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The US embargo against Cuba doesn't stop illicit TV providers

Nelson is a delivery man for “El Paquete Semanal,” or
Nelson is a delivery man for “El Paquete Semanal,” or "The Weekly Package." He brings a hard drive to customers' homes and downloads a wide variety of current entertainment programming from the U.S. and Latin America.
Betto Arcos

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It's a Tuesday evening at Rafael Valdivia's apartment in Havana. Soon, a delivery man arrives. He pulls out a small hard drive, which Valdivia connects to his computer. He begins to select from a load of digital files: current movies, documentaries, soap operas, video games, cartoons, American TV series with Spanish subtitles. This is how many Cubans get their daily entertainment. 

“El Paquete Semanal,” or "The Weekly Package," is delivered all over the island through a network of distributors. This delivery man is named Nelson. I ask him where the hard drive is assembled. He says there are several “production houses.” One compiles the movies, another one the video games, another one the soap operas, and so on. Then he adds:

Apparently, the government has no control over it. So they haven’t been able to get rid of it. Believe me, if they could get rid of it, they would have done it already.

The package costs the equivalent of $2. Some experts estimate that about six million people enjoy it every week. That’s more than half the population of Cuba. About 75 percent of the content came out just the week prior, on dozens of entertainment channels from around the world.

NELSON: Peruvian, Chilean, American, Spanish TV — it’s a compilation. They gather soap operas, documentaries, TV shows, news magazines — they create a compendium and then it’s distributed. 

“El Paquete Semanal,” or
“El Paquete Semanal,” or "The Weekly Package," contains almost a terabyte of cartoons, soap operas, TV shows and movies from the U.S. and Latin America.
Betto Arcos

Nelson has distributed content for the past three years. He says Cubans consume all sorts of entertainment, like everyone else.

Cartoons are the most popular. But also soap operas, Discovery Channel programs are also very popular. And, of course, movies — all the new movies that come out, the Hollywood premieres.

As I sit with Valdivia, he’s browsing through the contents of “El Paquete Semanal” and comes across a very popular show in Cuba.

The one I like best is “The Voice” — but the American version, not the others. It’s the one that has the highest standards, not just because of the jury, but for the way it’s conceived.

I ask Nelson, the delivery man, how many gigabytes of content are in the hard drive.

Almost a terabyte, every week. Of course, in one terabyte you can fit in every kind of taste. 

The weekly package of programming costs each customer the equivalent of $2. Some experts estimate that about six million Cubans enjoy it every week.
The weekly package of programming costs each customer the equivalent of $2. Some experts estimate that about six million Cubans enjoy it every week.
Betto Arcos

Nelson says he visits between 25-30 clients every week. He starts delivery on Tuesday and works all week. On Sunday, he deletes the files from his hard drive. Then, on Monday, he gets the updated version of the package and starts all over again.

It’s the type of business that takes up a lot of time. People have to copy the contents and it takes 1-2 hours to do it, so I can’t service a lot of people. Plus not everyone has a good computer. I have clients in Old Havana, and in areas where some of the high-level government officials live. 

Valdivia says whether it provides entertainment or information, the main purpose of the “Weekly Package” is to satisfy the need for content in Cuba.

Because we’re living in a very visual era, and with the lack of Internet connectivity we have, plus the technological limitations, plus all the external and internal problems, it makes people want to look in the "weekly package" for the things they cannot find on TV or radio in Cuba.

I also visit with my longtime friend Dago, who’s a regular consumer of the delivery service. He says last year a reporter from Forbes Magazine came to Havana to interview the man behind “El Paquete Semanal.” 

So, if Forbes Magazine was focused on this guy, this guy [has] gold, real solid gold in his hand. Maybe in a normal country he’s a pirate. But, there is no law [in Cuba]. So there’s no problem.

It’s no problem now. But everyone knows it will be when the U.S. embargo against Cuba is lifted.

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