OPINION

Opinion: 'Cuban Twitter' Is Simply The Latest Iteration Of Radio Free Europe

Pairs of twins pose for a group portrait near a Siguaraya tree along their street in Havana, Cuba.

Pairs of twins pose for a group portrait near a Siguaraya tree along their street in Havana, Cuba.  (AP2013)

I don’t understand the big deal about the ZunZuneo revelation. Nor quite frankly, am I troubled by it.

ZunZuneo of course, is the Twitter-like service that the U.S. government funded, via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to help Cuban citizens evade the restrictions on Internet access imposed by the Cuban communist regime. Funding for the program ceased in 2012. Many liberals are now questioning whether USAID should have ever been involved in what they characterize as a covert political campaign to undermine the Castro dictatorship.

I see nothing wrong with a small part of our foreign aid budget, including that of USAID, being used to promote free speech and other freedoms that we hold dear.

- Raul Mas

I say: what is wrong with promoting free speech and access to information? What is wrong with wanting to accelerate a return to democracy for 11 million people who have been enslaved by Fidel and Raul Castro for over half a century?

America has a long history of promoting free speech abroad. As early as 1949, the U.S. government created Radio Free Europe (RFE) to broadcast news and information to those trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Originally a CIA-funded operation, Radio Free Europe eventually became a separate, transparent organization, led by an independent board and funded directly by Congress. Radio Free Europe played a crucial role in undermining the communist monopoly on news and information in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Radio Free Europe also played an important role in the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of democracies in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and elsewhere.

The descendants and affiliates of Radio Free Europe, including the Voice of America and Radio Marti, continue to provide news and information to those living under authoritarian or radical regimes. They are an integral part of promoting American values, especially our love of free speech, to those who are deprived such freedom. ZunZuneo is simply the latest iteration of it.

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In the 21st century, the internet is the new mass means of communication, quickly replacing radio, television and print broadcasting. Given the changing technological landscape, U.S. efforts to promote activities like ZunZuneo, whether overtly, covertly or perhaps discreetly, should shock no one. In fact, they should be welcomed.

In addition to free speech and access to information, the U.S. government has also openly funded and promoted religious freedom, labor unions, women’s rights, gay rights, and other values consistent with our deeply held belief that America, and our global neighbors, are better served by having more freedom….not less. Like the ZunZuneo project, the funding for these initiatives are discussed and vetted as part of the congressional budgetary process. 

And what is wrong with that?

Let’s also not be so naïve as to think that our foreign aid should be devoid of any partisanship or political bent. Americans are the most generous people in the world. Our generosity, expressed through untold billions of dollars in foreign aid, disaster relief, and refugee assistance has benefitted millions of people and changed their lives in a positive fashion. Rarely do we condition such assistance. I see nothing wrong with a small part of our foreign aid budget, including that of USAID, being used to promote free speech and other freedoms that we hold dear.

So let’s stop wringing our hands or feigning outrage over the political nature of ZunZuneo.

Freedom is a good thing. We should not be ashamed about promoting it at every opportunity.

Bring on a thousand ZunZuneos as far as I am concerned.

Raúl Mas Canosa is a businessman and a frequent commentator on radio, television and digital media. The opinions expressed are strictly his own. He can be reached at rmas@mba1986.hbs.edu   

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