News / USA

US: USAID-Backed Social Media Network in Cuba Was Not Secret

US: USAID-Backed Social Media Network in Cuba Was Not Secreti
X
Mariama Diallo
April 04, 2014 1:03 PM
The White House says a social media communications network created by the U.S. government in Cuba was a development program, not a covert operation. The Associated Press reported earlier that the network sponsored by USAID was designed to undermine Cuba's communist government by building a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations. Mariama Diallo has details.
Mariama Diallo
The White House says a social media communications network created by the U.S. government in Cuba was a development program, not a covert operation.  The Associated Press reported earlier that the network sponsored by USAID was designed to undermine Cuba's communist government by building a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations.

 
ZunZuneo's Facebook logoZunZuneo's Facebook logo
x
ZunZuneo's Facebook logo
ZunZuneo's Facebook logo
On the bustling streets of Havana, people continued to talk about the social media network ZunZuneo - Cuban slang for hummingbird.  The Twitter-like text messaging service operated for two years and had tens of thousands of cell phone users.

"It was a very noble service. You would log on, and you could write 140 characters and hit send. It was free of charge," said former client Ernesto Guerra.
 
But his friend, Saimi Reyes, another user, said she often had doubts about the service.

"Sometimes I would wonder where this is from, where does the money come from?  Because, all this for nothing wasn't possible," she said.

According to the Associated Press, the idea was to build up a large social network through targeted text messages, allowing Cubans to communicate with one another, and later to push messages which USAID hoped would encourage dissent. 

AP says it obtained more than 1,000 pages of documents from contractors about the development of ZunZuneo.  One memo read “there will be absolutely no mention of U.S. involvement.”

"It's true that every agency of the U.S. government, including unclassified programs, wants to protect certain details on who they're working with and all of that," said Fulton Armstrong, who was working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time. "But this was far beyond. We were told we couldn't even be told in broad terms what was happening because, quote, 'People will die.'"

"Not a covert operation"

USAID ZunZuneo Project Manager Joe McSpedon refused to talk when asked if the project was a covert operation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also rebuffed such allegations.

“USAID is a development agency not an intelligence agency. Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong," he said. "Congress funds democracy programming for Cuba to help empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. These appropriations are public unlike covert action.”

Carney also says that this was discussed in Congress and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

“GAO [Government Accountability Office] reviewed this program in detail in 2013 and found that it was conducted in accordance to U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls," he said. "In implementing programs in non-permissive environments, of course the government has taken steps to be discreet; that’s how you protect practitioners and the public. This is not unique to Cuba.”

USAID says the ZunZuneo project was backed by a three-year grant totaling about $1.2 million.  It says its purpose was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves.

“Countries around the world are telling the U.S. that they worry about the NSA snooping. This potentially compromises legitimate USAID humanitarian actions because they’ll be afraid that you let USAID in the country and they’ll be doing covert actions," said Philip Brenner, a Cuba expert at American University.

The grant funding the program ended in September 2012.

Like USAID, Voice of America is funded by the United States government.  Some VOA programming on health issues and entrepreneurship and some journalism training is funded by USAID. VOA maintains editorial control over those initiatives and bases its news coverage solely on sound journalistic principles.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More