Smugglers of digital 'paquetes' make a living in Havana

The 'Weekly Packet' helps Cubans get to pirated media

By Hatzel Vela, Andrea Torres

HAVANA - Without ample access to the Internet, some Cubans satisfy their hunger for media through a black market of digital "paquetes," packages of content that bypass government censorship. 

The content ranges from pornography to soap operas, foreign news and movies. Telemundo's Spanish language Al Rojo Vivo, Univision's Primer Impacto and The Deadliest Catch are some of the most popular requests.

"I only distribute it, I don't produce it," a man who sells content said. "I buy it and resell it and like me there are thousand who live of off this. What aired last week, we will get this week."

The unidentified man said he makes about $32 a month and spends about $2 to buy content. He uses his earnings to supplement the government food rations, he said. To run his business, he needs a computer, hard drives and connections.

Customers can order a download of a terabyte of data, which can last a viewer about a week or a month. Some share memory cards, much in the same way teens in South Florida rent video games to their friends.

Some use SIM cards, a portable memory chip used to hold data. Others use Flash USB drives and .Zip files on CDs. A "paquete semanal" can cost between $1 to $3.

The data traffickers have a network and they specialize on different types of content. Some only focus on distributing the content.

The traffickers must be meticulously organized and fast. The older the content the worst the resell value is.  He or she also has to be familiar with antivirus software, so clients keep coming back for more.

Some use illegal satellite to have access to the content that can be digitized. They get Vampire Diaries, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. And as long as the Internet remains slow, the lucrative "paquetes" will continue to have demand.

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Media censorship in Cuba 

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