Leaders of Roots of Hope involved in subversive project “Cuban Twitter”.

Its leaders recently accompanied Cuban blogger and Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to Washington, where she met with Vice President Joe Biden.

Article by: CHRISTINE ARMARIO , Associated Press
MIAMI — Leaders with the largest nonprofit organization for young Cuban-Americans quietly provided strategic support for the federal government’s secret “Cuban Twitter” program, connecting contractors with potential investors and even serving as paid consultants, The Associated Press has learned.
Interviews and documents obtained by the AP show leaders of the organization, Roots of Hope, were approached by the “Cuban Twitter” program’s organizers in early 2011 about taking over the text-messaging service, known as ZunZuneo, and discussed how to shift it into private hands. Few if any investors were willing to privately finance ZunZuneo, and Roots of Hope members dropped the idea. But at least two people on its board of directors went on to work as consultants, even as they served in an organization that explicitly refused to accept any U.S. government funds and distanced itself from groups that did.
The disclosure could have wide repercussions for what has become one of the most visible and influential Cuban-American organizations. Roots of Hope has been a key player in events like Latin pop star Juanes’ 2009 peace concert that drew more than a million people in Havana and in the promotion of technology on the island. Its leaders recently accompanied Cuban blogger and Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to Washington, where she met with Vice President Joe Biden.

RAICES Y YOANI SANCHEZYoani Sánchez con Chris Gueits a su izquierda,Rául Moas (sentado a la izq.), y Felice Gorordo( de pie, tercero de izq. a der).

Chris Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, said he wasn’t surprised that Roots of Hope’s leaders had been approached by U.S. Agency for International Development contractors about the ZunZuneo project, given the large sums of money USAID has available and the limited number of creative, tech-savvy groups that work on Cuba issues.
“I think it does risk tainting the group, a group that I think has done amazing work and changed the discussion and mobilized a new generation toward a much more pragmatic agenda,” Sabatini said.
It also comes at a sensitive time; the nonprofit is looking to help Sanchez develop a new independent media project in Cuba. Links to the USAID program could make that prospect more difficult, as the Cuban government views the Twitter-like endeavor as yet another U.S. effort to undermine its communist system. Sanchez herself has also been adamant in not accepting any government funding.
Matt Herrick, a USAID spokesman, declined to provide the names of any individuals employed by its contractor, but said Roots of Hope… Sigue leyendo

Statement in reference to the Associated Press article on “Cuban Twitter” on April 3, 2014

For Immediate Release

 Thursday, April 3, 2014

USAID Press Office

202-712-4320 | Email: USAIDPressOfficers@usaid.gov

In reference to the Associated Press article on “Cuban Twitter” on April 3, 2014, USAID Spokesperson Matt Herrick issues the following statement:

  “It is longstanding U.S. policy to help Cubans increase their ability to communicate with each other and with the outside world. Working with resources provided by Congress for exactly this purpose, USAID is proud of its work in Cuba to provide basic humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and universal freedoms, and to help information flow more freely to the Cuban people.  All of our work in Cuba, including this project, was reviewed in detail in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office and found to be consistent with U.S. law and appropriate under oversight controls.

It is also no secret that in hostile environments, governments take steps to protect the partners we are working with on the ground.  The purpose of the Zunzuneo project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period.  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. USAID is a development agency and we work all over the world to help people exercise their universal rights and freedoms.”

http://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/apr-3-2014-statement-reference-associated-press-article-cuban-twitter

 

 

 

ZunZuneo, USAID and How the U.S. Lost the Confidence of the Cuban People

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Por Victor Salcedo

A recent article by the Associated Press brought to light an intricate cover operation by the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) in Cuba. With the help of mobile and technological contractors, bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and computer and social media whizzes, USAID developed a Twitter-like communication style in the island called “ZunZuneo.” The service allowed Cubans to send text messages, have followers and share thoughts about soccer, music and hurricane updates through their mobile phones, and participate in a mobile community that evaded the government’s restrictions over the Internet. Pretty much all the things we do on the internet right now.

The main objective of ZunZuneo, however, was to promote, through text messages, a strong political motivation to change the current Cuban government or, as USAID called it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

The ZunZuneo operation will create three prominent outcomes in Cuba.


1. Cuba recoils

ZunZuneo is a déjà vu to the CIA’s Operation Mongoose in the 1960s. Authorized by President John F. Kennedy, Operation Mongoose aimed to ignite the revolutionary spark in Cuba necessary to topple the communist regime and flush Fidel Castro out of the island. The operation failed, wasted millions of dollars, and exposed the eerie desire of American policymakers to get rid of the Castro revolution.

Operation Mongoose did succeed in making Cuba citizens more wary of the U.S., and fueled hours of political speeches by Fidel Castro.

ZunZuneo, although not as radical as Operation Mongoose, will impulse Raul Castro to call on his defense to deter western offensive to his regime. It may not make Cuba more secluded to what it already is, but it will certainly hurt any advances by Cuban social entrepreneurs that are less preoccupied with past communist ghosts than a more inclusive and interactive society.

2. Foreign investment? Oh, wait a second…

USAID’s operation will have an indirect effect on the recently passed foreign investment law. As Cuba aims to lure foreign investor to sectors like agriculture, electronics, constructions and others, the government might be more careful to grant foreign companies easy access to Cuban resources. Tighter measures to assure there is no American involvement in the island could potentially increase the risk of nationalization and consequently scare away any potential foreign investor.

This might be potentially dangerous to a Cuban economy that is begging for cash. Although the oil bonanza that Venezuela provides to the Castro government (estimated to be$9.4 billion per year) is still flowing, recent economic measures imposed by Nicolas Maduro, as well as political turmoil in the allied country can make the Cuban future more ominous.

3. No resources for entrepreneurs

In 2010 Raul Castro introduced new private enterprise laws that have helped to produce a healthy growth rate on small entrepreneurial ventures in Cuba. From tourism to restaurants to cinemas, Cubans have savored the advantages of freer business.

ZunZuneo followed along the entrepreneurial lines. It had a healthy relationship with the Cuban youth that saw the site as a success history in a country that denied free access to press and the Internet. For instance, on September, 2009, the site got around 100,000 replies to a question related to the “Peace without Borders” concert organized by Colombian singer, Juanes.

My guess is that, now that is it has been proved that USAID and other contractors were behind ZunZuneo, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Cuban society will change. Cubans might see technological advances as irrelevant to the progress of society, as well as be more careful about creating new information tools that might anger the government. This change will mean more dependency to regular, not so society-changing ventures such as tourism and restaurants, and hence delay the search for more access to information that could yield a more democratic society.

Kudos to USAID for thinking outside the box and trying to solve this 20th century problem with 21st century technologies. Nonetheless, the agency failed too soon and too publicly in a topic as hotly debated as Cuba.

My guess is that USAID will see more vigorously scrutiny to its resources and programmatic activities.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-salcedo/zunzuneo-usaid-and-how-th_b_5086420.html