar with its file structure and content, but it sure would be a lot more accessible with something other than  a Windows Explorer view of the file system, as shown below.

An idea for all you enterprising folks out there: Someone should write a beautiful user interface program that lets users search for and select, copy and view content. Just saying.

cuba larry press el paquete semanal

Check out my Windows Explorer view of El Paquete, at left.

Note there are files available in both English and Spanish.

Content-wise, this version of El Paquete sure made me wonder what selection criteria its unknown creators are using. In this package, there were two old Hollywood cowboy movies, four US spring training baseball games and, of all things, an Australian formula 1 car race.

I’d love to know why and how they selected those movies and those games. And why that race?

Interestingly, there wasn’t any pirated Netflix content on there. An exec told me recently I’d definitely find some, but it wasn’t in this edition.

However, this have just been an off week in terms of Netflix piracy. Because I did note a House of Cards video subtitle file — an .SRT file — but there was no video episode. House of Cards is, of course, a Netflix original series.

I’m just speculating, but it sure made me wonder if the absence of Netflix content has anything to do with the possibility of Netflix producing content or investing in the infrastructure there.

As has been widely reported, I did find directories of Android, Apple iOS and Windows software. I’ve yet to analyze them for malware, though.

But the main thing I wanted to examine was the overall quality of the stuff in the El Paquete I examined. And overall, it was quite dismal.

Some of the video on there was so poor, I had to wonder how the El Paquete people, whoever they are, are capturing it. It’s a good bet it has been compressed and downloaded over slow connections. It was as if the poor video wasn’t copied from actual digital files at all but, rather, just recorded through the so called “analog hole” during playback.

Also worth noting: The commercials had been cut out of some of the foreign video, but still others included the original commercials. Again, this suggests they were recorded during playback.el paqueta

There were also current Cuban ads, like the one you see  for Galaxy Musik, at right.

In addition to all the audio and video material, there was lots of text — that is, text in the form of  scanned, pirated copies of popular magazines. Of these,  the commercial magazines were difficult to read and some were out of date.

Interestingly, government publications like Granma and official documents, like the text of laws, were in perfectly readable PDF form.

This suggests to me that the government is providing this content directly to El Paquete. Not surprising, perhaps. El Paquete is tolerated by the government. It makes sense that the government, either explicitly or implicitly, is actually using it as a distribution medium.

If you’ve ever read up about El Paquete, you’ve probably learned that it’s widely believed that the government only allows El Paquete to exist on the condition that the subscription doesn’t include political content or anything that’s violent or pornography.

On the El Paquete I looked at, I did find one delightful example of political content, an episode of TBS’ political talk show, “Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal.”  The episode was 100 percent political — the one I found in the package made fun of right-wing politicians here in the US.

Evidently, US political content is a-okay.

I found quite a bit of Cuban video on El Paquete, of course. I did not screen it all, but it didn’t escape my notice that several of the Cuban videos I did see were offered by the same Cuban company, Cinemateka Cuba.

Sure makes you wonder if those folks have anything to do with El Paquete. As I told you awhile ago, the Cuban movie production and movie streaming businesses seem ripe for development. Is this just a next step for them?

Maybe US companies aren’t the only ones hoping to cash in big time off the opening up of the Cuban market.

I’m just speculating, of course.

By the way, you know how you always read that El Paquete is a one terabyte collection of entertainment? Not so. The edition I reviewed was just 760GB.

For aNewDomain, I’m Larry Press.

Editor: An earlier version of this piece was published on Larry Press’ laredcubana blog. Find it here. 

p.s. Here’s a screenshot from Cinemateka Cuba, below.

cinemateka cuba el paquete