Packet Switching: Cuba’s Offline Internet


Julia Weist, the subject of the First Look profile in our September issue, collaborated with Cuban artist Nestor Siré on the project “17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]TM,” on view at the Queens Museum through February 18, 2018. Their show features an archive with fifty-two terabytes of digital media that have been distributed among computer users in Cuba over the last year through a system known as “the weekly package.” Here, Weist and Siré share details about what’s available on Cuba’s offline internet and provide links to content that lives online, some of which has been compiled in a playlist on our YouTube channel.  —Eds.


El paquete semanal (the weekly package), Cuba’s offline digital media circulation system based on in-person file sharing, is a far more diverse in its content and structure than is typically reported. We have a particular interest in the original content produced specifically for the paquete audience. This material leverages the platform’s reach—nearly every Cuban national consumes some media from the paquete each week—as well as its decentralized nature and independence from state control. We have compiled some examples of the content produced in Cuba for the paquete, including music, magazines, shows and advertisements.


Music videos: State media is not a viable or sufficient outlet for the growing scene of Cuban reggaetón, known as Cubaton. The underground music industry produces songs and videos to be distributed primarily in the paquete. The paquete has been so crucial for Cubaton that as early as in 2013 the popular reggaeton singer La Diosa dedicated a song to it. The main reggaeton compilation curated for the paquete is made by Abdel La Esencia, who has also an online presence under the label “The Cuban Promoter.”

TV shows: Increasingly, weekly shows are created especially for the paquete, including coverage of artists and celebrities (both Cuban and international), in addition to news and specials about the local art scene. Popular programs such as Mi Habana TV often include “sponsored content” such as interviews with business owners, restaurant tours, and nightclub promotions. Others, like QManíaTV, are devoted to Cuban popular music, featuring interviews with singers and celebrity news.

Digital magazines: Dozens of magazines have been developed specifically for the paquete. Although some of these publications have an online presence, nearly all readers access the content through the offline paquete. Because of the nationalized media system there is little to no opportunity to circulate independent magazines in print. Most of the early paquete magazines focused on celebrity culture, but the format has since diversified to cover topics such as fashion and beauty, sports, music and culture, technology and even animals. Supervivo, a beautifully designed Cuban zine created by an ISDi alum, is the one of the few publications to circulate in print, reproduced in black and white on copy paper.

Paquete celebrities and social media: In 2015 a small number of public Wi-Fi hotspots were introduced to Cuba, but access remains limited. As a result of increased exposure to social media, many young Cubans became interested in YouTube and vlog culture. Videos made in the style of these platforms are now common in the paquete. Despite these vloggers’ fame in Cuba, they have only a minor presence on YouTube. Their community consists primarily of teens who have developed graphic identities, personalities, and styles based on makeup or pizza.

Ads and promotions: Before the government legalized regulated private business in 2010, ads were not necessary in Cuba because the state managed all goods and services. The onset of entrepreneurship led to the development of private advertising agencies. ETRES, founded in 2013, was the agency to develop a methodology for leveraging the national reach of the paquete to circulate ads and they remain the most significant promotional agency in Cuba. Ads can be found in the paquete within specific folders and appended to video files. Promotions tend to have a cinematographic style and story arc, and they are often far longer than advertisements you’d find in other contexts.

Visit Julia Weist and Nestor Siré’s playlist here.