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Social media campaign against Cuba, Nicaraguan company involved

News from Nicaragua | Friday, 11 April 2014 | Click here for original article

On 4 April, Associated Press revealed a programme financed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that was intended to undermine the Cuban government or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” According to the AP story, high-tech contractors from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the US launched a messaging network that eventually reached over 40,000 Cubans. To conceal it from the Cuban government, they set up a system of front companies with Cayman Islands bank accounts and recruited executives who were not told about the company’s ties to the US government. The money for the project came from a fund publicly earmarked for a project in Pakistan.

The project was carried out by Joe McSpedon, a USAID official based in Costa Rica, and a Nicaraguan sister and brother, Noy Villalobos and Mario Bernheim, and their firm, Creative Associates, plus other technology experts. The text network was called ZunZuneo after the song of a Cuban hummingbird. In Managua Bernheim has long been considered a tech wiz. In 2001 he was one of those responsible for thousands of text messages that appeared on cell phones and recorded messages left on land line phones telling people to vote against Daniel Ortega and for the Liberal Party candidate Enrique Bolaños.

According to AP, by early 2011, the project had run into problems when Creative Associates grew exasperated with [associate company] Mobile Accord's failure to make ZunZuneo self-sustaining and independent of the US government. The operation had run into an unsolvable problem. USAID was paying tens of thousands of dollars in text messaging fees to Cuba's telecommunications routed through a secret bank account and front companies. It was not a situation that it could either afford or justify — and if exposed it would be embarrassing, or worse. One former ZunZuneo worker commented that the Cubans were catching on and had tried to block the site. By the middle of 2012 the service worked only sporadically and then not at all. It had only lasted two years.

Source:Nicaragua Network news 9 April,2013