* Region primed to use social media for social change
* Lugar urges State Dept to help expand social media
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, Oct 4 The United States should move
aggressively to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook
to promote its agenda in Latin America and help newly wired
citizens cement political gains, said a new U.S. report
obtained by Reuters.
Senator Richard Lugar said countries such as Cuba,
Venezuela and Nicaragua still sought to curb economic and
political freedoms, while other Latin American countries needed
help buttressing emerging civil society groups.
Social media tools on the Internet, which played a central
role in the "Arab Spring" uprisings across North Africa and the
Middle East, may be even more influential in Latin America,
said Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations
"Latin America does have the advantage of more mobile phone
subscriptions, Internet users, broadband access, and secure
Internet servers than the Middle East," Lugar said in the
preface to the report, which his office is expected to release
The State Department should do more to help Latin American
countries address shortfalls in infrastructure and know-how,
particularly as economic competitors such as China compete with
the United States for influence in the region, it said.
"At a time when U.S. political influence is waning in the
region, it is clear that U.S. driven technological trends could
redefine relationships with many countries in Latin America,"
the report said.
The report by Carl Meacham, Lugar's senior staffer for
Latin America and the Caribbean, recommends the United States
support training programs in advanced software engineering as
well as basic computer and online literacy programs in Latin
With only 12 percent of online resources available in
Spanish or Portuguese, the report said the State Department
should also support development of local websites and
translation of other Internet resources.
Led by Brazil, the region's economic heavyweight, shoppers
in many Latin American countries are snapping up computers and
cell phones, making the region a major growth market for
Internet giants including Google Inc (GOOG.O).
To reach even more of Latin America's 600 million people,
Lugar's report said private companies and governments should
concentrate on low-bandwidth infrastructure, such as that
needed for text messaging to social media sites, while
developing content that can be used with slow connection
Alec Ross, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's adviser on
innovation, said Lugar's report was in harmony with U.S.
government efforts to expand Internet access around the world
through everything from "tech training camps" for bloggers to
developing software that can bypass firewalls imposed by
"For us, (social media) is a way of connecting and engaging
with people who tend not to sit at mahogany tables in
diplomatic conference rooms," Ross told Reuters.
(Editing by Andrew Quinn and Peter Cooney)