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article imageCosta Rica demands answers from U.S. about 'Cuban Twitter'

By Ken Hanly     Apr 24, 2014 in Politics
San Josecito - The government of Costa Rica is angry that a controversial "Cuban Twitter" program or Zun Zuneo was launched from the US embassy in San Jose Costa Rica.
Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo said that the program known as Zun Zuneo was aimed at stirring political unrest in Cuba. Although the network was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) users were not aware it was funded and backed by the U.S. government. Castillo continued: "I think it's inappropriate to use an embassy in Costa Rica for this type of operation that harms a third country,"
The original AP story on the "Cuban Twitter" program can be found here. Mobile Accord along with other contractors working on Zun Zuneo went to great lengths to hide their connection to the U.S. by using foreign companies and computer servers paid for through a bank account in the Cayman Islands. The contractor was able to obtain 400,000 Cuban cellphone numbers. The AP investigators found that a USAID manager supervised the work of Contractor Creative Associates International through an office in San Jose. Mobile Accord one of the contractors issued a release on their role: “We’re a mobile services company who facilitates open communications to power social good. We provided a platform for Cuban people to connect with one another. The program ran its course and was defunded, but it was well-loved by users and we’re very proud of the network we built for Cubans to share information about their daily lives.”
USAID also insisted that there were no ulterior motives involved in the program: “…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… The purpose of the Zunzuneo project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period…”
The documents obtained by AP tell quite a different story: Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through "non-controversial content": news messages on soccer, music and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize "smart mobs" — mass gatherings called at a moment's notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."
Or as another article put it: The aid agency’s Office of Transition Initiative division kickstarted the project after one of its sources obtained a database of half a million Cuban cell phone numbers. With the help of contractors the agency hid behind the guise of a hip, social-media service, then spammed those phone number with with texts bearing news snippets or satirical jokes. It relied on a complex network of spoof servers and front companies to disguise ZunZuneo’s origins in the United States.
Mobile Accord was part and parcel of this deception and stressed the importance of ensuring that users must not know that the U.S. was behind the project: "There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement," according to a 2010 memo from Mobile Accord, one of the project's contractors. "This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission."
Matt Herrick, a spokesperson for USAiD, claimed that although that though an initial investigation "suggests there was an inappropriate base of operations established in Costa Rica outside of normal U.S. government procedures." However, he and others claim that Costa Rican authorities were aware of the program. The U.S. has denied that the program was secret or that it even had a political agenda.
According to the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry warned the U.S. Embassy back in 2009 that the plan to develop the network could cause political difficulties for Costa Rica. Costa Rica even refused to grant diplomatic status to two U.S. government contractors who were involved in the program. The foreign ministry also told that U.S Embassy in San Jose that the Zun Zuneo program went beyond the limits of binational cooperation.
More about Cuban Twitter, Usaid, Costa rica
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