- Created: Tuesday, 10 June 2014 14:33
- Written by Louise Gartrel
In April and May 2014, news about two US-based attacks on Cuba hit international headlines, demonstrating that as the capitalist crisis intensifies, imperialist attempts to destabilise the popular and revolutionary government of socialist Cuba continue. Louise Gartrel reports.
On 3 April, following a thorough investigation, Associated Press (AP) exposed a US government-funded covert programme to develop a social media network in Cuba as a tool to promote an uprising against the government. The mobile phone network was called ‘Zunzuneo’, which is Cuban slang for the hummingbird’s ‘tweet’; hence this project was referred to as the Cuban ‘twitter’. Then on 7 May, the Cuban government announced that four Cuban exiles from Miami had been arrested on 26 April on entering the country with the intention of carrying out terrorist actions against military installations. As living conditions worsen for the majority in the capitalist countries, and as repression, racism and exploitation increases, Cuba represents a viable alternative which threatens the rotten neoliberal system. This has provided the impetus to ratchet up attacks on Cuba.
Would-be terrorists detained
The four Cuban exiles had visited Cuba several times since mid-2013 to study and carry out their plan to attack military installations in Cuba. The Cuban statement about the arrests said that the plot was masterminded by Miami Cuban exiles with a record of involvement in terrorism: Santiago Alvarez Fernandez Magrina, Osvaldo Mitat and Manuel Alzugaray. It pointed to their links to ex-CIA operative and confessed terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, who was responsible for the 1976 airline bombing that killed all 73 people on a civilian flight to Cuba. Carriles was also involved in a series of hotel bombings in 1997 which killed Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo. Santiago Alvarez and Mitat pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2006 and were sent to prison for 30 months and two years respectively after an informant tipped off the FBI about a large cache of weapons, including machine guns and a grenade launcher, in Alvarez’s possession. With pressure growing within the US and outside for steps to be taken towards ‘normalisation’ of relations with Cuba, it appears that sections of the powerful right-wing Miami exile community are getting increasingly desperate in their efforts to harm Cuba.
The arrest of the would-be terrorists coincided with the publication of the US government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which once again shamefully included Cuba, despite stating clearly that Cuba provides no support for terrorism or terrorists (see: http://tinyurl.com/pgufd6p).
Between 2010 and 2012 almost 40,000 Cubans had signed up to Zunzuneo, completely unaware that it was a front for US agencies working to promote regime change. The AP documents exposed how the demographics of a large database of subscribers was gathered with the view to creating a political profile of potential dissidents. The Cuban mobile phone numbers had been leaked from Cubacel, Cuba’s state-run mobile phone company. Initially Zunzuneo sent out free text messages with news, sports and entertainment updates while it offered Cubans with free subscriptions one free text message to send out per day. The plan was that, having won a large and loyal subscriber base, more explicitly political material would be sent out, encouraging anti-government sentiment among young Cubans and instigating political protests, such as ‘flash mobs’.
The programme was masterminded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which receives funds allocated by the US Congress. Under the guise of ‘promoting democracy’, USAID has promoted destabilisation against governments around the world. In recent years, the use of technology, including social media, has become one of its most effective political tools to pursue US national interests, that is, imperialist interests. USAID receives a basic budget of $20m annually for operations against Cuba.
In 2008, USAID awarded a $6 million contract to Creative Associates, which managed the running of the programme. By hiring private contractors to run operations such as these, the US attempts to disguise direct links to the Obama administration. The project was run from third countries in an effort to obscure the programme’s association with Washington. The AP report confirms that ‘front’ companies, computer servers and bank accounts were set up in the UK, Ireland, Spain, the Cayman Islands and Costa Rica. USAID approached the Miami-based Cuban-American non-profit youth organisation Roots of Hope, which claims to promote ‘technological freedom’ in Cuba, to take over the running of the twitter programme by identifying sub-contractors and locating private investment. At least two of its board members became leading paid members in the Zunzuneo project. Private contractors are subject to fewer controls than official government agencies, which helps to keep the programme a secret.
Following AP’s exposé, US officials were quick to defend the Zunzuneo programme, insisting that it was not a covert operation but a ‘discreet form of humanitarian assistance’. Jay Carney, White House press secretary, claimed that ‘the money invested has been debated in Congress’, and that it was in accordance with US law. However, the claim that the US Congress was informed about the Zunzuneo programme has been denied. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee immediately ordered a review of USAID’s involvement with surveillance and infiltration worldwide. The AP has been asked to hand over its evidence.
Use of information technology
Since the Revolution of 1959, the US has used technology in its aggression against Cuba: from radio and TV, and more recently, the internet and now social media. These programmes operate alongside the US blockade, which was intended to starve Cubans into submission, and promote internal opposition against the Revolution. ‘Internet freedom’ is a pretext for destabilisation programmes. Private contractors have smuggled in cell-phones, hard-drives and computers which can operate outside of government control or monitoring. The idea is to create an apparatus to facilitate ‘dissidents’ to participate in subversion. The appalling hypocrisy of this approach is that while Cuba’s enemies point to limited internet use as evidence of the lack of ‘freedom’, they fail to mention that it is the US blockade itself that deliberately blocks Cuba’s internet access. Cuba is prohibited from accessing the fibre optic cables which encircle the island.
Since the early 2000s, USAID has used underdeveloped countries as a playground to develop its covert surveillance operations. The US State Department invested $2.8 million in developing an internet ‘mesh’ network in Sayada, a fishing town in Tunisia. The programme, called ‘Commotion’, which connects several Wi-Fi routers together, was set up to facilitate secure communication for dissidents. The deployment of this initiative provided a testing ground for technological software to spark dissent. ‘One target that is sure to start debate is Cuba; the United States Agency for International Development has pledged $4.3 million to create mesh networks there.’ (New York Times, 20 April 2014)
The role of mercenaries
The use of information technology in the war against socialism has been seen in the cultivation of ‘dissident’ bloggers such as Yoani Sanchez, who went from nonentity to international fame in 2008 when Time magazine inexplicitly listed her among the world’s 100 most influential people. While condemning the lack of internet access in Cuba, Sanchez manages to blog and tweet daily. Sanchez has claimed over 200,000 twitter followers, but 50,000 of those were found to be ghost or inactive accounts, and only 32 of them resided in Cuba. Her fictitious popularity is obviously assisted by outside specialists. Sanchez has won over $500,000 in international ‘prize’ money and recently enjoyed a celebrity tour around the world which was spoiled by protestors who exposed her links to the CIA and the dirty war against Cuban socialism (see: http://tinyurl.com/nuv2msq). In mid-May, Sanchez announced the launching of a new online publication called 14ymedio. The project is a direct provocation as it breaks Cuban laws. It is also clearly directed to an external audience (which holds the purse strings) and Sanchez has no following or support within Cuba. Her website was immediately hacked with slogans condemning her role as a puppet of US imperialism.
Sanchez is a high-profile mercenary, but covert mercenaries are also being used. One example is Alan Gross, a subcontractor hired by a company paid by USAID, who was arrested in Havana on 4 December 2009 and convicted of committing ‘acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state’. Gross had won a contract with the private US company Development Alternatives Inc, and was in Cuba on a USAID-funded mission to introduce undetectable satellite equipment to the tiny Jewish community in Cuba (see FRFI 215 and FRFI 220). Gross exploited the media interest surrounding the exposure of the Zunzuneo initiative by starting a hunger strike the day after the Zunzuneo revelations. He kept it up for eight days.
Cuban authorities were apparently prepared to release Gross in exchange for the reining-in of US-funded ‘regime change’ programmes, and if the Obama administration would enter into dialogue with the Cuban government. Although the US Senate and House Committees agreed and began changing their tactics, USAID and its contractors continued with their plots of sabotage, as shown by the Zunzuneo programme. Gross remains in prison on a 15-year sentence.
Another mercenary linked to Gross is Akram Elias, a businessman from Washington, with whom he met in Havana the day before his arrest. They discussed an arrangement which would allow Gross to store his illegal equipment in one of Cuba’s Masonic Lodges. Elias, a Freemason and mercenary who has contracts with various national security agencies, was working to foment opposition through Cuba’s Lodges under a USAID ‘democracy’ programme. Elias’ plan failed, however, as it transpired that the head of Cuba’s Freemasons, Jose Manuel Collera, was serving as an agent for the Cuban government.*
* For details about another recently-exposed Cuban intelligence agent, see our review of Raul Capote’s account of how he was cultivated by the CIA inside Cuba: http://tinyurl.com/nptcmvk
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014