Anti-government action not goal of 'Cuban Twitter' -USAID chief
* Senator: program endangered imprisoned American in Cuba
* Social network called "cockamamie idea"
* USAID chief says ZunZuneo was "discreet," not covert
WASHINGTON, April 8 (Reuters) - The social network set up as a form of Twitter in Cuba was not designed to foment dissent against Havana's communist government, the head of the U.S. agency behind it said on Tuesday.
Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, appeared before a Senate subcommittee to discuss the agency's $20 billion budget but some of the questioning focused on the social network ZunZuneo that USAID launched in Cuba in 2010.
Last week, a lengthy report by the Associated Press said ZunZuneo, which took its name from Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet and was similar to the U.S.-based Twitter network, had been set up as a tool for mobilizing demonstrations in Cuba.
Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, called ZunZuneo a "cockamamie idea" that endangered Alan Gross, 64, an American who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba after being arrested in 2009 while working for USAID there.
The AP said the USAID plan called for ZunZuneo to start with non-controversial discussion topics such as sports, music and weather and that its operators would introduce politics once the network had established a sizeable following. They hoped eventually to use it to "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society," according to a USAID document cited by the AP.
Shah said ZunZuneo was not intended to disrupt the Cuban government and was in line with USAID policy to improve communications in the country, including through Internet usage, and was similar to programs it had in other parts of the world. Continuación...