(Corrects eighth paragraph to reflect that OCB is not part of
the U.S. State Department)
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, April 6 Cuba said on Sunday the United
States continues to use social media to "subvert" the island's
government and that the revelation this week of a U.S.-created,
Twitter-like service for Cuba was just one of several examples.
The U.S. government has admitted it created a social media
network called ZunZuneo, which takes its name from Cuban slang
for the tweet of a hummingbird. It was revealed in a report by
the Associated Press, which said ZunZuneo snared cell phone
users to build a network whose goals included mobilizing
The program, built by the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) using shell companies to hide U.S.
government involvement, went dark in 2012 due to a lack of
U.S. officials confirmed it on Thursday, calling ZunZuneo a
"democracy promotion" program that was neither "secret" nor
"covert" under the U.S. government's definitions of those terms.
"The surprising denunciations made recently in an
investigation by the AP, about the existence for years of a
secret project of the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID) to create a supposed Cuban Twitter ... are scarcely the
tip of the iceberg of a gigantic subversive campaign against
Cuba," the Union of Young Communists' newspaper, Juventud
Rebelde, reported on Sunday.
U.S. officials said the programs referred to by Juventud
Rebelde had been publicly revealed since their inception and
were merely an attempt to promote the free flow of information
in a country where the state controls all the media.
The head of USAID, Rajiv Shah, is scheduled to testify
before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. Though the hearing was
previously scheduled to discuss budget matters, Shah may face
questioning about ZunZuneo, which Cuba has attempted to turn
into a propaganda victory.
One program was created by the U.S. government's Office of
Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which broadcasts radio and television
signals into Cuba that are mostly jammed by the local
authorities. The OCB programs such as TV and Radio Marti are
named after the island's independence hero Jose Marti.
The OCB's online project, Martinoticias, aims to get around
the jamming by using social media.
Since 2011, Martinoticias (Martinews) has been spamming
cellphone users in an attempt to promote its services, the
Office of Cuba Broadcasting Director Carlos Garcia-Perez
said his office sent text and email messages to Cubans in
attempt to build a social network, but denied the initiative was
"We don't have anything to hide. We are just trying to
create the free flow of information on the island," Garcia-Perez
said in a telephone interview. "That strategy is out in the
open. ... It's perfectly legal.
"We're not trying to create another revolution," he added.
Cuba has the lowest internet density in the Western
Hemisphere, and the government is slowly allowing increased
internet access, all the while warning of "enemies" using social
media to foster unrest. But there are over 2 million mobile
phone users in Cuba, where people actively use text messaging.
Juventud Rebelde also referred to an initiative known as
Piramideo, which the Office of Cuba Broadcasting publicly
announced upon its inception in June 2013.
It also mentioned Commotion, a three-year project funded by
USAID starting in 2012 that was attempting to "seduce" young
Cubans by offering music, films, chats and online games, the
The efforts were an attempt to divide Cubans and overthrow
the communist government, Juventud Rebelde said.
"There's nothing covert about either of these U.S.
government programs. ... USAID's appropriations are public
information, and the Congressional Budget Justification
describes the government's Cuba programs," USAID spokesman
Matthew Herrick said in an email.
Hilda Arias, director of mobile services at the state-run
telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA, told Juventud Rebelde that
after the revelations concerning ZunZuneo, the company had
notified some 200 providers of text messages that it would take
action if they continued to send spam.
She said that as of October 2013 the Martinoticias had sent
spam messages 219 times, totaling over a million messages, to
Cuban consumers without their permission, violating Cuban and
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric