Report: U.S. Officials Created a ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Overthrow Castro

Washington covertly made ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet, to woo mobile users with news stories. Once the platform's audience would balloon, the supposed—and failed—goal was to flood it with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs'


Fifty-three years after the C.I.A. failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government with a group of armed Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. government is still trying to dislodge the Caribbean island’s communist regime, according to a new report.

The Associated Press, citing documents and people involved in the project, reports the U.S. government has been working covert backchannels with aid agencies funneling money through front companies for years to create a social media platform designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

The social media platform called ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet, was designed to entice the country’s mobile users with non-controversial news stories. Later, once the platform had engaged hundreds of thousands of followers, ZunZuneo was then supposed to be flooded with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs.’”

During its peak, the service attracted 40,000 followers, but fizzled out due to funding issues among the front companies in 2012. In the end, the U.S. government’s Cuban social media platform failed to incite a revolution and Fidel’s brother Raul Castro remains firmly in power.


TIME Aviation

Officials Vow to Hunt for Missing Jet ‘Till Hell Freezes Over’

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, left, and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak tour the tarmac of Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce near Perth on April 3, 2014 Rob Griffith—Reuters

Malaysian and Australian officials push back on earlier comments that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may never be found after vanishing on March 8, promising "we will not give up," but conceding "it could take months, it could take years"

The hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 must continue, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed on Thursday, just 24 hours after his top police official conceded that the mystery behind the ill-fated Boeing 777 may never be solved.

“We want to provide comfort to the families, and we will not rest until answers are indeed found,” Najib told reporters at the Perth air-force base in Western Australia, where search efforts are being coordinated. “In due time, we will provide a closure for this event.”

“I know that until we find the plane, many families cannot start to grieve. I cannot imagine what they must be going through,” he added. “But I can promise them that we will not give up.”

The Malaysian leader’s words served to walk back comments by his police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who on Wednesday admitted, “We may not even know the reason for this incident.”

It’s now been almost four weeks since the twin-engine, 200-ton jetliner disappeared soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard. Both the aircraft’s transponder and ACARS communication systems were disabled from the cockpit “through deliberate action,” according to investigators, and subsequent analysis of data transmissions indicates it crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

Frigid waters and waves several meters high means it is extremely unlikely that any survivors could have lasted more than a few hours, let along 25 days after vanishing from radar screens. Nevertheless, officials are determined to provide answers to the distraught families of those on board.

“We’ll keep going till hell freezes over,” Kim Beazley, Australia’s former Defense Minister and current ambassador to the U.S., told CNN. “It could take months, it could take years.”

Foul weather has long hampered search operations, but fairer conditions greeted Najib in Australia on Thursday, as eight planes and nine ships set out to scour some 86,000 sq. miles (223,000 sq km) of ocean — roughly the size of Utah — about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) west of Perth. Visibility of up to 7 miles (11 km) was expected, although isolated showers were slated to hit southern sections.

“Based on that continuing flow of information, the search area is being continually adjusted, and today it will be adjusted to move the search area a little bit further to the north,” said retired air chief marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the multinational operation. Analysts from the U.S., U.K., Malaysia, China and Australia are still trying to narrow down the search zone, he added.

On Thursday, oceanographers revealed that currents and prevailing winds could well drive any floating debris toward Australia’s enormous west coast. “However, the search area is a long way offshore, so this could take months,” Alec Duncan of Curtin University in Perth told the South China Morning Post.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the search “the most difficult in human history” and separately told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that the intensity of the efforts were being ramped up with the arrival of fresh equipment. “We cannot be certain for ultimate success, but we can be certain that we shall spare no effort and will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can,” he told reporters.

H.M.S. Tireless, a British nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities, is currently en route to aid search efforts, along with an Australian navy ship fitted with a U.S. black-box detector and an additional unmanned submarine.

It is hoped these will boost efforts to locate the plane’s data and voice recorders, which likely have less than a week of battery life left but remain crucial to unraveling what caused the plane to go so tragically off course.

On Thursday, Malaysian authorities cleared all 227 passengers of any involvement in the disaster. Around two-thirds of those were Chinese nationals, and both the Beijing authorities and Chinese relatives of those on board have been vocal in their criticism of Malaysia’s handling of the ongoing investigation.

TIME Foreign Policy

Americans to Putin: You’re No Hitler

Drill of Russian Army
Vladimir Putin inspects Russian army drills near Leningrad in March. A vast majority of Americans view Putin as dishonest and untrustworthy, according to a new poll Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

A new poll says Americans don't view the Russian president as having anywhere near the menace of the Nazi leader, but they think Putin is just as strong a leader as Obama, who earns poor marks for his handling of the crisis in Crimea

Americans think Russian President Vladimir Putin just doesn’t hold a candle to Adolf Hitler when it comes to evil foreign bogeymen, according to a new poll.

The Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday found that just 24% of Americans compare Putin’s military aggression toward Ukraine with Hitler’s belligerent moves in the run-up to World War II. A majority of Americans, just over 50%, say that comparison goes too far.

Putin has increasingly become foreign enemy No. 1 to many Americans, especially in the wake of his country’s annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine. NATO’s top commander, General Philip M. Breedlove, said in an interview Wednesday that the 40,000 Russian troops massed along the border with Ukraine could invade with almost no warning.

A vast majority of Americans view Putin as dishonest and untrustworthy, according to the poll. But Americans are also evenly split on who is the better leader, Putin or President Barack Obama. Eighty percent of Americans are either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” that the fight between Putin and Western powers could draw the United States into a military conflict. And Obama gets bad marks for his handling of the crisis: 47% disapprove and only 41% approve.

The poll of 1,578 registered voters, conducted from March 26-31, has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

TIME Accident

Woman Killed in Australia Shark Attack

Australia Shark Attack
A shark killed Armstrong, 63, Thursday, April 3, 2014, as she swam with a group of swimmers off a popular Australian east coast beach, police said. NSW Police—Associated Press

A 63-year-old swimmer was taken and killed by a shark on her daily morning swim off a popular beach close to Sydney on Wednesday. It could be the second shark attack in a week, after the body of a missing diver was found with shark bites on it

An Australian woman was killed by a shark Wednesday while she was swimming off the country’s east coast, in what could be the second such attack in less than a week.

The woman, 63-year-old Christine Armstrong, was taken by the shark as she was swimming from the wharf to the popular beach of Tathra village, 210 miles (340 kilometers) south of Sydney, with a group of swimmers. Local police have deployed a helicopter and a boat to search for her remains, the Associated Press reports.

Armstrong has been swimming at the beach every morning for 14 years with a group of locals, a statement released by her family said.

“Swimming brought her much joy and many friends,” her family said. “She will be sadly missed by all who loved her, especially by Rob, her husband of 44 years.”

Also on Wednesday, the body of a 38-year-old man who had gone missing while diving with friends off Australia’s west coast on Saturday was found with shark bites in it, the Guardian reports. It was unclear whether the shark bites had caused the man’s death.

In recent decades, there have been fewer than two fatal shark attacks per year in Australia.



TIME southeast asia

Gunmen Kidnap Two Women From a Malaysian Resort

Tourists take cover on the floor next to an overturned table as armed men occupy a hotel in Sabah, April 2, 2014. s_michelle—Reuters

Sino-Malaysian relations are already fraying in the wake of protests over missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The abduction of a Chinese holidaymaker is only going to make things worse

A Chinese tourist and Filipino staff member were kidnapped from a holiday resort in eastern Malaysia late Wednesday.

Terrified guests were left cowering behind furniture as five or six gunmen raided Singamata Reef Resort, in Sabah state on Borneo’s northeast coast, at around 10:30 p.m., reports Associated Press.

Gao Huayun, 29, from Shanghai, and an unnamed 40-year-old female receptionist were snatched as the raiders fled from the hotel jetty by boat. Around 50 armed security officials quickly arrived and guarded remaining guests in the resort’s main hall. All 61 holidaymakers — 59 of them Chinese nationals — left the following morning, although 10 new arrivals reportedly vowed to stay.

A hotel employee declined to provide further details when contacted Thursday morning. No ransom demands had been reported so far.

The raid is the latest such incident to blight Malaysia’s tourist destinations, which are already being shunned by Chinese travelers in the wake of the fallout over the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that vanished on March 8 with 153 Chinese nationals among its 227 passengers.

The kidnappings also come just as Sino-Malaysian relations are being tarnished by Beijing’s dissatisfaction over Kuala Lumpur’s handling of the investigation into MH370.

It remains unclear who is behind this latest incident. It is possible the abduction was the work of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, based in the southern Philippines, which in only a short sail from Sabah. In December, the group was responsible for kidnapping a Taiwanese couple, and killing the husband, near to where this incident took place.

“I reckon that the current kidnapping crisis was done by the Abu Sayyaf or just plain bandits, who may or may not have links to the Abu Sayyaf,” says Joseph Franco, associate research fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

The southern Philippines is notorious for myriad armed groups with competing territorial claims that fund themselves with low-level criminal enterprise. In February last year, insurgents from nearby Sulu — an autonomous island province of the Philippiness that has a territorial claim to Sabah — seized a Malaysian village and dug in for a standoff that lasted three weeks. At least 26 people were killed following an armed response by Malaysian troops. Other bands of southern Filipino militants are currently holding more than a dozen people hostage, including two bird watchers from Europe who were seized from the island province of Tawi-Tawi in 2012.

The Chinese consulate in Kuching issued a travel warning on Thursday, urging its nationals to take precautions when traveling in Sabah.

In response to the MH370 disappearance, Chinese travel agents are already refusing to book Malaysia Airlines and celebrities have called for the boycotting of Malaysian holiday resorts (some have even suggested economic sanctions), while relatives of those aboard the missing jet have unveiled banners in Kuala Lumpur calling the Malaysian authorities “murderers.” The kidnappings in Sabah will only take Chinese perceptions of Malaysia to a new low.


Musharraf Survives Assassination Attempt in Pakistan

A Pakistani policeman rolls barricade tape at the site of a bomb explosion in Islamabad on April 3, 2014. Aamir Qureshi - AFP/Getty Images

Former President Pervez Musharraf was targeted in a botched assassination attempt on Thursday when a bomb exploded minutes before his convoy was due to pass the site in Islamabad. He faces a litany of legal troubles since his return to the country last year

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf narrowly dodged an assassination attempt on Thursday when a bomb exploded minutes before his convoy was due to pass by in Islamabad.

No one was injured in the explosion’s wake, according to officials.

“Four kilograms of explosive device planted in a pipeline under a bridge exploded around 20 minutes before the former president was supposed to cross the spot,” senior police official Liaqat Niazi told AFP.

The former military ruler, who headed the country with an iron fist from 1999 to 2008, has been facing myriad legal troubles, including charges of high treason, since he returned to Pakistan last year. Thursday’s botched assassination scheme was the fourth such attempt to kill Musharraf, AFP reports. The first three attempts occurred during his decade as Pakistan’s leader.


TIME Travel

Report: China to Power Growth in World Tourism

A man drags a suitcase with a girl sitting on it at a long-distance bus terminus in Qingdao, Shandong province
A man drags a suitcase with a girl sitting on it at a bus terminus in China on Jan. 16, 2014 China Daily—Reuters

A new report by the Amadeus travel and consultancy group Oxford Economics says China and other emerging markets are the main forces that will drive the travel industry, which is expected to grow at a faster rate than the global economy over the next decade

China will be the driving force behind a decade of growth in the global travel industry, according to a new report.

The report, conducted for the travel agency Amadeus by the consultancy group Oxford Economics, found that the travel industry will grow at a faster rate than the global economy over the next 10 years, in large part thanks to China and other major emerging countries such as India, Indonesia, Russia and Brazil.

“The global travel industry is poised for a period of sustained growth over the next decade, driven in part by China’s share of global outbound travel reaching as much as 20% by 2023,” Amadeus said in a statement.

The rapidly growing middle class in China will make the country overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest outbound-travel market this year and the biggest domestic travel market in 2017, the report said. The report suggests the global travel industry is finally emerging from the financial crisis, which took a heavy toll on the industry.

“Forecasts predict a new golden era for travel, which will be welcome news for many segments of the industry that are only just beginning to emerge from recession” Holger Taubmann, Amadeus’ senior vice president, said in a statement.

Business travel is also booming in Asia, and according to the report, Asia will account for just over half of the growth in global business travels in the next 10 years, while the West will not reach the level of short-haul business travel it had prior to the financial crisis in 2008 until after 2018.

TIME Middle East

U.N. Says 1 Million Syrian Refugees Are in Lebanon

The influx of Syrians, who now account for one-fourth of Lebanon's population, has immensely strained the nation’s political, economic and health care systems, reduced the quality of its infrastructure and pushed some schools past capacity

The Syrian civil war marked a grim milestone on Wednesday as the number of people who have fled into Lebanon and registered as refugees surpassed one million, according to the United Nations Refugees Agency.

The spiraling conflict that began in March 2011 has killed at least 150,000 people and uprooted more than nine million others. An estimated 1.6 million of them are spread between Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. But it is fragile Lebanon that has by far taken the brunt.

One-quarter of the country’s residents are now Syrian, according to the U.N. There were almost 18,000 refugees in Lebanon in April 2012, about 13 months after the demonstrations, but that swelled to nearly 356,000 as the revolution turned into civil war. Now the organization registers 2,500 refugees each day.


Lebanon’s generally open-door policy for Syrians has immensely strained the tiny country’s political and economic systems, as well as its overall stability. There’s less trade, tourism and investment. Many schools are at full capacity—520,000 of the million refugees are children, but of the 400,000 of them who are school-aged, only 90,000 are in classrooms—and its infrastructure is stretched thin.

Bombings along the border serve as a reminder that even those who leave Syria in search of safety or better opportunities aren’t guaranteed anything.

(MORE: Ordeal of a Dying Child Captures the Tragedy of Syria)

TIME europe

NATO Chief Says Russia Could Attack Ukraine Without Warning

NATO's top military chief, General Breedlove, attends a news conference at Pristina Military Airport
NATO's top military chief, General Philip Breedlove, warned that the threat from Russian troops located within striking distance of Ukraine's border is very potent. Here he is seen at the Pristina Military Airport June 7, 2013. © Hazir Reka—Reuters

NATO's chief says Russian troops are prepared to strike Ukraine on 12-hours notice and could accomplish their military objectives within days

The 40,000 Russian troops massed close to the border with Ukraine could attack with little warning and seize control of parts of the country in a matter of days, the top NATO commander said in a new interview.

General Philip M. Breedlove warned in an interview with the New York Times that the potent mix of warplanes, helicopter units, artillery, infantry and commandos could move with just 12 hours notice and achieve Russia’s military objectives just a few days.

“Essentially, the force is ready to go,” Breedlove said. “We believe it could accomplish its objective between three to five days. I think they have all the opportunities and they can make whatever decision they want.” Reflecting skepticism that the troops are massed for a training exercise like Russian officials have said, Breedlove added: “This is a very large, very well-equipped force to be called an exercise.”

Breedlove’s comments suggest the recent movement of Russian troops away from the border was part of a regular rotation, rather than the pullback some had hoped.

“What we can say now is that we do see a battalion-size unit moving, but what we can’t confirm is that it is leaving the battlefield,” Breedlove said. “Whether that movement is aft to a less belligerent configuration or returning to barracks, we do not see that.”


TIME South America

Powerful Aftershock Rocks Chile a Day After Massive Earthquake

A resident walks along a damaged road after an earthquake and tsunami hit the northern port of Iquique
A resident walks along a damaged road to Alto Hospicio commune after an earthquake and tsunami hit the northern port of Iquique April 2, 2014. Ivan Alvarado - Reuters

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile late on Wednesday night, shaking the same area where a more powerful earthquake hit just a day before and caused some damage and six deaths

A massive aftershock struck northern Chile on Wednesday night, just a day after an earthquake prompted evacuations of cities along the coast, generated a 7-ft tsunami that crashed into the country’s northern coast, and set off tsunami warnings across the Pacific.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center posted a regional tsunami warning after Wednesday’s aftershock, but said there were no indications of a substantial threat to communities elsewhere in the Pacific.

Wednesday night’s 7.8 magnitude quake was the largest of myriad aftershocks in the past 24 hours and struck about 14 miles south of Iquique, setting off evacuations in northern Chile, where six people were killed by the quake on Tuesday.


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