Sunday, April 20, 2014

U.S. has a history of encouraging free expression

Posted on Saturday, 04.19.14

U.S. has a history of encouraging free expression

If it comes from the United States it must be bad. That is the
conclusion some critics of ZunZuneo, the U.S.-sponsored Twitter-like
platform that the Obama administration promoted in Cuba to disseminate
information and encourage personal communications on the island.

One of the more vocal critics, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont,
called the program "dumb, dumb, dumb" and "cockamamie" because the
United States "discreetly" promoted the platform, as if any
communication system free of the Castro government control could be
presented any other way.

The fact is these programs are not new and, if done properly, should be
encouraged as an additional mechanism to promote democracy. Besides, in
this day and age of NSA surveillance on all Americans, a program such as
ZunZuneo overseas should come as little surprise.

ZunZuneo is consistent with previous U.S. strategies in effecting
foreign policy. Historical archives show that it was vital in aiding
Soviet dissidents in Europe during the Cold War. Radio Free Europe came
into being in 1950, touted as the only nongovernmental American radio
programming in an age where many countries had their freedoms denied, as
in Cuba.

The programs included news, music and stories that captured the
imagination, portraying what living in freedom could be like. The
program became so successful that, when several members of Congress
attempted to end it upon discovering that it was CIA-funded, its
popularity was too great. It had become an integral part of the freedom
movement behind the Iron Curtain, despite periodic radio jamming by the

Government funding was then shifted from a covert operation to an overt
program, and it survived the fall of the Berlin Wall. Countless numbers
of dissidents relied upon Radio Free Europe, fully aware of its history
as a U.S.-funded operation, because it was the only means to get any
information of what was happening within the region and in Washington
D.C. It is responsible, in part, for bringing about peaceful change in
Europe. The same approach could do the same in Cuba.

The United States has a history of using foreign aid to foster democracy
through economic development. The federal foreign-aid agency known as
USAID was established under the Kennedy administration in 1961. Created
initially to save poverty-stricken Third World countries from
starvation, USAID also introduces free-market strategies in emerging
economies, particularly in the former Eastern-bloc countries. The
mission has been consistent and not particularly veiled in its efforts
to forge pro-U.S. ties.

Now we're in the age of personal communication technology, and it has
made revolution faster and more expedient. During the Arab Spring, many
Egyptians used technology, specifically texting and social media, to
share information about what was occurring in Cairo. Crowds gathered
faster, journalists reported faster, change — for better or for worse —
came faster. In Venezuela, students opposed to the Nicolas Maduro regime
use text messages to coordinate strategies to bring down their
oppressive government. Dissidents can move together in real time.

Some argue that the United States should not sponsor such unrest. The
truth is the United States is just tapping into the organic discontent
that already exists.

Yet, ZunZuneo is a different program that brings some discomfort, but
only as to its home at USAID, not its mission. The question is whether
this program might be better served if it were implemented by another
agency. The answer is a resounding Yes. USAID is an invaluable tool, but
it has been more successful in promoting economically sustainable
communities than programs such as ZunZuneo.

The Twitter program in Cuba is different in method and feel. USAID's
economic and pro-democracy missions are equally important, but openly
distributing technology within a hostile country presents circumstances
and expectations that make USAID the wrong place for such a program.
After the disclosure of ZunZuneo's funding roots, USAID's presence
overseas will be viewed with greater suspicion, although in certain
quarters any U.S. program is met with suspicion. USAID is expected to be
transparent internationally and in Washington, D.C. The reality is that
government programs can't be transparent and discreet all at once.

Change the venue, change the conversation.

Source: U.S. has a history of encouraging free expression - Other Views
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