In an effort to tap into the local sentiment of average Cubans, the U.S. Government sponsored the development of a social media application for cell phones called, ZunZeo. ZunZeo offered users free SMS messaging and was an alternative news outlet to many. U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID), the U.S. Government’s outreach entity focused on fostering economic development and well being for nations struggling with poverty and undergoing political and economic transitions funded the application’s development. Funding ended in 2012 leaving many of the 40,000 plus Cubans dependent on the application now without the ability to use one of their favorite communication applications.
ZunZeo is the word for the sound that a hummingbird makes. The application was blasted out to Cubans from a Cuban Government run telecom which paid hard currency in exchange for that service. The front companies, administering the application were based out of the Cayman Islands and Spain. Those companies paid money to the Cuban Government telecom provider in exchange for being able to send SMS messages to cell phone users with the offer to download the free social media application that would allow them to communicate with their U.S. friends and relatives for free. Initially, younger Cubans were targeted as they were perceived to install the application first. Ads and content sent to the application by USAID initially were more about sports and music. Over time, the focus of the content began to shift to encourage dissidence against the Castro regime.
Following the application’s installation, the U.S. government was able to eavesdrop on conversations and track the level of dissatisfaction amongst users of the application and encourage dissidence via messages and ads that encouraged rebellion and challenging of the Castro regime.
The application was in use from 2010 until 2012. The creators of the application from USAID were recently forced to testify in front of congress.
NPR released a story about this today which can be listened to here: www.npr.org/2014/04/08/300477959/was-zunzuneo-to-promote-free-speech-or-destabilize-cuba