Blog Posts

What is Wrong with the White House’s Plan for Democracy in Cuba?


ZunZuneo
or the “Cuban Twitter” continues to dominate headlines as details regarding U.S. Agency of International Development’s (USAID) failure to inspire a “Cuban Spring” through a “discreetly” funded social networking platform remain unclear. The Associated Press (AP) first broke the story on April 3, 2014 outlining the parameters of the USAID and Creative Associates International program to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cell phone text messaging to evade Cuba's strict control of information and its restrictions of the internet. The idea behind the development of the social media platform, according to AP, was to create a credible news source for Cubans on the island. ZunZuneo drew more than 40,000 followers and gathered data (such as location, cell phone numbers) on its users which was hoped to be used for political purposes. According to the AP, the social network managers hoped to use this information to trigger “smart mobs” that would protest the current Cuban government and generate a “Cuban Spring,” head nodding to the “Arab Spring,” a series of protests and uprisings that swept through a handful of Arab countries from 2010-2013.

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USAID’s Cuban Twitter: “Democracy Promotion” Does More Harm than Good

Hours after Vice President Joe Biden welcomed famed Cuban blogger and social media political activist Yoani Sánchez for a high profile photo op and meeting, the Associated Press broke a story about a clandestine U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program that reportedly stole thousands of phone numbers of Cuban cellphone users in an elaborate attempt to inspire social unrest in Cuba.
 
According to the AP, in 2010 the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives and contractor Creative Associates secretly created a Twitter-like cell phone platform that allowed U.S. information technology contractors to gather private data on its 40,000 Cuban users and blast out text messages to the subscribers. The platform, called ZunZuneo, also allowed Cubans to communicate via text message with people who subscribed to their feed.

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From Miami: Cuban Americans Call for Change in Outdated Cuba Policy

The buzz in Miami on March 15th could probably be heard all the way in Cuba. Last weekend, Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), FORNORM (Foundation for the Normalizations of Relations with Cuba), Generacion Cambio Cubano and Cuba Educational Travel hosted a conference to highlight the growing majority of Cuban Americans that are in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba.

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Rev. Raúl Suárez: "Cuba is not the Kingdom of God but We Have Had Many Achievements"

Rev_Suarez_wfp_panel
Reverend Raúl Suárez, the founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana, Cuba, visited the United States this past week as part of a delegation of religious leaders speaking about religious life and freedom in Cuba. Rev. Suárez was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Cuba from 1971 to 2005 and was the president of the Council of Churches. On February 28, 2014 Rev. Suárez spoke on a panel organized by Witness for Peace, to talk about his trip, religious freedom in Cuba as well as the future of U.S.-Cuba relations. This is what he had to say:

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Cuban and U.S. Churches Work Together; Our Governments Should Too


On Feb. 26 and 27, the two of us — Reverend Joel Ortega Dopico, a Presbyterian minister and elected president of the Cuban Council of Churches, and Reverend John L. McCullough, a United Methodist minister and President of Church World Service — are meeting in Washington to talk about our work together.

It may surprise many people to know that there is a Cuban Council of Churches, and that there is a thriving, growing faith community in Cuba. While many outside Cuba imagine that religious life has been stifled, there are in fact a wide range of churches active in the country, and religious membership and participation has been growing for twenty years. The Cuban Council of Churches has 54 member organizations. Church World Service and many of its 37 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member communions work closely with churches in Cuba and with the ecumenical Cuban Council of Churches.

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Senator Sanders Visits Cuba and Calls for End of the Embargo

Last week a U.S. Senate delegation headed to Cuba to discuss human rights, trade and health care issues. They also made a trip to Guantanamo Naval Base which Sanders supports closing. The delegation also met with Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor arrested in 2009. Gross was arrested when the Cuban government discovered he was smuggling sophisticated military-style internet equipment into Cuba. His arrest has become an obstacle to normalization between US-Cuba relations.

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People-to-People Travel Changes U.S. Citizens’ Views on the Embargo


In 2011 President Obama reinstated a category of licensed travel to Cuba known as “people-to-people.” This is the license that took the famous couple, Beyonce and Jay-Z, to Cuba last summer and requires individuals traveling under this license to emphasize exchange with the Cuban people during their time in Cuba. Yet, individuals cannot simply apply for a “people-to-people” license. Only organizations are eligible to apply to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for a license to facilitate “people-to-people” travel. OFAC is the agency of the Treasury Department that oversees all of the Cuba sanctions. U.S. citizens can now travel legally to Cuba through those organizations that have obtained a people-to-people license.  However, these trips are not of a tourist nature, rather an educational nature. License requirements mandate that travelers follow a tight schedule of activities that can be subject to OFAC review during the license renewal process. While the license application process can be a long one, this has not deterred many organizations (LAWG has a list of some of these organizations
here) from applying for these types of licenses as it is one of the only ways in which everyday U.S. citizens can have the opportunity to learn about life in Cuba first-hand.

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