From the Cassette to ‘The Package,’ or How to Do Streaming Without Internet in Cuba

by Digital Rights LAC on December 19, 2016

In 2008, MySpace was losing the social media race to Facebook, which only reached 200 million people, and had just launched its platform in Spanish. That same year, Cubans were finally able to have a legally registered cell-phone line, the first desktop computers appeared in stores, and DVD players were the latest craze. We were so removed from technological novelties that nothing seemed to happen, but in 2008 this disconnected country incubated one of the most innovative (and controversial) ideas for accessing audiovisual entertainment: El Paquete (The Package).

By Regina Coyula*

The weekly Package is a terabyte of material in a portable disk drive that covers a broad spectrum of topics. This diversity has guaranteed its current popularity, since it is hard to find enough content to satisfy for an entire week from the most cultured to the most popular entertainment, from the most demanding to the most banal. Since the legal expansion of private employment categories in 2010[1], The Package includes advertising about these businesses, in addition to serving as a platform for new music and video clips, which was its initial purpose according to one of its founders.

For this illegal, yet tolerated business, whose magnitude is impossible to calculate, those who distribute The Package adopted a mechanism born from the illicit rental of Betamax, and then VHS tapes, namely home delivery. It is also distributed in pirate sales points (an activity officially registered as “disk purchase and sale,” approved in 2010) or through a broad wired network, also illegal, known as street net or snet. Originally conceived by gamers, today it also supports The Package, chats, and as much traffic as it can support in bidirectional and multidirectional communication.

The price of The Package varies. Freshly made, “wholesale” distributors buy it for 10 CUC[2] and sell it to retailers for 2 CUC, who in turn re-sell it for this same price to their own network. Some folks have a stock of USB drives, or they use the drives their customers bring and fill them “a la carte,” generally with high demand programs such as TV series, game shows, reality shows, soap operas, or action films. The price of this modality fluctuates, depending on the capacity of the drive, between 10 and 40 CUP. Downloading The Package from the snet is free, as is all traffic in this network. The proliferation of USB drives has “democratized” the way free content is shared, and the notion of a final user becomes a long and untraceable chain.

Many theories are woven around The Package, but the lack of answers leads to speculation: Who makes it? How do you compile such a large volume of information in a country where the few household connections average the prehistoric speed of 56 kbps? Some say that The Package is the largest employer in the private sector, and that it moves millions. Although this is a reasonable assumption, there is no way to prove it, since those who work in the sector are generally hesitant to answer questions, and shy away from interviews.

Against The Package

Given its decentralized and practically uncontrollable nature, cultural institutions, the press, and the police, have tried to discourage its use. In 2014, La Mochila (The Backpack) appeared as a counter proposal: an audiovisual product with content focused on combating “vulgarity and banality” attributed to The Package, and, incidentally, any criticism of the government. It’s worth pointing out that The Package doesn’t compile controversial, religious or pornographic content; it excludes political content, and, recently, it has even deleted humorous content critical of the Cuban government.

La Mochila oscillates between 300 and 350 Gb and it is free to download at the Youth Computer Clubs[3], but it hasn’t come close to competing with its informal contender. Those who defend La Mochila didn’t seem to understand that education and entertainment don’t always follow the same storyline, and the success of The Package lies in entertainment that allows people to unwind.

The Package has been accused of violating artistic and intellectual property; and it has been accused of false freedom of choice, since one has to choose from 1Tb that was previously selected. These are the minor accusations. There are those who see in The Package an enemy plan (internal, external, both?) to “destabilize” the country and impose a mass culture foreign to “our cultural values.”

In Favor of The Package

It allows one to flee the dreadful national television programming; each one decides what schedule to enjoy, and within its contents one can find high quality (and high definition) material, according to one’s own taste.

Despite the criticisms, not even those who oppose it can deny that TV programming contains content whose defects equal or exceed those attributed to The Package, and are often equally pirated. On the other hand, most people who sit in front of the TV to unwind prefer to see pretty faces and trivial topics, rather than the ideology of national TV.

The Future

The Package has some life left in it. As long as the embargo remains in effect, US companies will be in no condition to file legal claims on their intellectual property. As long as the quality of Cuban television remains erratic and excessively politicized, and as long as a Netflix subscription (which is legal in Cuba) is almost symbolic, and the cost of downloading contents remains astronomical[4], The Package will endure.

With a more open country, intellectual property laws will be applied, and people will resent the withdrawal of many copyright protected content. Will this be the end of The Package? At least it will be its reinvention, if those who manage it remain aware of audiovisual needs and trends.

[1] Small private property, the only kind in the country after the nationalizations of 1959 and 1960, was abolished in 1968. It reappeared in 1995 during the deep economic crisis known as the Special Period, with shy openings that were ended abruptly after Hugo Chavez’ electoral victory in Venezuela, and picked up strength again in 2010 with the drop in oil prices, Hugo Chavez’ illness, and the country’s economic crisis.

[2] Official convertible Cuban currency, together with the Cuban Peso or CUP: 1 CUC = 24 CUP.

[3] Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs are computer rooms opened in 1987 for learning and promoting these disciplines. Currently, they exist in all municipalities and, in addition to La Mochila, which is free, they offer courses, antivirus, games, free software, and mobile applications. Notably they don’t offer internet connection.

[4] A 50 minute chapter from a TV series in HD weighs about 600MB, and it downloads at 1Mbps speed. The maximum speed offered by ETECSA at public Wi-Fi spots can take 90 minutes, for which one has to pay 3CUC. The average salary oscillates between 20 and 25 CUC per month.

*Regina Coyula, Havana, 1956. Graduate in History. Discovered the internet in 2009 and has tried to compensate for so many years of ignorance and disconnection. Editor and webmaster of the Cuban Legal Association ( and She has contributed to various online publications such as, and Her personal blog is at Her Twitter is @lamalaletra.

Image: (CC BY-NC 2.0) berg_chatbot / Flickr