USAID: ‘Cuban Twitter’ report is 'not true'

Press reports depicting a covert U.S. program to set up a “Cuban Twitter” service to undermine the communist government are “not true,” the aid agency behind the effort said on Monday.

In a blog post, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spokesman Matt Herrick wrote that The Associated Press report contained “significant inaccuracies and false conclusions” about the program, called ZunZuneo.

The service was part of a “broader effort” to create “ '[T]witter like' communication among Cubans so they could connect with each other on topics of their choice” dating back to 2009, he said.

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“USAID’s work in Cuba is not unlike what we and other donors do around the world to connect people who have been cut off from the outside world by repressive or authoritarian governments. USAID’s democracy and governance work focuses on strengthening civil society, governance, and promoting human rights.”

Last week, the AP reported details of the “secret plan” to build the network “to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet.” 

In his blog post, Herrick highlighted eight facts to counter the AP report, including assertions that the effort abided by the law, did not try to hide the role of the U.S. government and was not reliant on a Spanish “shell company.” At its peak, he added, ZunZuneo had around 68,000 users.  

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who leads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USAID, said after news emerged last that he was surprised by the program, which he called “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

Other lawmakers were more supportive of the effort.

Multiple lawmakers critical of the Cuban regime said that the operation was fully transparent and was necessary to bring freedom to the island nation. Any impression of secrecy, they added, was critical to protect people involved with the effort.