April 10, 2014 (TSR) – Cuba plans to launch its own social media sites to counter “subversive” ones such as a Twitter-like app the United States was funding, an official said. Last week, the White House acknowledged the existence between 2009 and 2012 of “ZunZuneo,” which was set up by USAID so that Cubans, who face strict curbs on expression, could “talk freely among themselves” on their cell phones. The United States denied the failed program was secret or intended to incite political unrest.
Havana charges it was set up to destabilize the Americas’ only Communist government. Cuba Friday demanded Washington cease its “illegal and covert actions.”
“So our idea is for nobody to need to create services for our customers,” Daniel Ramos, head of the state telecoms monopoly Etecsa, said Wednesday.
“Our company can offer all sorts of services so that these things do not happen,” Ramos said.
We have “quite a big plan,” he added, but did not immediately offer details.
Cuba currently has two million cell phones that serve about 20 percent of the population. Back in 2008 there were only some 330,000.
When ZunZuneo began, it focused on delivering sports scores and weather reports. The system came to have 40,000 registered users before it suddenly vanished in 2012.
ZunZuneo’s true ownership was protected through a series of Caribbean-based shell companies.
The head of the United States Agency for International Development Rajiv Shah will be questioned over the ZunZuneo program widely known as the Cuban Twitter, the Associated Press reports. USAID sponsored a secret program, dubbed ZunZuneo, to create a Cuban Twitter in an effort to manipulate the country’s residents and incite political opposition to the government.
The text messaging network attracted over 40,000 people who shared news and opinions using the service. Despite the recent encouragement of cell phones in Cuba, the cost of text messaging remains high.
The questioning of the USAID administrator seeks to determine whether ZunZuneo endangered its users by concealing that the US government was behind the program, AP reported.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who dismissed the project as “dumb, dumb, dumb” will be the first to question Rajiv Shah.
US lawmakers will also look into secrecy issues and try to determine whether the project should have been classified. According to documents obtained by AP, the project aimed to first attract users by messages unrelated to politics such as sports or music news and only afterwards introduce political context in an effort to incite anti-government demonstrations in Cuba.
“The ZunZuneo program will not only arouse suspicion and mistrust in Cuba, it will do so across Latin America”, Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow at Inter-American Dialogue, told RIA last week when the program was revealed.
And it will reduce even further US influence in the Venezuela crisis, Hakim said. “This is another American ‘orange technology’ which was earlier practiced in Ukraine, CIS countries and in Africa. There they tried to stage protests via social networks, here they allegedly created a national resource to destabilize the situation in the country,” Ruslan Gattarov, a member of the Russian Federation Council Information Policy Committee stated, RIA reports.