OPINION: How to Change Cuba Today

Apr 7, 2014
10:05 AM

Imagine how the U.S. government might react if it were discovered that officials in Beijing tapped President Obama’s cellphone. What if protesters set fire to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, only to learn afterward that the protests were secretly sponsored by the Kremlin?

The American public would be screaming for heads, of course. Republicans and Democrats would come together to demand the commander-in-chief ready the aircraft carriers (or at least send a few dozen drones).

Yet for the past 100 years or so, the U.S. government has casually carried out such tactics. And insofar as the United States calls on the international community to be more open, transparent and democratic, American foreign policy is unequivocally hypocritical.

The country supposedly policing the world acts more like its secret police.

We know the failed attempt to topple the government of Hugo Chávez in 2002 was orchestrated by the U.S. State Department, which currently supports the violent anti-government protests in richer neighborhoods from San Cristóbal to Caracas. And even America’s allies have openly condemned Washington for listening in on the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Now the U.S. government has been caught violating the sovereignty of another nation again, and again against one of its neighbors.


Last week The Associated Press broke a story revealing the U.S. State Department’s covert mission to develop a “Cuban Twitter” called ZunZuneo and use it to secretly spread anti-Castro propaganda on the island.

Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through ‘non-controversial content’: news messages on soccer, music and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.’

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.

Some analysts point out that the reason a “Cuban Twitter” is needed in the first place is due to the now half-century-long U.S. embargo against Cuba, which doesn’t allow American companies to operate on the island—even when those companies, like Twitter or Facebook, would ultimately achieve Washington’s goal of making Cuban society freer and more open.

“Dropping the embargo would encourage market forces to create social networks and other technologies that would help Cubans communicate,” writes James “Boz” Bosworth. “The U.S. wouldn’t control those platforms nor gain the same intelligence off of it as it did ZunZuneo. However, dropping the embargo would place the U.S. closer to the correct end goal: a hemisphere in which people can communicate freely and openly without government restrictions.”

Geoffrey Ramsey over at The Pan-American Post seconds Bosworth’s view, and even some of the unlikeliest of characters have come out against the blockade: from former Florida governor and current gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist, to sugar magnate and Cuban exile Alfonso Fanjul.

If the U.S. government is serious about helping the people of Cuba, then it’ll finally scrap a policy that only legitimizes the deprivations forced on them by a rightfully paranoid regime. By the way, Reuters is reporting that ZunZuneo might not have been the only project the U.S. was backing.

When the Castro brothers tell Cubans that Yoani Sanchez should be censored because bloggers like her might be working with foreign agencies to upend Cuban society, Washington shouldn’t do anything to validate such claims—like using a respected humanitarian organization to secretly upend Cuban society.

If the United States wants places like Venezuela and Cuba to be more like the United States, then it must first open itself up to those places, giving them a taste of what it’s like to live in a free and open society.

After all, freedom is contagious, and I’ll never understand why American foreign policy is so obsessed with quarantine.


Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.