Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    The buzz in Cuba

    MIAMI HERALD | EDITORIAL

    The buzz in Cuba
    OUR OPINION: ZunZuneo was a well-intentioned effort to break
    government’s information monopoly
    HERALDED@MIAMIHERALD.COM

    The Obama administration’s recently exposed program to provide a
    text-messaging service for ordinary citizens in Cuba is a commendable
    effort to break the Castro government’s information monopoly. We hope
    they don’t quit trying.

    Critics of the program like Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., called it
    “dumb, dumb, dumb” as soon as the Associated Press published a report
    last week on the short-lived Twitter-like program that ran out of
    funding in 2012. What would be really dumb, though, is to sit back
    silently and do nothing while Cuba’s 11 million people are kept from
    hearing or reading any information except what bears the government’s
    stamp of approval.

    Keep in mind that among the most successful programs of the Cold War
    were those like Radio Free Europe and communications support for groups
    like Solidarity in Poland that gave citizens of Soviet bloc countries
    vital information they could not get elsewhere.

    These programs managed to foil the embargo on truth maintained by the
    communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe and weakened the authoritarian
    governments propped up by the Red Army. They paved the way for the
    dissolution of the Iron Curtain and the rise of civil societies capable
    of nurturing democracy.

    The Cold War may be over, but in Cuba an aging dictatorship spawned at
    the height of East/West tensions still employs the same tactics of that
    era to keep its people in the dark and under control. If it was
    unacceptable in Eastern Europe, it’s unacceptable in Cuba, as well.

    And if this country took the lead in overcoming the information barriers
    created by the communist dictatorships of that era, why should it
    refrain from devising effective programs to do the same against the
    Castro regime?

    Created in 2009, the program called ZunZuneo, a Cuban word mimicking the
    buzz of a hummingbird, allowed some 40,000 Cubans, mostly young and
    tech-savvy, to communicate with each other using the government’s own
    cellphone network.

    U.S. sponsorship of the program was kept secret for obvious reasons, but
    that does not discredit the program itself or its goals — to allow the
    Cuban people to communicate with each other without government interference.

    Sen. Leahy may be right in saying that placing the program under the
    auspices of the Agency for International Development (USAID) was wrong.
    That compromises USAID’s mission and supplies ammunition for critics of
    the agency’s many other admirable efforts to promote democracy and human
    rights around the globe, including in Cuba.

    It also allows the Cuban government to draw inaccurate connections
    between this “clandestine” effort and the plight of USAID contractor
    Alan Gross, who remains in jail for delivering banned communications
    equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community.

    A Senate panel is slated to examine the propriety of USAID’s role in
    this case on Tuesday. Members of the panel should not lose sight of who
    bears responsibility for restricting the free flow of information in
    Cuba. The villain in this scenario is an authoritarian and paranoid
    gerontocracy afraid of its own people and unwilling to let them
    communicate with each other — in print, by electronic media, or in
    cyberspace.

    The government fears the means of communication used by young people the
    world over. They will continue to close the doors of information, but
    they are unlikely to stop new forms of communication trying to fill the
    vacancy left by ZunZuneo.

    Source: The buzz in Cuba – Editorials – MiamiHerald.com –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/07/4045448/the-buzz-in-cuba.html