The Razor's Edge
2014-04-05 10:44:35 UTC
A recent article by the Associated Press brought to light an intricate cover
operation by the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) in Cuba.
With the help of mobile and technological contractors, bank accounts in the
Cayman Islands and computer and social media whizzes, USAID developed a
Twitter-like communication style in the island called "ZunZuneo." The
service allowed Cubans to send text messages, have followers and share
thoughts about soccer, music and hurricane updates through their mobile
phones, and participate in a mobile community that evaded the government's
restrictions over the Internet. Pretty much all the things we do on the
internet right now.
The main objective of ZunZuneo, however, was to promote, through text
messages, a strong political motivation to change the current Cuban
government or, as USAID called it, "renegotiate the balance of power between
the state and society."
The ZunZuneo operation will create three prominent outcomes in Cuba.
1. Cuba recoils
ZunZuneo is a déjà vu to the CIA's Operation Mongoose in the 1960s.
Authorized by President John F. Kennedy, Operation Mongoose aimed to ignite
the revolutionary spark in Cuba necessary to topple the communist regime and
flush Fidel Castro out of the island. The operation failed, wasted millions
of dollars, and exposed the eerie desire of American policymakers to get rid
of the Castro revolution.
Operation Mongoose did succeed in making Cuba citizens more wary of the
U.S., and fueled hours of political speeches by Fidel Castro.
ZunZuneo, although not as radical as Operation Mongoose, will impulse Raul
Castro to call on his defense to deter western offensive to his regime. It
may not make Cuba more secluded to what it already is, but it will certainly
hurt any advances by Cuban social entrepreneurs that are less preoccupied
with past communist ghosts than a more inclusive and interactive society.
2. Foreign investment? Oh, wait a second...
USAID's operation will have an indirect effect on the recently passed
foreign investment law. As Cuba aims to lure foreign investor to sectors
like agriculture, electronics, constructions and others, the government
might be more careful to grant foreign companies easy access to Cuban
resources. Tighter measures to assure there is no American involvement in
the island could potentially increase the risk of nationalization and
consequently scare away any potential foreign investor.
This might be potentially dangerous to a Cuban economy that is begging for
cash. Although the oil bonanza that Venezuela provides to the Castro
government (estimated to be$9.4 billion per year) is still flowing, recent
economic measures imposed by Nicolas Maduro, as well as political turmoil in
the allied country can make the Cuban future more ominous.
3. No resources for entrepreneurs
In 2010 Raul Castro introduced new private enterprise laws that have helped
to produce a healthy growth rate on small entrepreneurial ventures in Cuba.
From tourism to restaurants to cinemas, Cubans have savored the advantages
of freer business.
ZunZuneo followed along the entrepreneurial lines. It had a healthy
relationship with the Cuban youth that saw the site as a success history in
a country that denied free access to press and the Internet. For instance,
on September, 2009, the site got around 100,000 replies to a question
related to the "Peace without Borders" concert organized by Colombian
My guess is that, now that is it has been proved that USAID and other
contractors were behind ZunZuneo, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Cuban
society will change. Cubans might see technological advances as irrelevant
to the progress of society, as well as be more careful about creating new
information tools that might anger the government. This change will mean
more dependency to regular, not so society-changing ventures such as tourism
and restaurants, and hence delay the search for more access to information
that could yield a more democratic society.
Kudos to USAID for thinking outside the box and trying to solve this 20th
century problem with 21st century technologies. Nonetheless, the agency
failed too soon and too publicly in a topic as hotly debated as Cuba.
My guess is that USAID will see more vigorously scrutiny to its resources
and programmatic activities.
Follow Victor Salcedo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OdeclasV