For years, American outreach to Cuba came in many forms: mafiosos, poison-drenched wetsuits, toxic cigars. But today we learned of a new tactic in the campaign to undercut the Castro regime: a stealth effort by the U.S. government’s humanitarian aid agency to create a Cuban version of Twitter.
The program lasted for just two years before it ran out of funding, so it’s no surprise that it wasn’t successful in generating political unrest. It would be easy to dismiss the exercise as a harmless flop, but unfortunately it isn’t harmless. The use of USAID for these purposes will confirm many foreign governments in their suspicions about the agency, and that will make it more difficult to carry out legitimate humanitarian and development work that the agency does. The effort was reportedly inspired by early examples of so-called “Twitter revolutions” in 2009-10, including the Green movement protests in Iran, but no one seems to have drawn any lessons from the violent suppression of these earlier protests. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the U.S. would be responsible for the consequences of any unrest that it did manage to stir up, or that it was trying to lure unwitting Cubans into political activities that could very easily have resulted in their imprisonment or death. The only good news about this program is that it ended without having done too much harm.