Miami Youth Group Helped 'Cuban Twitter'
MIAMI April 22, 2014 (AP)
By CHRISTINE ARMARIO and LAURA WIDES MUNOZ Associated Press
Leaders with the largest nonprofit organization for young
Cuban-Americans quietly provided strategic support for the federal
government's secret "Cuban Twitter" program, connecting contractors with
potential investors and serving as paid consultants, The Associated
Press has learned.
Interviews and documents obtained by the AP show leaders of Roots of
Hope were approached by the "Cuban Twitter" program's organizers in
early 2011 about taking over the text-messaging service, known as
ZunZuneo, and discussed shifting it into private hands. Few investors
were willing to privately finance ZunZuneo, and Roots of Hope members
dropped the idea. But at least two people on its board of directors went
on to work as consultants, even as they served in an organization that
explicitly refused to accept any U.S. government funds and distanced
itself from groups that did.
The disclosure could have wide repercussions for what has become one of
the most visible and influential Cuban-American organizations.
Chris Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas Society and
Council of the Americas, said he wasn't surprised that Roots of Hope's
leaders had been approached by federal contractors about the project,
given the large sums of money available and the limited number of
creative, tech-savvy groups that work on Cuba issues.
"I think it does risk tainting the group, a group that I think has done
amazing work and changed the discussion and mobilized a new generation
toward a much more pragmatic agenda," Sabatini said.
Roots of Hope has been a key player in events like Latin pop star
Juanes' 2009 peace concert that drew more than a million people in
Havana, and in the promotion of technology on the island. Its leaders
recently accompanied Cuban blogger and Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to
Washington to help her develop a new independent media project in Cuba.
Links to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which funded
ZunZuneo, could make that prospect more difficult. Sanchez herself has
been adamant in not accepting any government funding.
USAID spokesman Matt Herrick declined to provide the names of any
individuals employed by its contractor but said Roots of Hope did not
enter into any grants or contracts related to ZunZuneo, which ended in
September 2012. However, documents obtained by the AP show extensive
involvement at times by the organization's board members.
An AP investigation published April 3 revealed the U.S. government went
to great lengths to hide its role in ZunZuneo. The program, operated by
contractor Creative Associates International, used foreign bank
transactions and computer networks. Documents show ZunZuneo organizers
aimed to effect democratic change in Cuba and drafted overtly political
messages critical of the Castro government. The Obama administration has
maintained the service had a more neutral purpose.
Roots of Hope was launched at a conference at Harvard University in 2003
by college students seeking to connect with youth on the island. The
organization quickly established a network of more than 4,000 students
and young professionals. In 2009, it began focusing on technology access
in Cuba with an initiative to collect and send cellphones and later USB
flash drives to the island.
Source: Miami Youth Group Helped 'Cuban Twitter' - ABC News -