The recent revelations about USAID’s “Cuban Twitter” program, today’s Senate Appropriations hearing with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and the announcement that jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross has started a hunger strike have once again highlighted the counterproductive nature of U.S. policy toward Cuba, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading organization working on Cuba policy for the last 20 years.
“The irony of the ordeal involving ZunZuneo and Alan Gross is that these convoluted million dollar programs with no reasonable prospect of success needlessly put U.S. contractors at risk of imprisonment and could very easily be replaced by simply ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba,” said Marc Hanson, WOLA Senior Associate for Cuba. “Ending the embargo costs nothing, puts no U.S. citizens at risk, and is likely to succeed in improving the lives of countless Cubans over time.”
WOLA would like to share with you a few resources that might be useful for your reporting on recent developments on U.S.-Cuba relations.
USAID’s Cuban Twitter: “Democracy Promotion” Does More Harm than Good
In Cuba, the United States Should Do Less in Order to Accomplish More
By Marc Hanson
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 more than 40,000 Cuban users and blast out text messages to the subscribers. In the end, similar to other USAID initiatives that are described as “promoting democracy” but seem aimed at making trouble for the Cuban government, ZunZuneo was a costly failure that wasted millions of dollars, and it will likely undermine genuine internal reform efforts in Cuba and further damage the U.S. government’s reputation in the region.
Kojo Nnamdi Show: USAID Tied to Secret “Cuban Twitter” Operation
April 8, 2014
Marc Hanson: "And I think that the negotiations over Alan Gross, first of all, I think they should be happening at the highest level. I really think the President should nominate somebody or empower somebody to spend some time with the Cubans to figure out exactly what's necessary to bring him home and should do everything in their power to get Alan Gross home. I think that should be fundamental to what our government is pursuing right now.”
Time for a New Approach to the Case of Alan Gross
Recommendations for the Administration on the Fourth Anniversary of Gross’s Arrest
By Marc Hanson
The administration’s annual calls to Cuban authorities to free Mr. Gross unconditionally have not worked, nor have any other diplomatic efforts they have undertaken. While administration officials insist that “some very senior people in this administration have put their minds and attention on trying to get Mr. Gross out of prison,” their current strategy has not succeeded in securing his release, and the current approach is unlikely to result in his release this year. An alternative approach to securing Mr. Gross’s release is not only warranted, it is long overdue.
AFP: ZunZuneo: the new sound of US-Cuban discord
April 5, 2014
This "wasteful social media project not only failed to achieve their objectives, it also served to maintain heightened levels of conflict between the US and Cuban governments," said Marc Hanson, a Cuba expert at the left-leaning Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) think tank…. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who favors normalizing ties with Havana, wrote on Twitter: "If there was ever a better case for changing our Cuba policy, I have not seen it. Wow."
Even more emphatic was Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who on US television succinctly described the program as "dumb, dumb, dumb."