By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has branded as illegal a U.S. project to quietly create a Twitter-like service in Cuba to promote political opposition, saying it shows that Washington has not given up its "subversive" campaign of undermining the island's government.
The U.S. government on Thursday admitted it had created a service similar to Twitter in Cuba in a "discreet" operation intended to promote democracy on the communist-ruled island, after the $1.2 million effort was revealed by the Associated Press news agency.
Cuba said in a foreign ministry statement issued late on Thursday that the story "once again demonstrated that the government of the United States has not given up on its subversive plans against Cuba, which seek to create destabilizing situations in the country in order to provoke changes in our political order, to which the government of the United States continues to dedicate budgets of millions of dollars every year."
Citing international law and the United Nations charter, Cuba called on the United States to "cease ... its illegal and covert actions against Cuba, which are rejected by the Cuban people and the international public opinion."
The program was run by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which normally delivers aid to the world's poor, and was discontinued in 2012, officials said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Thursday told reporters the program was neither "secret" nor "covert" under the U.S. government's definitions of those terms, calling it a "democracy promotion" program created a platform "similar to Twitter." It was carried out under a three-year grant totaling $1.2 million and was created using subcontractors and foreign banks.
The AP report said the program was designed to get around Cuba's strict Internet prohibitions using secret shell companies financed through foreign banks. The AP report said USAID was careful to hide U.S. ties to the project and used companies in Spain and the Cayman Islands to conceal the money trail.
The two-year project drew 40,000 users, who did not know the communications network was devised by a U.S. agency and designed to push them toward political dissent and also did not know their personal information was being gathered, the AP reported.
(Editing by David Adams and Steve Orlofsky)