On August 4th, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had funded and implemented a program in 2010-2012 to attract young Cubans for purported civic programs on the island with the real purpose of recruiting them to anti-government activism.
A number of U.S. NGOs interested in U.S.-Cuba relations criticized the program. For example, the Latin American Working Group, one of the nation’s longest-standing coalitions of over 60 major religious, humanitarian, grassroots and policy organizations, said, “Programs like this greatly hamper efforts to restore relations between the United States and Cuba. The ‘Travelers Project’ not only delegitimizes global healthcare programs, but erodes trust in the U.S. Government both abroad and at home. This program has cost the United States a considerable amount of money and credibility and is a great setback to productive and respectful engagement with Cuba.”
According to Professor William L. LeoGrande, American University of Washington, D.C., “Cuba already has the best HIV/AIDS prevention program and the lowest incidence rate in Latin America. Or that everywhere else in the world, USAID’s laudable work on HIV/AIDS is conducted openly in partnership with the host government. The program in Cuba is obviously not about HIV/AIDS at all. That was just the cover story — “the perfect excuse,” as one of the program documents called it — for the real goal of recruiting “potential social change actors.”
LeoGrande added that the program was secret, covert and undercover under “the common sense meaning” of those words and that the USAID contrary position was absurd. Moreover, this and other USAID Cuba programs “have demonstrated a clear pattern of knowingly putting innocent people at serious legal risk in Cuba by involving them in subversive activity without their knowledge. That is morally reprehensible, indefensible, and sufficient reason by itself to de-fund these programs once and for all. . . . The other clear pattern these programs exhibit is comical incompetence.”
Similar criticisms were voiced by the following:
- Pan-American Post: criticism of USAID’s use of HIV clinics as a front, confusing Cubans’ complaints with willingness to rebel against the government and providing minimal training for the people it secretly sent to Cuba;
- Andrew Breiner of the ThinkProgress blog: U.S. using health programs in several foreign countries for ulterior purposes leads to distrust of health workers in foreign countries;
- Phil Peters, President of the Cuba Research Center, condemns USAID’s lack of responsibility and disrespect for the Cuban citizens that are unknowingly swept into the agency’s poorly organized secret operations and USAID’s denial that the program was covert; and
- Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development said the use of an HIV workshop as a front for political subversion will “only make the distrust worse” in many of the places where the agency operates and potentially damage U.S.-Latin America cooperation in the face of global challenges such as the current Ebola outbreak.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations understandingly objected to this USAID program. It said, the program “reconfirms that the [U.S.] government has not renounced its hostile, interventionist strategy in Cuba, meant to create destabilizing situations and provoke change in our political order, and to which millions of dollars are destined every year. The [U.S.] government must immediately end all subversive, illegal undercover operations in Cuba, which violate of our sovereignty and the express will of the Cuban people to perfect our economic and social model, and consolidate our democracy.”
A similar statement was released by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Free Trade Agreement of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP), whose members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Venezuela.
On the other hand, some of the Costa Rican and Venezuelan participants in the program denied that the purpose of the program was to foment a revolution against the Cuban government.
As of August 13th, no comment on this program has been made by Creative Associates International, the private contractor that operated the program for USAID. In fact, the company’s website does not mention Cuba at all.
One does not promote democracy and human rights by using antidemocratic and anti-human rights tactics like this USAID program. It is immoral and stupid.
In fact, programs like this reinforce Cuban limits on dissent. When a small and poor country like Cuba faces covert subversion programs and long-term hostility from its vastly superior, militarily and economically, neighbor to the north, that small country has to be vigilant in its own self-defense and self-preservation. If the U.S. really wanted to improve democracy and human rights in Cuba, the U.S. would enter into good-faith negotiations with Cuba to end the U.S. embargo of the island and resolve a multitude of other issues leading to reconciliation and restoration of normal diplomatic relations.
Finally the U.S. assertion that this and other USAID Cuban programs are not secret, covert and undercover is nothing but Orwellian gobbledygook.