AP outraged about free speech in Cuba

Is the AP a cabal of closet Marxist-Leninists or just the supine courtesan of every tyrant who lets it open a bureau in his kingdom? Either way, I really don’t understand what drives its corporate conscience. On one hand, it recently criticized the Obama Administration for “propaganda” photos. On the other hand, it did this not long after putting on an exhibition of actual propaganda photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Now, the AP has released a breathless expose of a U.S.A.I.D.-backed program, launched by the Obama Administration, to bring just a sliver of free speech to Cuba, in the form of a Twitter clone called “ZunZuneo.” AP even gave the 60 Minutes treatment to the civil servant who ran the program, following him home and sticking a camera in his face.

Let’s sum this up. The program was completely non-violent and appears to have broken no laws except Cuban censorship laws. It never even got far enough to plant any subversive information (unfortunately!). It was also popular and potentially effective. Before the AP exposed it, it was providing a service that Cubans liked and used. What if they liked and used it even more after it became a safe place to complain about food shortages, nosy block committees, corruption, the persecution of dissidents, and censorship? Is it morally wrong for people living under oppressive governments to be able to complain about those things or organize online?

ZunZuneo’s organizers wanted the social network to grow slowly to avoid detection by the Cuban government. Eventually, documents and interviews reveal, they hoped the network would reach critical mass so that dissidents could organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice — that could trigger political demonstrations, or “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” [AP]

I want our government to help people do that! There’s no evidence that anyone was hurt by this program, and had it succeeded, no one would have been hurt except the Castro brothers and their censors. At worst, the program might have been housed more appropriately in the CIA or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, although U.S.A.I.D. didn’t deny its involvement after the program’s exposure. The Cubans who used ZunZuneo were unaware of its U.S. government connections and weren’t endangered (one good reason why U.S.A.I.D. initially concealed its links to ZunZuneo). Why is this a scandal — other than the fact of its public exposure? Is it the AP’s position that the Cuban people should spend their whole lives living under poverty and oppression? How else will those conditions ever change?

Also, note how the AP “interviews” Cuban citizens, almost certainly in the presence of government minders, without telling us whether any minders were present. That fact, however relevant to the viewer, would have illustrated the absurdity of the AP’s argument nicely.

Say, do you suppose the AP has a bureau in Havana? Do you suppose it ever covers stories about dissent in Cuba, or is it pretty much like AP’s bureau in Pyongyang — a lucrative partnership with censors and propagandists? This story is a good example of why, as much as I distrust all news media, I distrust the AP more than the rest of them.

Based on everything in the AP’s report, I conclude that this was actually a great idea that served both the interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people. I wonder how hard it would be for the CIA to hack into Koryolink and bring Twitter to North Korea. I wonder how long it would take for the AP to blow the lid on that.

5 Comments

  1. Joshua, I hope you get the chance in an editorial somewhere to decry this behavior. Not as familiar with what is going on in Cuba as NK, but I’d imagine the exposed peoples lives and those of their friends and family are noticeably more uncomfortable now.

    Also, as an FYI, the embedded video was automatically playing in my browser with no options to stop or mute the ad autoplaying in front of the content unless I clicked on the video and followed the advertising link…maybe the AP is also forcing clicks to view their content to get dirty money:)




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  2. [Is the AP a cabal of closet Marxist-Leninists….?]

    No sir. They are a cabal of quite overt Marxist-Leninists.




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  3. If Obama and Holder investigate the journalists and the leakers, will they be violating their oaths of office or keeping us safe?




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  4. The AP story did not kill ZunZuneo. “USAID told the AP that ZunZuneo stopped in September 2012 when a government grant ended.” And there are various opinions about the network. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R UT), for one, said secret programs by USAID diminish the credibility of the United States. Jack Gillum, Desmond Butler, and Roberto Arce have the big story.




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  5. Josh,

    Great post. Although I don’t follow Cuba as closely as I do North Korea, I had an opportunity to spend some time with Cuban dissidents at a conference in Europe this week. Cuba continues to be a human rights hellhole. La Securidad del Estado de Cuba (the Cuban equivalent of North Korea’s State Security Department, SSD) is just better at hiding the repression, while being as brutal as it’s always been. I highly recommend watching this video (“Gusano”). At counter 20:00, you will see how the political police uses a staged children’s event to cover the violent crackdown on a human rights gathering. The brutal repression unfolds in front of the children; some of the kids are also roughed up. The goon in the red shirt is the Latino version of a North Korean propagandist. The North Koreans may not do the conga, but the basic principles of repression are not that different, after all…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW7i48fSCZ4

    It is illegal for Cubans to eat meat. Beef, pork, fish, lobster, seafood are served only to foreign tourists. Although they live on an island, Cubans don’t get to eat fish. They are only allowed to eat chicken… Sacrificing a cow for personal consumption is jail time.




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