The Associated Press is reporting that an Obama administration program secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change, a clandestine operation that put those foreigners in danger even after a U.S. contractor was hauled away to a Cuban jail.
According to a team of AP reporters:
Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.
In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called ‘the perfect excuse’ for the program’s political goals – a gambit that could undermine America’s efforts to improve health globally.
But their efforts were fraught with incompetence and risk, an Associated Press investigation found: Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers. The young workers nearly blew their mission to ‘identify potential social-change actors.’ One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught.
‘Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you,’ read a memo obtained by the AP. ‘Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.’
In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the program in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.
The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, continued the program even as U.S. officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology.
The full story, as well as supporting documents, is here.
In April, the AP reported that USAID had operated a social media network in Cuba until 2012.
Commenting to AP, USAID put out this statement:
“USAID and the Obama administration are committed to supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. USAID works with independent youth groups in Cuba on community service projects, public health, the arts and other opportunities to engage publicly, consistent with democracy programs worldwide.”