Our special coverage of the closest race for years
Explore the personal stories of Syrian refugees in Lebanon
09 Apr 2014 03:04 GMT | Politics, US & Canada, Latin America, Cuba, United States
The head of the US Agency for International Development has denied that a Twitter-like network it built in Cuba was designed to undermine the government - a statement contradicted by the release of draft messages poking fun at Cuban leaders.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah gave evidence to Congress on Tuesday, stating that the programme, known as ZunZuneo, was "absolutely not" covert and was simply meant to increase the flow of information.
However, the Associated Press news agency published microblogs intended for the programme that seemingly poked fun at Cuba’s leaders.
An AP investigation last week found that the programme evaded Cuba's internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organise political demonstrations. It drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware it was backed by the US.
At an oversight hearing Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told Shah that the programme was "cockamamie" and not adequately described to Congress.
USAID, known worldwide for its humanitarian work, has repeatedly maintained it did not send out political messages under the project. Leahy asked Shah whether the project's goal was to "influence political conditions abroad by gathering information about Cuban cellphone users" or "to encourage popular opposition to the Cuban government".
"No, that is not correct," Shah said. "The purpose of the programme was to support access to information and to allow people to communicate with each other," he said. "It was not for the purpose you just articulated."
But some messages sent to Cuban cellphones were sharp political satire. One early message sent on August 7, 2009, took aim at the former Cuban telecommunications minister, Ramiro Valdes, who had once warned that the internet was a "wild colt" that "should be tamed".
"Latest: Cuban dies of electrical shock from laptop. `I told you so,' declares a satisfied Ramiro. 'Those machines are weapons of the enemy!'"
Others were marked in documents as drafts, and it was not immediately clear if they were ever transmitted by the service, which the government said ceased operations in 2012 because of a lack of funding.
Said one draft message: "THE BACKWARDS WORLD: 54% of Americans think Michael Jackson is alive and 86% of Cubans think Fidel Castro is dead." Another called Castro the "The coma-andante," a reference to Fidel's age.
"No," wrote organisers, apparently nixing that text. "Too political."
Last Thursday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that "no political content was ever supplied by anyone working on this project or running it. It was the people — the Cuban people on the ground who were doing so".
Source: Al Jazeera And AP
Content on this website is for general information purposes only. Your comments
are provided by your own free will and you take sole responsibility for any direct
or indirect liability. You hereby provide us with an irrevocable, unlimited, and
global license for no consideration to use, reuse, delete or publish comments, in
accordance with Community Rules & Guidelines and Terms and Conditions.
Critics say the UK's home secretary is using Muslims as a 'political punchbag' in a bid to shore up right-wing support.
Human Rights, Politics, Racism
2014 was the worst year in more than a decade for polio infections, with at least 306 new cases reported.
Polio, Asia, Pakistan
Recent court ruling finds police unit not guilty of rounding up and executing 42 Muslim men during 1987 communal riots.
Human Rights, India, Asia
Nigerians are flooding home for Saturday's vote, but fears of violence grow amid the too-close-to-call election.
Nigeria Decides, Nigeria, Africa
Yemen's president calls on rebels to surrender their arms and for their leaders to turn themselves in at Egypt meeting.
War & Conflict, Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Houthis
Dozens reported killed by suspected Boko Haram fighters in the northeast as millions turn out in tight poll.
Politics, Africa, Nigeria Decides, Nigeria, Boko Haram
It is a source of sustenance but also of tension and new political realities are now increasing uncertainty.
Egypt, Sudan, Middle East
A media post-mortem into the UK's surveillance report. Plus, why five years on in Argentina the media looks so familiar.
Media, Edward Snowden, Security
The untold story of how the Lebanese community overcame the odds and found their place in multicultural Australia.
Asia Pacific, Australia, Lebanon
How to keep a telenovela profitable and demanding sponsors happy while inspiring the production team to stay passionate.
Arts & Culture, Mexico, Latin America