On April 8th a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the upcoming funding of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). One of the subjects of the hearing was the agency’s social media program for Cuba.
Dr. Rahiv Shah, the USAID Administrator, testified that the program was “an attempt to promote open communications between citizens on the island nation, not a covert attempt to overthrow the government.” He also said the program “was similar to others that the agency has financed in Africa to help citizens monitor elections.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, the subcommittee chair, did not buy that explanation. He said the program was ill conceived and endangered the lives of agency workers. “It taints U.S.A.I.D. workers as spies.” He also called it a “cockamamie” idea doomed to discovery and failure and complained that the agency did not adequately describe to Congress the program it was secretly operating. His voice rising in anger at moments, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, “This one from the get-go had no possibility of working.”
Senator Leahy also was clearly upset when Dr. Shah did not answer the Senator’s repeated question, “Whose idea was this [program]?” Finally Dr. Shah said he did not know who initially proposed the program before he was the agency administrator.
Another subject of Senator Leahy’s visible annoyance was Dr. Shah’s insistence that the program was legal and not covert. The Senator blamed it for further endangering the life of Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009.
Earlier this year the Senator called for fundamental changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba. He said the U.S. needs “to modernize our policies and the frozen-in-time embargo on Americans’ travel and trade with Cuba that have accomplished nothing but to give the Cuban regime a scapegoat for the failures of the Cuban economy. Change will come to Cuba, but our policies have delayed and impeded change.” Leahy concluded, “Let us have the common sense, and the courage, to finally put an end to the Cold War in our own hemisphere.”
 This post is based on articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Huffington Post. An earlier post and a comment thereto discussed the recent Associated Press’ report about the program and the reactions to it.