USAID Justifies Its Support for ZunZuneo, the Defunct ‘Cuban Twitter’
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has defended its support in the setting up and operating of a social media site similar to Twitter in Cuba. The Website was established to discreetly promote democracy in that predominantly communist nation.
As a humanitarian organization, USAID implied that the effort could be considered as a humanitarian project. The agency secretly provided support for ZunZuneo, which was a mobile text messaging service for Cubans.
One of the clear goals of the mobile service was to enable Cubans to organize among their selves ‘smart mobs’ that may possibly protest against the Cuban government. In turn, such a move is expected to help in the renegotiation of the power balance between state and society in the communist country.
ZunZeneo support exposed
The Associated Press recently exposed the involvement of USAID in ZunZuneo. The media organization also published the gist of documents it obtained about the involvement of USAID in the social media project for Cubans.
ZunZuneo operated like Twitter although it was on mobile, for obvious reasons that the platform is more accessible and enticing to the masses. This social service operated for just over two years, or from February of 2010 to the later part of 2012. It has reached over 40,000 users during the period, which was not enough for funding to continue for the project.
USAID said what it did was still in line with the US law and policy especially that aiming to help Cubans boost their ability to communicate with each other and with other people in the outside world.
Many analysts agreed that using social media could be a good idea to promote democracy. They reiterated that the same strategy worked with the Arab Spring, which has proven that change as well as of organization of the people could be sparked with the help of the social media. They asserted that since Cuba does not have the traditional tools, this could be a smart move.
However, many analysts also think that there is one major factor that led to the failure of social media in leading to change in Cuba. According to them, this case only shows that such tools don’t always guarantee success. It seems that lack of patience among ZunZuneo organizers emerged when funding for the program was pulled out in 2012. That time, only 40,000 users, lower than expected, signed up for the project.