The United States government tried to undermine the Cuban government by creating its own version of Twitter based on SMS messages.
According to the Associated Press, the US government hired a team of contractors to build and launch the messaging network in Cuba. The tool was supposed to be hidden from the country’s strict surveillance and flow of information.
“ZunZuneo,” as the network was called, is local slang for the song performed by the hummingbird. It was basically built to be the “Cuban Twitter” that could function without an Internet connection. Once a base of active users was built, with people who regularly discussed topics such as weather and sports, the game would have changed.
The plan was to start providing content critical of the country’s leaders, as well as information that pushed for political action activities, documents obtained by the AP indicate.
ZunZuneo was launched and managed to get about 40,000 Cubans on the network, never letting out the information that it had on American backing, which was, of course, critical to the entire operation.
In fact, behind the app there stood the United States Agency for International Development, the file reveals, and the government isn’t denying its involvement. A spokesperson for the agency said that the USAID was created to help people exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms and to give them access to tools to improve their lives and connect them with the outside world, which sounds pretty much along the lines of ZunZuneo.
The agency claims that it has hidden its involvement thus far in order to protect the operation.
The legality of the program is questioned, of course, since it involves an American effort to destabilize the Cuban government.
ZunZuneo was shut down in 2012, after growing so much that the government contractors felt they could no longer control the platform. When they realized they needed to take a step back, they even went to Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder, to try to get him to fund the project.
If he had agreed, he was supposed to turn the app into a legitimate business, but to maintain the original plans to inspire political change in Cuba, as per USAID's request.
Dorsey refused and when USAID ran out of money to back ZunZuneo, the app was shut down, leaving users baffled as to what happened, especially given the fact that it became quite popular.
This is yet another example of how the US government tried to get involved with another country to influence a political change.