USAID’s ‘Cuban Twitter’

The mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is to end extreme poverty and let strong democratic societies achieve their potential. That does not include destabilizing governments like Cuba’s.

That is precisely what USAID has been doing, according to a detailed report from the Associated Press. It tells how U.S. government agents, with private help, using a maze so it would not be known that there was official participation, set up a “Cuban Twitter” to foster discontent with the regime on the island.

The idea behind the ZunZuneo program was to create a content that would not be controversial, with subjects like sports, music and hurricane information, and avoid interference from the Cuban government. Once it had enough subscribers, they would have had political content to spark demonstrations, seeking to “renegotiate the balance of power between state and society.” It had 40,000 subscribers, who never knew that it was a U.S. government project and that contractors were collecting their private information to use it for political purposes.

This revelation is a blow to the already damaged credibility of USAID, which in general needs to work with governments to be efficient.

In addition, this destabilizing program confirms old fears in Latin America that this agency is more about espionage than about fighting poverty. The fact that USAID has been operating like this against the Cuban government won’t help Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who went to the island to work on the Internet and was later arrested for crimes against Cuba.

It is incredible that money is being spent on continuing the cold war, that there are attempts to destabilize Cuba instead of working constructively to open up and that a development agency is being used for that purpose.

In an unrelated event, there was an announcement made with great fanfare yesterday about an ambitious plan by USAID to fight poverty in partnership with 31 universities, corporations and foundations. How do we know, in light of the “Cuban Twitter” situation, that its goal is poverty and not espionage in order to sabotage foreign governments?