Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    The big problem with the ‘Cuban Twitter’ plan

    The big problem with the ‘Cuban Twitter’ plan
    April 3 at 1:20 pm

    Today’s big Associated Press story about the United States apparently
    creating a “Cuban Twitter” to help foment dissent in the country has
    caused a big stir. It’s easy to see why — on one level, the plan looked
    like an especially absurd version of the Silicon Valley dream: The U.S.
    government creates a start-up (“ZunZuneo”), gets some traction, tries
    and fails to get Jack Dorsey involved, and finally has to give up as
    they couldn’t find a revenue stream. Now all that’s left is a moribund
    Facebook page.
    However, it’s worth noting the most remarkable thing about this
    operation: The U.S. involvement in this project, clearly designed to go
    unnoticed, was not conducted by an intelligence agency. Instead,
    the U.S. Agency for International Development, the federal agency
    primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid, was
    calling the shots.
    USAID oversees billions of dollars in foreign aid. That sounds innocent
    enough, but the agency’s work has often been viewed with suspicion.
    Russia kicked the agency out in 2012, accusing it of supporting
    opposition groups. “The decision was taken mainly because the work of
    the agency’s officials far from always responded to the stated goals of
    development and humanitarian cooperation,” a statement from the Russian
    Foreign Office said at the time. “We are talking about attempts to
    influence political processes through its grants.”
    Bolivia followed suit in 2013. “The United States does not lack
    institutions that continue to conspire,” President Evo Morales said at
    the time, “and that’s why I am using this gathering to announce that we
    have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia.” In Ecuador, USAID pulled out
    late last year, not long after President Rafael Correa threatened to
    expel them.
    The idea that USAID is used to covertly conspire against foreign
    governments doesn’t just exist overseas. When Pando Daily recently
    reported on Pierre Omidyar’s donations to Ukrainian opposition groups –
    donations made with USAID – it said the eBay billionaire had
    “co-invested with the US government to help fund regime change in Ukraine.”
    It doesn’t necessarily matter whether this image of USAID is true
    (though perhaps it is). What matters is the perception. USAID can’t be
    perceived to be both delivering foreign aid and covertly trying to
    influence regime change at the same time. Political scientist Jay
    Ulfelder put it well in a blog post:
    Programs like this “Cuban Twitter” fiasco erode USAID’s credibility as
    an agent of development assistance everywhere. “If the U.S. government
    used USAID as a Trojan horse in Cuba,” politicians around the world
    might ask themselves, “why not in my country, too?”
    Actions like this make Russia look smart for expelling USAID. And Cuba
    has an especially complicated place in the USAID world – for example, in
    the past the money it’s funded to democracy organizations and Cuban
    American groups reportedly ended up being spent on Godiva chocolates and
    cashmere sweaters, plus the “Cuban Twitter” plan came remarkably soon
    after Cuba arrested American contractor Alan Gross for installing
    Internet networks. Gross was a USAID subcontractor, and he was later
    sentenced to 15 years in prison – his release is regarded as one of the
    key steps needed for increased dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba.
    So, “Cuban Twitter” isn’t just a strange story of a start-up: It’s a
    sign of a flawed strategy. And as Alberto Arce, Desmond Butler and Jack
    Gillum of the AP note, it’s not clear whether it was legal: “Covert
    action” by a federal agency must have a presidential authorization, and
    USAID wouldn’t say whether they had received that.

    Source: The big problem with the ‘Cuban Twitter’ plan –