Lines of investigation
The Paquete Semanal (or Weekly Package) is a collection of one terabyte of media that is collected weekly in Cuba and distributed throughout the country through hand-to-hand file sharing. It is an independent alternative that has thrived under the complicit silence of Cuban society. Based mostly on piracy, it contains between 15,000 and 18,000 files, depending on the week and its distributor, and covers a wide variety of content including software, sports, soap operas, web shows, anime, manga, movies, television programs, video games, music, video clips, music and comedy shows, antivirus and application updates, as well as advertising for different national services. It is updated weekly throughout the country, with a price equivalent to 2 dollars, and its circulation is underground. Because it is not exactly cheap, several people tend to partner up for its purchase.
The Weekly Package is often described as a solution to the lack of Internet or fast connections in Cuba, but it is more accurate to note that this phenomenon is the result of the progressive modification of the means of entertainment in the non-formal economy. In the early seventies of the last century, about ten years after the Cuban Revolution and the nationalization of all mass media, an illicit economy based on the rental of entertainment materials that escaped State regulations began to flourish on the island.
Romantic or western mini-novels, by authors such as Corín Tellado, were the first materials to be clandestinely circulated by entrepreneurs. The acquisition of books was a constant challenge and these businesses discovered that working with equivalent entrepreneurs in other cities was the best alternative to obtain new copies. This was the beginning of a nationwide black market network for the exchange and buying and selling of entertainment materials. As the format of available media evolved: first to magazines, then to VHS cassettes and Betacam videotapes, and finally to CDs, VCDs, and DVDs, this network provided access to circulating media that were outside government control. Thus, Weekly Package is the result of the gradual development of such networks and the now naturalized illicit trade in training materials over more than four decades.
With its virtues and defects, it is a medium in which audiovisual products of very heterogeneous quality can be found; there are banal and commercial contents, but also risky ones, those that open our eyes to unknown worlds and innovative television trends. Its diversity is as wide as the consumption spectrum it aims to satisfy. The Weekly Package content structure shows a kind of curatorial intelligence, which follows certain contextual events. Rather than serving as a channel for other people’s content, the Package “produces” its content. Through such content, one gains access to another country, one that operates under the demands of creativity and imagination.
Copyright is an issue that, in Cuba, although it has raised questions, is not yet at the forefront of public debate. Piracy is legal, accepted, and practiced by the State itself. It is the viable alternative for accessing information in a country that suffers and takes advantage of the margins granted by the economic and commercial embargo imposed on the island by the U.S. government. This phenomenon is the result of decades of ingenuity and organization of informal networks. The Weekly Package is the most significant popular cultural phenomenon in the Cuban alternative digital context.