The Federation of Cuban Students (FEC) and Students United for a Free Cuba (CAUSA) are holding a charity drive to collect old cell phones from students at the University of Miami.
Initially, FEC wanted to hold a clothes drive to generation articles of clothing to be sent to the island. Junior Alex Fonseca, FEC’s community service chair, was an early proponent of the idea.
However, senior Raul Moas, president of CAUSA, heard of the change in communication rights policy in Cuba and he wanted the two organizations to take advantage of it.
Henceforth, they launched the “Cuba Going Mobile” campaign where students were asked to donate their old cell phones to be sent to the nation to meet the increased demand in such devices.
“FEC is more of a social organization and CAUSA is more political,” Fonseca said. “We had a meeting and decided to get together for the drive since we are the only two Cuban organizations.”
He believes it will also work to break the phone monopoly held by the Cuban government by issuing the free phones to counterparts in Cuba.
According to Maos, the average income in Cuba is the equivalent of $20 monthly, with the price of phones being $18 to $20. Not to mention, Cuba’s cellular plan costs a minimum of $30 a month.
“It’s almost impossible for a regular citizen to buy a cell phone,” Moas said.
Used, old and broken phones are accepted, preferably with chargers included. Broken phones and those that cannot be used with Cuba’s phone service will either be refurbished or exchanged for calling cards that can be used to call family outside of Cuba.
Cuba has the lowest rate of cell phone ownership in the world, at somewhere between seven and nine percent. There is room for 11 million Cubans to be provided with cellular devices, the drive organizers say.
Before President Raul Castro lifted the ban on cell phones and other electronic appliances, only those working for foreign organizations working in Cuba, such as film crews, and those holding high government positions were allowed to buy cell phones.
Others who could afford them bought them illegally.
Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., the restricted cellular service, has been around since 1991 and decided it is ready for heavier traffic.
The access to communication will not quite be on the level of Americans, but it is definitely a significant change for the Communist-governed island.
“I think if they saw how freely we talk on our phones, which is also a freedom of expression, they’d be amazed,” Fonseca said.
The drive will continue for the rest of the semester. A $250 gift certificate will be given to the student organization that collects the most phones during the drive.
Donations are being taken in the UC room 205 and in the UC Breezeway at either a CAUSA or FEC table.