- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cuban-Americans are divided over the revelation by The Associated Press that the U.S. government spent millions of dollars to secretly create a “Cuban Twitter” designed to undermine the island's communist government.

Some view the project as a welcome alternative to the decades-old Cold War between the United States and Cuba that has involved more violent efforts to overthrow the Castro government, including a failed plot to give then-President Fidel Castro an exploding cigar. For others, the news sparked fear that the program would only help the Cuban government’s efforts to discredit the island’s small movement of independent journalists and bloggers.

Between 2010 and 2012, the social network ZunZuneo attracted tens of thousands of Cubans seeking ways to evade their government’s strict control over media and communication. In fact, ZunZuneo was created through a U.S. State Department grant to eventually transmit anti-government political messages and to encourage widespread dissent among the island’s youth.

The revelations come at a particularly sensitive time for activists on the island, as renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez prepares to launch her independent media project next month.

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“I don’t think it was a bad thing if it was opening up people’s minds. … Look, the (U.S. government) had to change its tactics. With the embargo, nothing happened for more than 50 years. At least this way they were helping people communicate.” - Miami construction worker Ivan Marrero, 48, who fled Cuba in 2005 by boat.

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“What do I think? I think it was a good thing. I hope that it gains momentum so that the people realize what is going on in the outside world and things change also in Cuba.” - Miami-based massage therapy student Belkis Hernandez, 44.

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“This is extremely counter-productive to the whole intent of trying to get reliable and credible information to the Cuban people without having to undermine the Cuban government. … The Cuban government will do everything possible to discredit Yoani (Sanchez) and other opposition leaders inside Cuba using this kind of information.” - Andy Gomez, a Cuba expert and senior policy adviser with the law firm Poblete Tamargo.

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“This is more of the same. … It’s clear the regime change policy is working in full mode.” - Arturo Lopez Levy, a Cuban-born economist who lectures at the University of Denver.

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“We would have bought into it if anybody had come to us for it. As a matter of fact, we may go out and ask (Cuban-American) investors to see if they want to put money in that.” - Cuban exile Pepe Hernandez, a director of the Miami-based nonprofit Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, which receives money from USAID for its work on the island.

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“What’s the story? That the United States supports people’s ability to access open media? … We’re talking about Cubans (who) were not allowed to communicate on social media, who cannot even own a satellite dish, where there is no freedom of press.” - Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., whose father served in the administration of Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista and fled Cuba after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

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“The bottom line of the story is the Cuban people have no way of communicating with each other, and the U.S. government tried to provide a platform. … As a broad concept, I’m not a big believer that nonprofits are good vehicles to bring down governments. That isn’t how I would have set it up. I would have done everything but ‘and then we promote dissent.’ If you do it right, the dissent would come on its own. But this is a country where people desperately fear dissent because of what the government does to punish dissent. I wish I would have thought of the idea.” - Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., whose parents left the island in the 1960s.

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“USAID is not a secret organization and they don’t get their funds through secret means. They present their budget to Congress. Congress approves their budget. … This is part of our program routinely done throughout the world for many years to help the people of oppressed countries get information where their repressive government denies them that opportunity.” - Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who left Cuba as a child with her parents following the Cuban revolution.

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