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US contractors profiled 'Cuban Twitter' responses

Desmond Butler and Alberto Arce

Associated Press

Apr 30, 2014

Excerpt: Paula Cambronero was studying public relations at a Costa Rican college when she landed her first real job working for a U.S. government contractor. But it wasn't to write press releases.

As part of a program shrouded in secrecy to build a "Cuban Twitter" on the Communist-governed island, Cambronero profiled Cuban cellphone users, categorizing them as "pro-revolution," ''apolitical" or "anti-revolutionary."

The social media network, paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development, sought to undermine the Cuban government through cellphone text messaging to get around the island's Internet restrictions, The Associated Press detailed in an investigation published in early April.

The plan for the bare-bones service, known as ZunZuneo, was to build a subscriber base slowly through innocuous news messages, then when it reached a critical mass of users, introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize "smart mobs" to "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society," according to documents obtained by the AP.

Following the AP's report, USAID chief Rajiv Shah told a U.S. Senate panel that the program was not intended to influence Cuban politics. But that doesn't square with Cambronero's work, first as an intern then as a contracted employee, as detailed in the documents.