Previous posts have discussed misguided covert or “discreet” U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba through the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This is still happening as revealed in a recent hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
On April 26, the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere heard testimony regarding this and other issues from Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau; Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Elizabeth Hogan, Acting Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID.
Highlights of Hearing
Thomas Malinowski 
Malinowski’s prepared direct testimony was focused on how the Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau (DRL) “works to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in closed societies . . . through the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) . . . [which] has grown from $8 million in FY 1998 to $88.5 million in FY 2016.” This past year there were almost 350 such grants “totaling almost $500 million that benefit civil society and activists around the world in their struggle for freedom and dignity.” (Emphasis added.)
With respect to Cuba, he testified, the Bureau was “committed to supporting the people of Cuba as they seek the basic freedoms that their government denies. . . . Consistent with . . . [President Obama’s messages to the Cuban people on his recent visit] DRL programs in Cuba respond to the needs and wishes of the Cuban people, by promoting human rights, facilitating the flow of uncensored information, and strengthening independent civil society. Cuban government restrictions on civil and political rights increase the degree of difficulty of program implementation. But despite these challenges, DRL has been able to sustain consistent support to Cuban civil society for the past 10 years, and we will continue to do so with your support. As the President has made clear our new approach to Cuba is not based on the premise that the human rights situation there has improved; rather it is based on the belief that we will be better able to support the demands of the Cuban people if we keep the focus on the Cuban government’s policies rather than allowing the regime to blame American policies for its problems.” (Emphasis added.)
Francisco Palmieri 
Palmieri’s prepared direct testimony was devoted to supporting the Department’s “Fiscal Year 2017 foreign assistance request for the Western Hemisphere” of $1.7 billion. This includes “democracy assistance for Cuba and Venezuela, where the United States will continue to provide assistance to advance universal human rights and support vibrant civil society. The request for Cuba continues direct support for civil society. Promotion of democratic principles and human rights remains at the core of U.S. assistance to Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)
Elizabeth Hogan 
Hogan testified that USAID is “committed to supporting human rights everywhere we work, including in Cuba and other closing spaces where citizens are arbitrarily detained, threatened, harassed, and beaten for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights.” (Emphasis added.)
Indeed, the USAID website has a page (Last updated April 1, 2016) describing its work in Cuba. It states, “USAID focuses on increasing the ability of Cubans to participate in civic affairs and improve human rights conditions on the island. By reaching out to the dissident community and beyond and engaging citizens to enhance local leadership skills, strengthen organizational capacity, facilitate outreach strategies, and support greater access to information and communication, the USAID program contributes to the development of independent civil society groups that can ultimately make significant contributions at the local and national levels.” 
More specifically, the USAID website says it (a) “provides on-going humanitarian support to political prisoners and their families;” (b) “supports independent civic, social, and development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities . . . to work together in a manner independent from the state;” and (c) “disseminate[s] books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets to broad segments of the population but with an increasing emphasis on promoting the use of social media . . . [with distribution of] laptops to facilitate the sharing of information from USB drives, CDs, and DVDs. “ (Emphasis added.)
To these ends,, the Congress ““appropriated $55 million for Cuba programs between fiscal years 2009-2011; USAID managed nearly $31 million of this amount, while the Department of State managed the remainder. Also, $20 million has been appropriated for fiscal year 2012.”
USAID Inspector General’s Report on Its Cuba Programs
In December 2015 USAID’s Inspector General issued a report criticizing the agency’s programs in Cuba for inadequate monitoring, conflicts of interest and questions of legal responsibility for those involved; and the lack of a policy to protect sensitive work from subversion by Cuban intelligence officials. (Emphasis added.) The 89-page report contained 16 recommendations to improve accountability and prevent conflicts of interest. In response a USAID spokesperson said the agency already had completed several recommendations from the report with the remaining to be finished by July 2016. The spokesperson also noted that the report concluded that its Cuba programs were “consistent with U.S. legislation and designed to support activities ‘that expand the reach and impact of independent civil society in Cuba. 
Although the stated goals of the U.S. programs to support democracy in Cuba are laudable, the programs, in my opinion, are not because they are covert or “discreet” as the U.S. bureaucrats like to say because the State Department and USAID are statutorily prohibited from conducting “covert” activities. Yet simultaneously there is general discussion of the programs in the U.S. public record. In short, such programs are antithetical to the promotion of democracy.
Moreover, such programs understandably prompt Cuban authorities to investigate and monitor supposed dissident activities in Cuba, especially given the history of U.S. hostility towards the island and the vastly superior military and economic power of the U.S. Indeed, these U.S. activities prompt the question of whether they are the actual or perceived reasons for Cuba’s reported persecution of dissidents and whether one of the reasons for the U.S. programs is to provoke those very Cuban responses and the subsequent U.S. criticisms, as covered in a recent post.
 U.S. Secret Cuba Social Media Program Raises Questions About the Validity of Criticism of Cuba by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (April 4, 2014); U.S. Senate Hearing Discusses USAID’s Social Media Program for Cuba (April 9, 2014); What Is Wrong with the White House’s Plan for Democracy in Cuba? (April 9, 2014); Yet Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba (Aug. 12, 2014); Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: U.S. Government’s Reactions (Aug. 13, 2014); Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: Other Reactions (Aug. 14, 2014); New York Times Criticizes USAID’s Efforts To Promote Regime Change in Cuba (Nov. 10, 2014); Email to President Obama Objecting to Covert or “Discreet” U.S. Government Programs Purportedly Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba (Jan. 7, 2015); Reforming U.S. “Democracy Promotion” Programs in Cuba (Nov. 6, 2015).
 U.S. Senate, Foreign Relations Comm., Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, Review of Resources, Priorities and Programs in the FY 2017 State Department Budget Request (April 26, 2016) I have not been able to find the actual budget request, which would be interesting to peruse.
 Testimony of Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (April 26, 2016). Palmieri also testified that the U.S. was not going to change its “dry feet” policy for admission of Cubans into the U.S.
 USAID Inspector General Report (Dec. 2015) ( (no longer available online); Assoc. Press, Watchdog: Secret US ‘Cuban Twitter’ Programs Problematic, N.Y. Times (Dec. 23, 2015) (no longer available online); Statement by USAID Spokesman Ben Edwards (Dec. 23, 2015).