Miami youth group helped ‘Cuban Twitter’ program

MIAMI (AP) —— 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 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.

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.

An AP investigation published April 3 revealed the U.S. government went to great lengths to hide its role in ZunZuneo. The program used foreign bank transactions and computer networks. Documents show ZunZuneo organizers aimed to effect democratic change in Cuba. The Obama administration has maintained the service had a more neutral purpose.