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Congress reacts to US-backed 'Cuban Twitter'

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The Associated Press | April 10, 2014 05:09 PM EST | AP


In hearings this week on foreign-aid spending, Congress was divided on a now-defunct social media program in Cuba that was secretly backed by the U.S. government. A recent investigation by The Associated Press revealed the program, designed to undermine the island's communist government.

The revelations of the "Cuban Twitter" project drew strong reactions from some members of Congress, especially those who represent districts in Florida, which is home to many Cuban-Americans. Some lawmakers questioned whether the U.S. Agency for International Development was the best agency to run the program.

The contractors who developed the project took great care to keep the U.S. government's role hidden from subscribers in Cuba, using bank transactions and computer networks overseas.

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"I don't think we should stop at Twitter-like programs; I think we should do everything possible. Maybe USAID is not the perfect agency for this... We should do everything we can to provide the people of Cuba and other repressed societies access to the Internet." —Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at Thursday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

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"Do we want to continue to fund programs like this that, in my view, might put USAID contractors or individuals from other countries — including Cuba — that participate in this program in danger?" —Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., at Thursday's Senate Foreign Relation Committee hearing.

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"This issue we're debating, Mr. Chairman, is whether or not USAID should be taking steps to promote human rights, the rule of law and democratic governance throughout the world. I say, yes." —Cuban-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., at a House Foreign Affairs hearing Wednesday.

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"Press reports from last week on the Cuba program highlight my long-standing concerns on the potential politicization of development activities that puts both the programs and people at USAID at risk." —Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

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"The purpose of this program, like the purpose of other similar programs, is to support civil society and to provide platforms to communicate amongst the Cuban people. Any representation that the purpose of the program is different from that is inaccurate. We have programs like this in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, throughout the world." —USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, testifying Tuesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

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"Dumb, dumb, dumb." —Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on MSNBC last week about the program.

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"Not to say that that isn't an important mission, but why would we put that mission in USAID? Why wouldn't you look at some other part of the federal government to place that mission? To me, it seems crazy. It just seems crazy that you would be in the middle of that." —Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., at Tuesday's Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.