Make us your home page

The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio: U.S. government's covert 'Cuban Twitter' was justifiable



The Associated Press today had a story about the U.S. government's attempt to secretly build and spread a Twitter-like program for use in Cuba, raising legality questions.

A Spanish-language TV reporter asked Sen. Marco Rubio about it today (the Buzz was there to listen) and he defended the program, called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.

Reporter: Do you think it's acceptable to help democracy along through whatever means available?

Rubio: "I think it's justifiable. I think it's unfortunate that they have canceled it. I really do not understand how the world can criticize Turkey for not allowing to use Twitter or Facebook and everyone is shocked by that, but in Cuba there has never been access to these programs and we must do everything possible so that the Cuban people have access to the media that the rest of the world has, so they know the truth of what is happening."

Reporter: Do you think this hurts Alan Gross? (The program was launched not long after Gross, a USAID subcontractor sent to Cuba to spread the use of the Internet, was arrested.)

Rubio: "Alan Gross is not guilty of anything. He has done nothing [wrong]. He has not committed any crimes. He was simply trying to help the Jewish community have access to the Internet in Cuba. That's not a crime. It is a right to have access to the truth."

From the AP:

Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.

[Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 5:06pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours