Cuba: another USAID program exposed

From October 2009 to some time in 2011 the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored a program that paid almost a dozen youths from Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela to travel to Cuba in order to obtain intelligence information and identify potential government opponents among students and other youths, according to an investigation that the Associated Press (AP) wire service published on Aug. 4. The revelation comes four months after AP reported on the agency's ZunZuneo "Cuban Twitter" program. Like ZunZuneo, the program employed the Washington, DC-based private contractor Creative Associates International for operations. Analysts said these revelations indicate that the US is losing interest in the older generation of Cuban dissidents and is trying to develop opposition among younger Cubans.

"USAID's young operatives posed as tourists, visited college campuses and used a ruse that could undermine USAID's credibility in critical health work around the world: an HIV-prevention workshop one called the ‘perfect excuse' to recruit political activists," AP reported. The youths in the programs risked 10 years in prison for anti-government activities if caught, but some were paid as little as $5.41 an hour. On Aug. 4 US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki defended the program as "support for Cuban civil society," but documents that AP posted online suggest something more like a secret intelligence operation. When speaking to AP, Yajaira Andrade, the administrator of a Venezuelan group called Renova that was involved in the program, described her group's activities as "some Venezuelans…working to stir rebellion."

On Aug. 8 Cuban public health official María Isela Lantero Abreu called the use of an HIV program for political purposes "monstrous." The Cuba operation "may have been good business for USAID's contractor," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who chairs the US Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees USAID, said on Aug. 4, "but it tarnishes USAID's long track record as a leader in global health." An editorial in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada described the Cuba operation as "a reiteration of the inveterate US mania for destabilizing sovereign governments in the hemisphere." As Latin American governments move towards increased cooperation among themselves, these programs "will end up deepening the isolation of the superpower in the region… Washington, far from being a guarantor of international legality, democracy and human rights, has become an habitual and systematic violator of such principles." (AP, Aug. 4; LJ, Aug. 5, editorial, Aug. 9, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 10.