On October 19, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced another objectionable “democracy promotion” program in Cuba.
The New DRL Program
This time it was a DRL request for persons to submit “program ideas to promote internationally-recognized, civil, political, and labor rights in Cuba as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.” Such submissions shall be evaluated by DRL and some applicants will be selected to submit full proposal applications. The eventual successful applications are expected to have funding of $5.6 million.
The announcement stated that DRL does not fund programs to support Cuban government institutions. Instead, examples of typical funded programs include:
- “Organizational assistance to Cuban civil society to improve management, strategic planning, sustainability, and collaboration of local civil society groups such as labor groups, civil and political rights groups, youth groups, and religious freedom advocates, and that encourage the participation of marginalized populations;
- Capacity building on and off the island. Off-island activities sometimes include short-term fellowships;
- Access to software that would be easily accessible in an open society, or the adaption of said software for the Cuban technological environment;
- Assistance mechanisms designed to provide independent Cuban civil society with tools, opportunities, and trainings that civil society counterparts in open societies can access;
- Incorporation of independent Cuban civil society into initiatives, fora, and coalitions led by their regional and global civil society counterparts; and
- Increase access to uncensored information within the island.”
This program, says DRL, purportedly is justified by its allegation: “The Cuban government fails to respect the above universal rights, in particular the freedom of speech, by limiting independent journalists and media, censoring and limiting access to the internet, maintaining a monopoly on political power and media outlets, circumscribing academic freedom, and limiting religious freedom. The government refuses to recognize non-governmental human rights groups or permit them to function legally. The government continues to prevent workers from forming independent unions and dismisses or otherwise limits economic opportunities for workers who exercise any of their rights in contradiction of government policy. Common human rights abuses in Cuba include a lack of periodic and genuine elections-thereby denying citizens the right to participate in their government -selective prosecution and denial of fair trial, as well as the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, organized mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly. Authorities lack transparency and pervasively monitor private communications.”
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, noticed this DRL public announcement and immediately condemned it as “subversive” and “containing all the usual ingredients of the typical aggressive and interventionist policies of the past.”
Moreover, Granma says, the DRL announcement was inconsistent with the recent “Presidential Policy Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization,” which was replicated in a prior post. That Directive said that so-called democracy promotion programs for Cuba would be “transparent.”
Granma also rejects the allegation that it does not respect human rights while asserting that the U.S. has many blemishes on its human rights record.
I share DRL’s belief in the importance of “internationally-recognized, civil, political, and labor rights . . . as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.” I also share the DRL’s belief that Cuba has deficiencies in these rights while regretting U.S. inability to appreciate Cuba’s legitimate suspicion of such U.S. criticism as a cover for regime-change efforts by its larger and more powerful northern neighbor. I also concur in the Presidential Policy Directive’s statement that any and all U.S. democracy programs in Cuba should be “transparent.”
But DRL’s public announcement on the Internet of its solicitation of submissions of interest from U.S. or foreign NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) or universities in becoming contractors to conduct such programs does not constitute transparency. It does not because the DRL announcement does not say that such programs will be conducted with the knowledge and cooperation of the Cuban government. Indeed, DRL affirmatively states that it does not fund programs to support Cuban government institutions and previous DRL programs on the island were not conducted transparently. Instead they were conducted undercover or secretly.
A prior post criticized the Policy Directive’s failure to announce cessation of U.S. secretive “democracy promotion” programs and this blogger had hoped that there would be a subsequent announcement to that effect. Instead, we have this objectionable DRL request for proposals.
Such DRL programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are inherently self-contradictory. Promote democracy and human rights with anti-democratic programs that are secret and undercover and without the permission and cooperation of the country’s government? NO!
 U.S. State Dep’t, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Programs Fostering Civil, Political, and Labor Rights in Cuba (Oct. 19, 2016).