Social media and America’s dirty tricks

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LAST week the operations of USAID were under probe after revelations that the agency created an online social networking and micro-blogging service similar to twitter and marketed it to Cuban users.
Zunzuneo is its name and it is Cuban slang for ‘a humming bird’s call’. Information at hand exposes that the US government covertly developed the service as a long term strategy to encourage Cuban youths to revolt against their Government formeting a ‘Cuban Spring’.
The initiative also appears to have had a surveillance dimension, allowing a vast database of Zunzuneo’s subscribers, including gender, age, receptiveness and political tendencies to be built.
Investigations by Associated Press revealed that Zunzuneo evaded Cuba’s internet restrictions by creating text-messaging service that could be used to organise political demonstrations.
The sinister part about all this was that Zunzuneo’s tens of thousands of subscribers were unaware it was backed by the US Government.
An oversight hearing in which USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah appeared before Congress, the agency maintained it did not send out political messages under Zunzuneo.
USAID is known worldwide for its ‘humanitarian work’ which many opponents have claimed are a façade for all the covert work the agency carries out in the developing world at the behest of the American Government.
Shah told Congress that the purpose of Zunzuneo was to support access to information and to allow people to communicate with each other.
Not surprising that lawmakers in Washington have expressed support for Zunzuneo.
Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart both said the Cuba project had been successful until it was ‘outed’.
Senator Bob Menendez, who is the Chairman of the senate Foreign Relations Committee and Representaive Aldio Sires who is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Western hemisphere Subcommittee, said the USAID should be applauded for giving Cubans a less-controlled platform to talk to each other.
However, not all in Congress are supportive of USAID’s covert activities. Senator Patrick Leahy reported that USAID employees have been contracting the oversight committee to complain that such secretive programmes put them at risk because they drive perception that the agency is engaged in intelligence-like activities.
It can be recalled that an American contractor, Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba. He was imprisoned after travelling repeatedly on a separate, clandestine USAID mission to expand Cuban internet access using sensitive technology that only governments use.
The State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf said that no political content was ever supplied by anyone working on the project or running it.
She claimed that all the political activism on Zunzuneo was done by the Cuban people.
A Havana born satirical artist based in Chile, Alen Lauzan Falcon claimed that he was hired to write political texts, though he was never told about Zunzuneo’s American origin.
In his own words, Falcon said everything he does is political and as such no one could hire out his services without the realisation that his work would be political in nature.
Aljazeera just revealed that the firm contracted by USAID to help set up Zunzuneo held secret level security clearance and was warned that the operation would involve classified work.
The network claims that it has documents that confirm the USAID has a section tasked with managing regime change projects in countries where America has interests at stake.
The section known as Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) was founded in 1994 and focuses its work on times of ‘high politicisation and instability’.
The documents about OTI’s contracts obtained by researcher, Jeremy Bigwood through the Freedom of Information Act request provided contract details which highlight that official statements by USAID Director Shah, that the Zunzuneo programme was not covert are not true.
Among the criteria for engagement by OTI, a country ripe for action had to be important to US national interests and there has to be a window of opportunity for a change of Government.
Part of the contract reads, “Even the best intentioned assistance can be ineffective if the situation is not ripe for change.
“OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform.”
Jeremy Bigwood has spent more than a decade trying to obtain names of firms with contracts with USAID OTI contracts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and other countries.

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