Secrets along the money trail


Government spending records are easier to decipher than they were a decade ago, but U.S. government projects in Cuba are still cloaked in secrecy.
A Washington, D.C., friend said he wondered if finding out about such projects just might be “mission impossible now.” He said:

The bureaucracy now hides it under multiple layers of operational security.

Taxpayers got a glimpse of one federal contractor’s tactics in 2014 when the Associated Press revealed details of the ZunZuneo project, aimed at sending text messages into Cuba.
The AP stories created such a fuss that the Inspector General investigated in 2015. The IG’s report stated:

The initial request for program proposals, as well as the award document, for the Cuban Civil Society Support Program stated that …the program’s overarching goal was to “support activities that will help advance a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba.”
According to grant documents, the first grant awarded under ZunZuneo stated that it was to help achieve that goal by providing a free flow of information to Cuban citizens.
Throughout the project, text messages were sent by the grantees to recipients. The messages did not encourage or ask recipients to take political action. The chief of party and a consultant of the grantees said they intentionally avoided sending political messages, although they acknowledged that a couple of the initial messages sent contained some political satire. For example, one message referred to a politician declaring that laptops were “weapons of the enemy,” and another referenced an artist who said, “It’s time to change, freedom has no owner.”

Actual messages sent via ZunZuneo

Secrecy was key to essential to ZunZeneo. The IG’s report stated:

The main ZunZuneo grantee documented that, for the project to succeed, it needed to hide U.S. Government involvement, including concealing the origin of the funds and the ownership of the ZunZuneo platform.
Mobile Accord reported:
If it is discovered that the [ZunZuneo] platform is, or ever was, backed by the United States government, not only do we risk the channel being shut down by Cubacel, but we risk the credibility of the platform as a source of reliable information, education, and empowerment in the eyes of the Cuban people. There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement. This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission . . . The objective will be to put Cubacel and the Cuban government in a position where they will tolerate, and actually support, the platform.

ZunZuneo messages

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