One of the ongoing themes of recent revolutions and political protests is that they’re organized through social media. Indeed, the lightning-like spread of information across social media often frustrates politicians of all stripes. But apparently somebody in the US government thought all you needed to start a revolution was this here new-fangled “social medium” to get Cuban students to stage a coup of their own.
It was called ZunZuneo, although the project notes call it “Cuban Twitter”, and launched in 2010. And it was built in about the shadiest way possible, according to the AP:
USAID and its contractors went to extensive lengths to conceal Washington’s ties to the project, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP. They set up front companies in Spain and the Cayman Islands to hide the money trail, and recruited CEOs without telling them they would be working on a U.S. taxpayer-funded project. “There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” according to a 2010 memo from Mobile Accord Inc., one of the project’s creators. “This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission.”
Cuba, like every dictatorship, has a fairly tight grip on the Internet. The idea was the government was going to build a young, hip social network, collect information on its users, and then push them towards rebellion. And, like most U.S. operations to mess with Cuba, it was doomed from the start.
Cuba’s internet penetration rate is roughly 25% if you believe the Cuban government. Which nobody actually does, since they lie all the time; realistic estimates put it at 10% or even lower. The Internet is slow, expensive, tightly controlled, and hard to find. Basically, imagine being online in 1993: That’s Cuba.
Most Cubans, if they’re on the Internet, are actually using satellite phones… so they’ll just go on Twitter. Even if Cuban youth had wanted to use ZunZuneo, they probably had no way to access it and probably barely heard about it.
So, yes, $1.6 million of your money was spent on a dumb-ass idea that five minutes on Wikipedia could have told those involved would never work. Hey, maybe you guys could try poisoning Castro’s cigars again.