By ALBERTO ARCE
and JAVIER CORDOBA
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - The Costa Rican government says it's still waiting for the Obama administration to explain why it launched the secret "Cuban Twitter" network from inside the Central American nation's borders despite warnings in 2009 that the plan could jeopardize the two countries' diplomatic relations.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo said efforts to affect other countries should not be carried out from inside Costa Rica.
He said his government had not received an answer to its question, which he said was delivered a day after the AP reported on April 3 that the U.S. Agency for International Development funded the secret program to stir political unrest in Communist-ruled Cuba.
"I think it's inappropriate to use an embassy in Costa Rica for this type of operation that harms a third country," Castillo said. "We're not filing a complaint. The point is that embassies accredited in Costa Rica don't have to submit their plans or programs for the Costa Rican government's approval."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Costa Rica sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose requesting an explanation after the AP story appeared. "In the following days, Embassy staffers have reached out to their MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) counterparts on multiple occasions about the issue and those conversations have been ongoing."
Hundreds of documents obtained by the AP show that the contractors hired to launch the social media network, known as ZunZuneo, went to extreme lengths to hide its ties to the U.S., using foreign companies and computer servers paid for via a bank account in the Cayman Islands. They did so after acquiring more than 400,000 Cuban cellphone numbers.
USAID has denied that the program was secret or that it had a political agenda. At the request of a congressional oversight committee, the State Department is reviewing texts sent to thousands of Cuban cellphone users to see if they were political.
Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry told the U.S. Embassy in June 2009 that the plan to develop the social media network could lead to "political difficulties" for Costa Rica, and it refused to grant diplomatic status to two U.S. government contractors involved in the program, La Nacion, Costa Rica's largest newspaper, reported Tuesday.
According to an internal Foreign Ministry memorandum, Javier Sancho Bonilla, protocol and state ceremonial director for the ministry, said the project "could create a situation politically inconvenient since it can be interpreted that it would violate the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries." The note was sent to the foreign minister's chief of staff, Elaine White, on June 2, 2009.
Sancho's memo also suggested that Costa Rica withdraw from its cooperation agreement with the U.S. government, which had been signed under the umbrella of the Alliance for Progress, an initiative of U.S. President John F. Kennedy aimed at preventing the emergence of Cuban revolutions in the rest of Latin America.
The Foreign Ministry told the U.S. Embassy that the ZunZuneo plan exceeded the agreed limits of binational cooperation.
"Until now, the Cuban government hasn't complained to us because of this," Castillo said Tuesday. "It may be that there were illegalities committed while this program was being executed, but that is solely the responsibility of the U.S. government."
Associated Press writer Mathew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.