A US agency created a "Cuban Twitter" to undermine Cuba's
communist government and get around its strict Internet
prohibitions, using secret shell companies financed through
foreign banks, The Associated Press reports.
The two-year project drew 40,000 users who did not know the
communications network was devised by a US agency and
designed to push them toward political dissent, according to
the AP. They also did not know their personal information was
The report identified the US Agency for International
Development, which delivers aid to the world's poor, as being
behind the project.
The communications network was called "ZunZuneo," Cuban slang
for a hummingbird's tweet, and the AP said its goal was to
build an audience of young users.
The plan for the social network was to draw in a certain
number of users with messages on sports, music, weather and
other non-controversial topics. Then the operators would
introduce political content to try to inspire spontaneous
demonstrations, the AP reported. One USAID document cited by
the AP said the goal was to "renegotiate the balance of power
between the state and society."
It was not clear if the program was illegal but a statement
Thursday from USAID spokesman Matt Herrick said the project
was reviewed in 2013 by the Government Accounting Office and
found to be consistent with US law.
Herrick said it was a long-standing US policy to help Cubans
communicate with each other and the outside world.
"The purpose of the ZunZuneo project was to create a platform
for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period," he said
in a statement. "At the initial stages, the grantee sent tech
news, sports scores, weather, and trivia to build interest
and engage Cubans. After that, Cubans were able to talk among
themselves, and we are proud of that."
Interviews and more than 1,000 pages of documents obtained by
the AP showed USAID was careful to hide Washington's ties to
the project, the report said. It used companies in Spain and
the Cayman Islands to conceal the money trail.
"There will be absolutely no mention of United States
government involvement," read a 2010 memo from Mobile Accord
Inc., one of the project's creators, published by AP. "This
is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the
service and to ensure the success of the Mission."
ZunZuneo began shortly after Cuba's arrest of American
contractor Alan Gross, 63, in Cuba in December 2009, the AP
said. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for
installing Internet networks under a secretive US program the
Cuban government considers subversive.
USAID said ZunZuneo ended in September 2012, the AP reported.