According to the Associated Press, the US government is still engaged in efforts to overthrow the Cuban government. Starting in 2010, a group of US officials working for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) hired high-tech contractors to stir up revolution in Cuba via social media.
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.
Documents show the US government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
The plan was to disseminate propaganda that would generate “mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.’”
“There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” one memo from the project said. “This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission.”
The program’s legality is unclear: US law requires that any covert action by a federal agency must have a presidential authorization and that Congress should be notified.
The Obama administration on Thursday said the program was not covert and that it served an important purpose by helping information flow more freely to Cubans. Parts of the program “were done discreetly,” Rajiv Shah, USAID’s top official, said on MSNBC, in order to protect the people involved.
The administration also initially said Thursday that it had disclosed the program to Congress — White House spokesman Jay Carney said it had been “debated in Congress” — but hours later shifted that to say it had offered to discuss funding for the program with several congressional committees. “We also offered to brief our appropriators and our authorizers,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“If you’re going to do a covert operation like this for a regime change, assuming it ever makes any sense, it’s not something that should be done through USAID,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USAID’s budget.
The administration can obfuscate all it wants about how transparent the effort was. What seems clear is that neither Congress nor the American people knew about this effort. That means several things. First, it’s very likely illegal. Second, it represents an attempt to depose a foreign government that does not threaten the US. And third, it is anti-democratic to its very core since it was done without approval from the American people or their elected representatives. Taken together, it is ironic to say the least that this program was justified with claims of bringing democracy and the rule of law to Cuba.
The US has a long and sordid history of committing serious crimes in Cuba. In modern history, this includes hiring organized crime syndicates to assassinate Cuba’s sitting president and training a counter-revolutionary militia to invade and overthrow the government. Both efforts failed. This is not to mention the decades of economic embargo which has contributed to mass suffering in Cuba.
When will this stop?
At the ceremony for the death of Nelson Mandela, Obama made headlines when he walked up to Raul Castro and shook his hand. The historic gesture seemed to say, “We don’t have to be enemies anymore.” If only Castro knew a program started by that same US president sought to topple his government.