Above: Not the real Paquete, just a regular old 1 terabyte hard drive.
Part of our ongoing series about the internet in Cuba, this week we look at one of the most interesting and elusive parts of Cuban internet: El Paquete.
Almost everybody in Cuba knows about it. Some say it’s one of the greatest inventions to ever hit the island. It’s El Paquete Semanal, or The Weekly Package. It’s the App Store, Netflix, and Spotify all rolled into one, delivered right to your door. It is a compilation of everything—well, almost everything. Games, software, apps, music, movies, pictures, news, TV shows, sports, e-shop websites, and videos. You name it, and the Paquete has it. And if it doesn’t have it, you can ask your regular Paquete dealer to include it, and it will probably be there next week.
But let’s back up. The Paquete is, at its most simply, a one-terabyte hard drive, that you can have delivered to your house for 1 CUC each week. You check out what’s on it and copy what you want. It has all sorts of international content, mostly pirated, as well as content created in Cuba, like local music.
Of course, the Paquete isn’t really just a hard drive. It’s a whole network of producers, distributors, and dealers that make sure it shows up every week with new content. Though most people think there’s a central source of the content for the Paquete, there’s a variety of different dealers and middlemen that add and remove content based on the preferences of their customers.
With its terabyte of information, the Paquete is one of the most popular product in the country. Some recent surveys estimate that about 63% of Habaneros use the Paquete. It’s incredibly popular among young people in the country.
For young Cubans, the Paquete is a great alternative to wifi hotpots and other forms of internet access. Not only is it cheaper than a wifi hotspots it’s much faster. One CUC will let you download as much as you like from the Paquete, while it costs two CUCs an hour at a wifi hotspot. And a movie could take hours to download on a typical Cuban connection.
But the Paquete isn’t only used by young Cubans. There’s a wide variety of content, appealing to all sectors of Cuban society. Though it’s a relatively novel product, it has won over nearly all Cubans, many of whom are involved with it directly or indirectly. Thousands of Cubans touch the Paquete by copying, distribution, promoting, or in the consumption itself.
It has also become a very important way for private business to promote their products and services. This obviously includes places like restaurants, bars, and clubs—but it can also include software developers, filmmakers, and repair shops. Many app developers and musicians even pay to have their products included in the Paquete, meaning their users and listeners can access them free of charge.
Due to its immense popularity, the Paquete has become one of the primary domestic entertainment sources on the island, even competing with the official television channels. Although not explicitly permitted by law, the Paquete is tolerated and openly distributed, with some of the creators and operators even giving interviews. Though the users of the Paquete may still not know exactly how the system operates, they wait every week for it to show up at their door.