US Defends Its “Cuba Twitter”

Sunrise in Havana.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Sunrise in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The US government said today that its now defunct program to create a “Cuban twitter” was not a covert action or intelligence gathering, but a properly supervised project for “strengthening civil society” in Cuba, implemented with “discretion” because of the political particularities of the island, reported dpa.

“The purpose of the Zunzuneo project (as the program was called) was to create a platform so Cubans could freely talk to each other, nothing more,” said USAID spokesman Matt Herrick, in a statement.

USAID is behind the “Cuban twitter” which made ??waves Thursday in the US and international media in the wake of an investigation released by the Associated Press.

According to the agency spokesman, this as well as other USAID Cuba programs “are consistent with US law and under proper supervision mechanisms.” Whether the program is legal in terms of Cuban law is not an issue for the US government and its agencies.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also defended the legality and opening of the program. “Those who suggest that it was a covert program are wrong. Congress funded democracy programs in Cuba to help the Cuban people have access to more information and to strengthen civil society and those allocations are public, unlike covert actions” Carney said in his daily press briefing.

According to the AP investigation, the “Cuban twitter” which no longer works, involved the massive sending of cell phone text messages to skirt information controls exercised by the Cuban authorities.

According to the report, The goal was to reach the hundreds of thousands of users, but never managed to exceed 40,000 in the intent to become a tool used for organizing “smart mobs” or concentrations of people for protests or social actions convened through new technologies.

USAID admitted in its statement that the service started by allowing the “sending of tech news, sports scores, weather and general topics to raise interest and attract Cubans” to the project. At a later stage, Cubans could communicate with each other through this system, the report adds without elaborating.

“We are proud of it. USAID is a development agency and works around the world helping people to exercise their universal rights and freedoms,” said the agency.

Regarding the secrecy with which this project was conducted, which despite having concluded two years ago was not known until today, USAID stated that “it is no secret that in hostile environments, governments take measures to protect the partners that working on the ground.”

“In a place like Cuba, you are discreet about how you implement (these programs) to protect those who use them. But that does not make it (a program) undercover”, said Carney.

Alan Gross

Another USAID “democracy building” program in Cuba, knowingly carried out in violation of Cuban laws, landed agent Alan Gross in a Havana jail with a 15-year sentence. He was arrested in 2009. For more on this case see:

Secrecy and Politics at the heart of Cuba Project

Alan Gross: A Soldier Left Behind in Cuba

 


29 thoughts on “US Defends Its “Cuba Twitter”

  • April 5, 2014 at 6:52 am
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    Silly program. A low cost way to invade Cuba with information is to drop the embargo and travel ban. It is time for the grumpy old men of Miami to get over the past. 50 + years is enough time to have tried a failed plan of regime change. Cuba.

  • April 5, 2014 at 1:31 am
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    One of the leaders is a Spanish citizens that lives in Cuba.

  • April 5, 2014 at 1:30 am
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    Why would you not want to improve the way people can communicate?
    As far as “reforming” goes: the regime is enhancing its grip on the future economy of Cuba and only allows some small reforms to squeeze taxes from the people. Lots of “cuentapropistas” have stopped or gone back to the illegality.
    This year records of arrests have been reported. under Raul the strategy has changed from long term imprisonment to repeated short term arrests. That is all.

  • April 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm
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    Are you saying all 2 million people were beaten by the police? That is quite an exaggeration.

    As you can see from these photographs (http://www.google.ca/search?q=spain+protests+march+22&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=w_g-U9DPFsW52AWE04G4AQ&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAg&biw=1168&bih=826), there were large numbers of protesters who engaged in violent actions directed against police and property.

    The Leftist protest movement today practices a deliberate policy in which a large peaceful protest is organized with smaller groups of violent activists hidden within the larger mob. At specified times and places, the violent activists will deliberately provoke police, smash window, throw molotov cocktails and set fires. The peaceful protesters will then help the violent activists to escape arrest. The protest organizers issue cynical statements denouncing police brutality. This practice even has a name, “diversity of tactics”. It was used in many of the Occupy protests, the Toronto G20 protests, and so on.

    One thing you will notice, the Spanish police did not have snipers shooting the protestors dead in the streets as the Russians did in Kiev and the Venezuelan National Guard did in Venezuela.

  • April 4, 2014 at 10:43 am
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    The report says that was the intent. However, they never did carry out that phase, if it was true.

    However, for 5 decades there has been a steady stream of propaganda directed at the US public from Cuba and it is distributed inside the US by Cuban agents and their American sympathizers. If distributing political jokes over a Cuban twitter is considered interference in another country’s political affairs, and I concede that it is, then what to make of the cousin of Raul Castro’s son-in-law, working as a “Cuban expert” and an academic at a US university?

    If you want to say there is a propaganda war between the US & Cuba, then you have to admit it works both ways.

  • April 4, 2014 at 9:38 am
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    Right. Because building a twitter app is pretty much the same thing as invading a sovereign country and annexing a chunk of their territory.

  • April 4, 2014 at 9:35 am
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    What evidence do you have that the Cuban government is reforming? President Raul Castro stated emphatically that there will be NO POLITICAL REFORMS.

    Police brutality and repression is growing every week. In March, there were over 800 political arrests, bringing the total so far this year to 3000. You call that reform?

  • April 4, 2014 at 8:00 am
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    March 22nd, an estimated two million people marched, and were beaten by the Anti-Motines in Madrid for the March for Dignity and against the austerity capital has imposed on their lives and families. Did Cuba have to organize this gigantic smart mob against capitalism ?

  • April 4, 2014 at 7:55 am
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    …Let’s see a twitter like feed that allows Cubans to communicate and an armed military incursion into Ukraine. Yeah Annie I see the parallels

  • April 4, 2014 at 7:52 am
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    What in the world are you talking about? …I’m surprised Circles didn’t deep six this post…for the language if anything!

  • April 4, 2014 at 7:48 am
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    Selective reading Griffin. “The intent was to organize smart mobs”. The free communication was just to get people to adopt the service.

  • April 4, 2014 at 7:24 am
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    Cubans should have the same access to the internet and to communicate as anyone else in the world. If by agencies, you mean MININT, it is hard to say. Who pays you?

  • April 4, 2014 at 7:16 am
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    What an idiotic comment! There is no moral equivalence between bringing internet communication to Cubans and a land grab in Crimea.

  • April 4, 2014 at 6:08 am
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    Of course it was a covert operation as the CIA hid the source of funding through front companies. As the report says the intention was “to become a tool used for organizing “smart mobs” or concentrations of people for protests or social actions convened through new technologies”. Your final comment is also wrong as no one from the Cuban government has made any comment yet.

  • April 3, 2014 at 8:50 pm
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    Damn straight!

  • April 3, 2014 at 8:13 pm
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    That was a very interesting article. Thank you for passing on the link.

    Is it a coincidence that several Iranian regime officials have visited Cuba recently “to discuss matters if mutual interest”, as reported on the official media? Some sources have reported that the meetings included technical discussions about internet security. Perhaps these two dictatorships are reading notes on how to keep their people isolated and under close watch.

  • April 3, 2014 at 8:03 pm
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    Quite right! How nefarious of USAID to try to provide a way for the Cuban people to communicate freely with each other.

  • April 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm
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    Well why the fuck didn’t you let me know you were an American owned paper?? Assholes!

  • April 3, 2014 at 7:15 pm
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    So typical of the good old U.S. A.! They’re doing this in Venezuela and many other places. Just straight interference in other sovereign countries because they can’t control their oil, or banks, or health care or whatever else the lobbyists want their paid off politicians to do. How many of the comments here can we expect to be from the agencies today?

  • April 3, 2014 at 6:18 pm
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    And the US (and the west) have the audacity to judge Putin?????

  • April 3, 2014 at 6:17 pm
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    Its just that we dont want the USAID to do this kinda stuff because it undermines their real goals. they aren’t the CIA. Besides the Cuban government seems to be reforming.

  • April 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm
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    Because of its economic and military might the US has the God given right to impose its laws in other countries and prevent other countries from doing the same in the good ol’ USA.

  • April 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm
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    Breaking the Castro information blockade hardly seems to be a crime. It is no more than giving back to Cubans what they are entitled to: information.
    As far as Alan Gross goes:
    – the Castro regime admitted that it new for various years what Alan Gross did in Cuba and never arrested, deported or refused him entry.
    – Raul Castro admitted he was no spy
    – no proof was offered that any of the equipment he supplied to the Jewish community in Cuba was ever used for “subversive” aims
    – No “co-conspirators” of Alan Gross were ever named let be arrested or tried
    – Alan Gross only “crime” was to be in possession of a chip that needed to be declared when entering Cuba

  • April 3, 2014 at 3:50 pm
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    I agree with WH spokesman Jay Carney. Nothing I have read so far implies this was a “secret” operation. It begs the question how any operation that expands public communication is secret. Its origins were not advertised but that makes sense. Anything that helps people communicate both within Cuba and with people abroad would be resisted by the tyrannical Castros so keeping this program low profile only makes sense. Given their track record, the Castros can even make ‘Twitter’ appear as a threat to national security.

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