Leaders at Roots of Hope, which seeks to build bridges between Cubans in the U.S. and on the island, connected contractors with potential investors and at least two of its board of directors went on to work as paid consultants for the U.S. Agency for International Development's text-messaging service on the island known as "ZunZuneo," according to the AP.
Roots of Hope has been a key player in events like Latin pop star Juanes' 2009 peace concert in Havana, which drew over a million people. Its leaders also recently went with Cuban blogger and Castro critic Yoani Sanchez to Washington where she meet with Vice President Joe Biden.
USAID said the group did not enter into any grants or contracts related to ZunZuneo. AP reports that Roots of Hope co-founder Felice Gorordo confirmed he had been asked to help identify donors, but did not know there was an agenda behind the program.
"Personally I thought it had merit. It wasn't political. It had the goal of promoting shared information," Gorordo told the AP. "But it was not viable because it was a government project, and we do not accept U.S. government funding."
Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, who has supported Roots' work, said he does not believe the connection will damage the group in the long term.
"Using a Twitter feed or a messaging system that allows Cubans to communicate with each other is a good thing, no matter who pays for it."
- The Associated Press