USAID is defending its decision to set-up a "Cuban Twitter," which was designed to create a social media outlet that would evade Cuba's Internet censorship and create a network to undermine the country's communist regime.
"The purpose of the Zunzuneo project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period," USAID spokesman Matt Herrick said in a statement Thursday, according to Politico
He said that in the beginning stages of the project, tech news, sports scores, weather, and trivia were sent to "build interest and engage Cubans."
"After that, Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that," Herrick said.
The Associated Press reported
Thursday that the U.S. government secretly built the Cuban Twitter to stir unrest and dissent, particularly among young people inclined to sign up to the site.
Users, according to AP's report, were unaware that the social media platform was created by the U.S. agency or that their personal information was being gathered. The report also said it was unclear whether the project was legal under U.S. law, which requires written authorization of covert action by the president and congressional notification.
Herrick said in his statement that the project was reviewed in detail in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office, which found it consistent with U.S. law. He also said the agency was working with resources provided by Congress "for exactly that purpose."
USAID has maintained a longstanding claim that it does not conduct covert actions, but AP noted that the project appeared to "muddy" that claim.
"It is also no secret that in hostile environments, governments take steps to protect the partners we are working with on the ground," Herrick said, according to Politico.
Herrick added that USAID's purpose in Cuba is to offer humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and freedom, and help information flow more freely to the people of Cuba, Politico reported.
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