Tags: Cuba | cuban | twitter | zuzuneo | facts

What is Cuban Twitter?

By    |   Wednesday, 30 Dec 2015 11:31 AM

"Cuban Twitter," as it has become known, was a communication network believed to have been concocted by the United States government as a means for encouraging unrest among Cubans against their Communist government.

This program created a lot of controversy when reports of it started coming out in the media in 2014, all linking the creation of "Cuban Twitter" to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The controversial elements that are tied to the program are numerous and include first and foremost that the tens of thousands of Cubans that signed up for the sight weren't made aware that their information was being collected and could be used down the road — by government agencies to boot.

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The network was created to be enticing and made it appear like it was something it wasn't. "The audacious program, set in motion through shell companies around the world, lured 40,000 unsuspecting Cuban subscribers with seemingly innocuous text messages about sports and popular music," The Washington Post's Manuel Roig-Franzia reported.

"Its creators called the network 'ZunZuneo,' Cuban slang for the sound a hummingbird makes," wrote Roig-Franzia.

The program ended in 2012 as funding dried up, only a few years after its implementation. Of course, supporters of the "Cuban Twitter" highlight the effort as a symbol of freedom.

USAID defended ZunZuneo in a statement. "Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that," wrote USAID spokesman Matt Herrick.

But, according to The Washington Post, "the agency's administrator, Rajiv Shah, shortly after the news broke in 2014, had the misfortune of being previously scheduled to appear on MSNBC's 'Andrea Mitchell Reports' to discuss another matter. He spent most of his time answering uncomfortable questions about 'Cuban Twitter.'"

In reality, ZunZuneo isn't a replica of the official Twitter used by millions of people across the world. Most glaringly, since Cubans didn't have access to the Internet or Wi-Fi, the program was based on text-messaging.

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The Guardian shared some other details of the so-called "Cuban Twitter" plot.

"[Joe] McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington, and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company's ties to the U.S. government."

However, USAID released a fact sheet attempting to debunk many of the claims made in an Associated Press report that was cited by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Herrick, in USAID's eight-point defense, wrote "We welcome tough journalism — and we embrace it. It makes our programs better. But we also believe it’s important that the good work of USAID not be falsely characterized."

In 2015, USAID's inspector general completed an internal review of ZunZuneo, the agency's "Cuban Twitter" program, that highlighted several areas that did not meet the standards of internal controls. The report also issued more than a dozen recommendations to the agency to create more oversight, which were scheduled to be completed by 2016.

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"Cuban Twitter," as it has become known, was a communication network believed to have been concocted by the United States government as a means for encouraging unrest among Cubans against their Communist government.
cuban, twitter, zuzuneo, facts
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2015-31-30
Wednesday, 30 Dec 2015 11:31 AM
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