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
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
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
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
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 –