Posts Tagged ‘USAID’

Cuba Made Simple

February 27, 2015

Of Dissidents and Self-Defense
By William Blum
Global Research, February 27, 2015

“The trade embargo can be fully lifted only through legislation – unless Cuba forms a democracy, in which case the president can lift it.”

Aha! So that’s the problem, according to a Washington Post columnist – Cuba is not a democracy! That would explain why the United States does not maintain an embargo against Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt and other distinguished pillars of freedom. The mainstream media routinely refer to Cuba as a dictatorship. Why is it not uncommon even for people on the left to do the same? I think that many of the latter do so in the belief that to say otherwise runs the risk of not being taken seriously, largely a vestige of the Cold War when Communists all over the world were ridiculed for blindly following Moscow’s party line. But what does Cuba do or lack that makes it a dictatorship?

No “free press”? Apart from the question of how free Western media is, if that’s to be the standard, what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control almost all the media worth owning or controlling?

Is it “free elections” that Cuba lacks? They regularly have elections at municipal, regional and national levels. (They do not have direct election of the president, but neither do Germany or the United Kingdom and many other countries). Money plays virtually no role in these elections; neither does party politics, including the Communist Party, since candidates run as individuals. Again, what is the standard by which Cuban elections are to be judged? Is it that they don’t have the Koch Brothers to pour in a billion dollars? Most Americans, if they gave it any thought, might find it difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic election, without great concentrations of corporate money, would look like, or how it would operate. Would Ralph Nader finally be able to get on all 50 state ballots, take part in national television debates, and be able to match the two monopoly parties in media advertising? If that were the case, I think he’d probably win; which is why it’s not the case.

Or perhaps what Cuba lacks is our marvelous “electoral college” system, where the presidential candidate with the most votes is not necessarily the winner. If we really think this system is a good example of democracy why don’t we use it for local and state elections as well?

Is Cuba not a democracy because it arrests dissidents? Many thousands of anti-war and other protesters have been arrested in the United States in recent years, as in every period in American history. During the Occupy Movement two years ago more than 7,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police and mistreated while in custody. And remember: The United States is to the Cuban government like al Qaeda is to Washington, only much more powerful and much closer; virtually without exception, Cuban dissidents have been financed by and aided in other ways by the United States.

Would Washington ignore a group of Americans receiving funds from al Qaeda and engaging in repeated meetings with known members of that organization? In recent years the United States has arrested a great many people in the US and abroad solely on the basis of alleged ties to al Qaeda, with a lot less evidence to go by than Cuba has had with its dissidents’ ties to the United States. Virtually all of Cuba’s “political prisoners” are such dissidents. While others may call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense.

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power . His latest book is: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy.

Cuba: the Weight of a Long History

February 27, 2015


200 Years of US Interventionism
Cuba: the Weight of a Long History

The U.S. and Cuba are meeting again this week for their second round of normalization talks. When asked by the media what she expected from the first round, Roberta Jacobson, the senior diplomat leading the U.S. team, said that she was “not oblivious to the weight of history.” She was right on target: There is a very long history that begins well before the Revolution, deserves careful analysis, and will impact the talks.

As far back as 1809, Jefferson tried to purchase Cuba. In 1820 he went further; he told Secretary of War J.C. Calhoun that the U.S. “ought, at the first possible opportunity, to take Cuba.” As President, John Quincy Adams predicted that Cuba would fall “like a ripening plum into the lap of the union.” These are but two of many prominent examples of a widespread ambition to annex Cuba, or at least to control its destiny, from very early in U.S. history. After “the West,” Cuba figured as a prominent second place in U.S. expansionist aims from the beginning of the Republic.

In subsequent decades, support for annexing Cuba shifted tactically to Southerners who saw Cuba as a potential new slave state, though “manifest destiny” continued to be the fundamental driving force. Presidents Polk, in 1848, and Pierce, in 1854, offered unsuccessfully to buy Cuba. John Louis O’Sullivan, the newspaper editor who coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, supported Cuba’s best known “annexationist,” taking him to Polk’s White House in search of support for his armed expeditions. And even Walt Whitman—no advocate of slavery—wrote in 1871 that, “‘manifest destiny’ certainly points to the speedy annexation of Cuba by the United States.”

President McKinley again unsuccessfully offered to buy Cuba in 1898, shortly before declaring war on Spain. Only a year before, his Undersecretary of War, I.C. Breckenridge, had reflected the annexationist thinking in a memo arguing that: “We must impose a harsh blockade so that hunger and its constant companion, disease, undermine the peaceful population and decimate the Cuban Army….in order to annex the Pearl of the Antilles [Cuba].” He meant the Cuban independence army, who had all but defeated the Spanish well before Roosevelt with his Rough Riders arrived to clean up. It was advocacy of a policy to starve the Cuban population and its army, just to make sure that the U.S. alone could determine the future of the island. The push for annexation eventually failed, in no small part because its supporters realized that Cubans would likely continue their war if the U.S. tried to impose it. Yet those who favored annexation were able to impose the Platt Amendment on the new Cuban Constitution in 1904, in effect granting the US the right to intervene in Cuba for practically any reason the US saw fit. Cuba’s independence was brutally truncated, and the U.S. intervened on the island again in 1906, 1912, 1917 and 1920.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, the ambition to control Cuba’s destiny continued—if somewhat more subtly and without troops. The U.S. sent Sumner Welles as a special envoy to Cuba in the 1930’s to ensure that the outcome of a populist insurrection against Gerardo Machado, then Cuba’s dictator, did not steer the island away from U.S. tutelage. This intervention gave rise to the U.S. support for Fulgencio Batista, which lasted until his overthrow in 1959 by the Revolution. As our ambassador to Cuba at the time, Earl T. Smith, asserted during a Senate hearing in 1960: “Until Castro, the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that the American ambassador was the second most important man, sometimes even more important than the Cuban president.”

The ambition to control Cuba, in other words, already had a long and complex history by the time of the victory of the Revolution in 1959. The list of U.S. interventions seeking regime change that followed is too long to detail here. The Bay of Pigs, assassination efforts, hundreds of acts of sabotage and terrorism, and, of course, the embargo since 1960. And what did the embargo seek? Well, President Eisenhower said that “if the [Cuban people] are hungry they will throw Castro out,” a view that President Kennedy reiterated when he asserted that the end of the Revolution would come from “rising discomfort among hungry Cubans.” Arguably, a policy with the same goal of maintaining Cuba as a client state as the Breckenridge memo of half a century before. The embargo was then codified in the so-called Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws of 1992 and 1996, both supposedly granting the U.S. the right to decide what kind of government the island could have, and laws that were passed well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War ended, and Cuba had stopped its revolutionary activities in both Africa and Latin America. In effect, these laws are modern versions of the Platt Amendment, no longer “justified” even by the Cold War fig leaf.

So the history of U.S. policy towards Cuba shows a continuity that is hard to deny. Even those who might disagree with this interpretation should not find it hard to imagine how the Cuban government, and Cubans as a whole, would react with profound skepticism and distrust of the intentions of the most powerful country in the world, as reflected by these kinds of pressures and policies for more than two centuries. Beyond the immediate issues, such as the irrational listing of Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, Ms. Jacobson will certainly have a very heavy weight of history to consider in her discussions with her Cuban counterparts. If the President directs her, however, she, on behalf of our country, will have a unique opportunity to break clear from the interventionist thrust of our past interventionist policies, and seek agreements that nurture common interests and respect the obvious differences between the U.S. and the island.

Manuel R. Gomez is a Cuban-American public health professional who resides in Washington, DC.,

Revelations by Agent Daniel on the Program Travellers

August 7, 2014


About the new findings published by the AP involving USAID and its contractor Creative Associates International on shipping secretly to Cuba, since 2009, Latin American youths using the coverage of civic and health programs to promote subversive activities, Juventud Rebelde talks with Raúl Capote, former agent Daniel, Pablo to the CIA; who was in contact with these groups in their early days.

Raúl Capote, writer and university professor, former agent “Daniel” of Cuban security and “Pablo” for the Central Intelligence Agency-the CIA- still keeps fresh in his mind the day–at the end of 2009- on which Rene Greenwald, the CIA official who he worked with, and Marc Wachtenheim, in Cuba for the Pan American Development Foundation, talking about the idea of a project like the one that is being reported now, and asking him to support a group of young people coming to the island to search for and identify political activists and leaders within the universities.

Capote’s experience as a CIA agent in the Genesis project, which sought to train “activists” through scholarships abroad and upon return to become leaders within their schools, and even take responsibilities within the UJC and FEU- would serve the interests of these young ‘travellers’ of the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, with little experience in the subject of Cuba.

“They needed me to give them guidance on how to reach out to our youngsters, who could be recruited and trained with the aim of promoting among young Cubans a new kind of political opposition. This has much to do with Genesis, which was exactly what they wanted, creating a counter revolutionary leadership in Cuba in the intellectual field, which had social bases and support in an important sector of the population.

“But from 2008, when the most important phase of Project Genesis began, they were going to start the scholarship scheme to train” leaders” in European and North American universities – they began to shuffle the idea of “contractors” -actually mercenaries- coming to Cuba -now we know that they could be from Creative Associates International-able to “prepare” college students in the field.”

Between 2009 and 2010 some of those people began to arrive in Cuba. “I remember in 2009 a Honduran and a Guatemalan, -you can even see me walking with them in the material Manufacturing a Leader in Reasons of Cuba- and we go to the University of Havana, do a tour, precisely on Student’s Day, and see my participation in all the activities they had planned,” he recalls.

“It was an ordinary day, as always, a big fiesta; but they wanted to see close up what was happening in the University environment. I made up a story and they fell for it with a set of three totally opposite historical moments, because we were talking about what Student Day meant in Cuba, but also the famous confrontation in Prague of the Czech students against Nazism and that day also marks the fall of socialism in Czechoslovakia, therefore, I put out the idea that many of these youngsters knew that this day was celebrating the fall of socialism in Czechoslovakia and some, influenced by the Genesis project, were celebrating at the same time as Student Day and it had to be done covertly,” recalls Capote narrating his adventures.

“The thing that amazed me –and also in my contact with the CIA agents- is how little they know about Cuba, they have such a closed idea of what happens in the country that when they come and see students of the faculty of Philosophy are doing a culinary competition and when they appear in the dining room with a tray as part of the exhibition of dishes with a fried egg, a few peas, they see that as an act of dissidence, rebellious, a challenge to the ” regime “, great stuff.

“At another time of that day, recalls Capote, they went to see Clytemnestra, a play prepared by the students, and when the energetic actress screams “Freedom!” that girl who was with me “her hair stood on end” thinking about the possibilities that exist with these students for their purposes. The culmination of that day was when they got to listen to the songs of a group of troubadours, very young, little known in the media and the songs were quite critical about everyday things that happen in their college or Cuban society and that they understood as the beginning of the end of the Cuban Revolution.”

For former agent Daniel, that profound ignorance the enemies of Cuba have of our society is what makes them fail: “They confuse the dissent of revolutionaries, human beings by nature, with opposition to the system and that is the great mistake because they have never been able to find that person who might be leader of the change they seek.”

Memory and the five CUC

According to documents and stories revealed by the AP, Latin American youths, recruited by USAID to subvert the order of the country from the universities, began arriving in Cuba In 2010,. Among the anecdotes of Raúl Capote is one about the Costa Ricans who wanted direct action at the University of Havana.

“The “ticos” came with a mission to gather information about what was happening in academia and identify who that they could come to and subvert, and even came with flash drives that brought in a manual prepared especially for young Cubans to overthrow the Revolution and the task of going to the University of Havana and distributing the flash memories and giving five CUC to each student, and there I came in to deter them.”

The simple arguments of Capote put paid to the idea: “Look, if you arrive and you hand it to the youngsters on the steps they are going to use the money for a fiesta or spend it on the corner and they will delete the manual and eventually that will not get you anywhere. Also it seems very risky and not serious.”

Then came a Colombian, who was much more professional and -he told us- linked to the work of USAID and the Pan American Development Foundation visiting the University with me, also with the aim of finding ways to prepare for the arrival of the ‘travellers’ in Cuba and setting up this type of element.

At that time, agent ‘Pablo’ of the CIA had precise instructions from his contact, Rene Greenwald, to prepare a group of these Latin American youngsters now known as the ‘travellers’ program.

“They asked me to keep a low profile, not to raise suspicion, help the “travellers” in everything that could to make their work succeed. They even trained them to know the names of teachers of the Latin American School of Medicine, ELAM, they were given a white coat, a stethoscope to carry in their bag, medical books; everything needed if someone asked them at some point, or anywhere in the country, simply respond that they were foreign students at ELAM and what they sought was with other students.”

A different collar?

The clock is ticking against the American government plans to overthrow the Cuban Revolution with unconventional warfare strategies; if before it was with the application of extraterritorial laws and the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, for some years they have been doing it by means of subversion, but with the same purpose, to overthrow socialist Cuba.

USAID began promoting scholarships abroad, but it was cumbersome to achieve, then they endeavoured to teach online courses in the Interests Section in Havana, later came on site courses to train their opposition leaders in power. Now immigration policy has changed in Cuba and they are beginning to exploit the use of scholarships abroad to prepare their “leaders”, but it doesn’t change anything in the strategy?

For Raúl Capote “all those plans were hastily driven by the American government in order to have a trained favourable leadership that took power in the time of generational change in Cuba. But to date, they lack the necessary basis, with activists to act on what they call the “generational change” which they’re told is very close.”

The sum of plans against Cuba continues, but the goal is the same: “The Genesis project in leadership training, the program of ‘travellers’ reported by AP, ZunZuneo,” the Cuban Twitter “; Piramideo, and others, is the same, attempts are part of a grand scheme to overthrow the Cuban Revolution through subversion,” he stresses.

In Cuba, the CIA and USAID envoys have only found people looking to make money, and subversion has become a business to benefit personally and often counter-revolution activists are “fighters” for a visa to travel abroad. That’s the kind of human material with which they have encountered.”

Just before we parted, Raúl Capote, who cannot shake his trained vocation, sums up: “They need another type of person in order to fulfil their plans against Cuba, people with other human qualities, skilled people with a social base, with conviction, and that it is very difficult; precisely because each time you are a leader or a person with that ability that they are looking for, it is a revolutionary, trained in the best values of the nation; people with more qualities in our universities, and those who will never betray their country.”

Translated by ESTI for JuventudRebelde

USAID Subversion in Latin America Not Limited to Cuba

April 11, 2014


By Dan Beeton
Global Research,

A new investigation by the Associated Press into a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project to create a Twitter-style social media network in Cuba has received a lot of attention this week, with the news trending on the actual Twitter for much of the day yesterday when the story broke, and eliciting comment from various members of Congress and other policy makers. The “ZunZuneo” project, which AP reports was “aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government,” was overseen by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). AP describes OTI as “a division that was created after the fall of the Soviet Union to promote U.S. interests in quickly changing political environments — without the usual red tape.” Its efforts to undermine the Cuban government are not unusual, however, considering the organization’s track record in other countries in the region.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot described in an interview with radio station KPFA’s “Letters and Politics” yesterday, USAID and OTI in particular have engaged in various efforts to undermine the democratically-elected governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti, among others, and such “open societies” could be more likely to be impacted by such activities than Cuba. Declassified U.S. government documents show that USAID’s OTI in Venezuela played a central rolein funding and working with groups and individuals following the short-lived 2002 coup d’etat against Hugo Chávez. A key contractor for USAID/OTI in that effort has been Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI).

More recent State Department cables made public by Wikileaks reveal that USAID/OTI subversion in Venezuela extended into the Obama administration era (until 2010, when funding for OTI in Venezuela appears to have ended), and DAI continued to play an important role. A State Department cable from November 2006 explains the U.S. embassy’s strategy in Venezuela and how USAID/OTI “activities support [the] strategy”:
(S) In August of 2004, Ambassador outlined the country team’s 5 point strategy to guide embassy activities in Venezuela for the period 2004 ) 2006 (specifically, from the referendum to the 2006 presidential elections). The strategy’s focus is: 1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.

Among the ways in which USAID/OTI have supported the strategy is through the funding and training of protest groups. This August 2009 cable cites the head of USAID/OTI contractor DAI’s Venezuela office Eduardo Fernandez as saying, during 2009 protests, that all the protest organizers are DAI grantees:
¶5. (S) Fernandez told DCM Caulfield that he believed the [the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Corps’] dual objective is to obtain information regarding DAI’s grantees and to cut off their funding. Fernandez said that “the streets are hot,” referring to growing protests against Chavez’s efforts to consolidate power, and “all these people (organizing the protests) are our grantees.” Fernandez has been leading non-partisan training and grant programs since 2004 for DAI in Venezuela.”

The November 2006 cable describes an example of USAID/OTI partners in Venezuela “shut[ting] down [a] city”:
11. (S) CECAVID: This project supported an NGO working with women in the informal sectors of Barquisimeto, the 5th largest city in Venezuela. The training helped them negotiate with city government to provide better working conditions. After initially agreeing to the women’s conditions, the city government reneged and the women shut down the city for 2 days forcing the mayor to return to the bargaining table. This project is now being replicated in another area of Venezuela.

The implications for the current situation in Venezuela are obvious, unless we are to assume that such activities have ended despite the tens of millions of dollars in USAID funds designated for Venezuela, some of it going through organizations such as Freedom House, and the International Republican Institute, some of which also funded groups involved in the 2002 coup (which prominent IRI staff publicly applauded at the time).

The same November 2006 cable notes that one OTI program goal is to bolster international support for the opposition:
…DAI has brought dozens of international leaders to Venezuela, university professors, NGO members, and political leaders to participate in workshops and seminars, who then return to their countries with a better understanding of the Venezuelan reality and as stronger advocates for the Venezuelan opposition.

Many of the thousands of cables originating from the U.S. embassy in Caracas that have been made available by Wikileaks describe regular communication and coordination with prominent opposition leaders and groups. One particular favorite has been the NGO Súmate and its leader María Corina Machado, who has made headlines over the past two months for her role in the protest movement. The cables show that Machado historically has taken more extreme positions than some other opposition leaders, and the embassy has at least privately questioned Súmate’s strategy of discrediting Venezuela’s electoral system which in turn has contributed to opposition defeats at the polls (most notably in 2005 when an opposition boycott led to complete Chavista domination of the National Assembly). The current protests are no different; Machado and Leopoldo López launched “La Salida” campaign at the end of January with its stated goal of forcing president Nicolás Maduro from office, and vowing to “create chaos in the streets.”

USAID support for destabilization is no secret to the targeted governments. In September 2008, in the midst of a violent, racist and pro-secessionist campaign against the democratically-elected government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Morales expelled the U.S. Ambassador, and Venezuela followed suit “in solidarity.” Bolivia would later end all USAID involvement in Bolivia after the agency refused to disclose whom it was funding in the country (Freedom of Information Act requests had been independently filed but were not answered). The U.S. embassy in Bolivia had previously been caught asking Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars in the country to engage in espionage.

Commenting on the failed USAID/OTI ZunZuneo program in Cuba, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) commentedthat, “That is not what USAID should be doing[.] USAID is flying the American flag and should be recognized around the globe as an honest broker of doing good. If they start participating in covert, subversive activities, the credibility of the United States is diminished.”

But USAID’s track record of engaging in subversive activities is a long one, and U.S. credibility as an “honest broker” was lost many years ago.

Bay of Piglets: How the Freemasons Got Caught in a Plot to Topple the Castros

April 10, 2014


By Jeff Stein

t’s an unlikely tale of three cities that begins in Damascus, winds through Washington, D.C., and ends tragically in a Havana jail. Its key characters seem drawn from a Cold War espionage thriller, amateurish spies stuck in yet another feckless plot to overthrow the Cuban regime.

In late November 2010, a Washington, D.C., businessman named Akram Elias traveled to Damascus with a discreet proposal to burnish the image of the Syrian regime in Washington. “It was great seeing you earlier this morning,” Elias, a Lebanese American, wrote to Bouthaina Shabaan, the longtime mouthpiece for President Bashar al-Assad, in an email obtained by WikiLeaks. Only six months earlier, the Obama administration had slapped Syria with sanctions for its support of terrorist groups and for seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Elias gave the Syrians a one-page “communications strategy” right out of the standard lobbyist playbook for clients with severe image problems in official Washington. The idea, of course, was to soften the image of the regime in Washington, perhaps even persuade officials to lift sanctions. Price tag: $22,000 a month, plus expenses—all standard for a PR campaign for a thuggish regime.

What was odd about this one, however, was that while Elias was courting Damascus, he had, according to his Capital Communications Group website, public relations contracts with 18 national security agencies in the Obama administration, including the Justice Department, the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. But he was also a key player in a long-running campaign by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to undermine another totalitarian regime—in Cuba.

Why Elias? Why Cuba? Because, in yet another odd twist, Elias was a high official in the Freemasons, the centuries-old, secretive Protestant organization with a long history in Cuba, when right-wing ideologues in the USAID decided to take another run at overthrowing the Communist regime.

The Masons are descended from the medieval guilds that built Europe’s cathedrals, and their presence in Cuba dates back to 1763, with the arrival of English and Irish settlers. At the turn of the century, their numbers were bolstered by the arrival of French planters fleeing the Haitian Revolution. A century later, they could count Cuban revolutionaries like José Martí among their brethren. And in the 1950s, according to lore, yet another revolutionary, Fidel Castro, developed a soft spot for the Masons when they gave him refuge in a Masonic Lodge.

The Freemasons survived Castro’s revolution, but he kept them on a tight leash. Still, membership was stable, and with Castro’s gradual retreat from power after 2001, the Masons began to flourish. Today they claim nearly 30,000 members in Cuba.

Elias emigrated from Lebanon to the United States as a teenager in the 1970s. In 1996, according to Freemason publications, he embraced the brotherhood and quickly rose to the leadership of its District of Columbia lodge. In 2002, he made a grand tour of Cuba, the first of several trips as the regime loosened economic and political controls.

The USAID must have seen an opening. Ever since it was invented by the Kennedy administration as a humanitarian relief agency in 1961, USAID’s famous clasped-hands logo has always had a bare-knuckles component, with a mandate to help people “striving to live in a free and democratic country.” During the Vietnam War, its counterinsurgency projects were so intertwined with the CIA’s that they became synonymous.

And so it is now with Cuba. During the George W. Bush administration, Cuban “democracy” programs backed by the USAID grew from $3.5 million to $45 million. Even though Congress slashed their budgets by more than half when Barack Obama took office and scattered them to other agencies, citing “mismanagement,” $60 million to $70 million remained in the pipeline, according to The Miami Herald.

In December 2009, Akram Elias was in Havana for a meeting with Alan Gross, a 63-year-old USAID subcontractor from Maryland. Gross was arrested on the night of December 3, 2009, after supplying advanced Internet communications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. He is now serving a 15-year sentence for subversion in Cuba.

According to a document presented by Cuban authorities during his 2011 sentencing, Gross got a call in Washington in November 2009 from Elias, “a former Grand Officer of the Washington Masonic Lodge who is noted for his distinct opposition to the Cuban political system.” Elias expressed interest in the “Cuba democracy program” Gross was running for DAI Inc., a USAID contractor based in Chevy Chase, Md. They agreed to meet for coffee the next day.

“In this meeting,” according to the Cuban court’s sentencing document, “Elias said that he had thought of installing defendant’s system in Cuban Masonic lodges and they decided to meet in Havana in December that year to talk further.” And so they did, at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, on Dec. 2. They “picked up where they had left in Washington with a view to extending the former’s Project to Cuban Masonic lodges.” Things went so well they agreed to meet again the following day, “but this meeting never took place,” according to the Cubans, “because in the evening of December 3 defendant ALAN PHILLIP GROSS was arrested. ” He was “found in possession of two flash drives—one a ‘Micro Center’ and the other a ‘Kingston’—with most of the documents related to defendant’s projects against the Cuban State.”

Cuba’s counterspies weren’t just lucky in this case, the court document would show. They had been onto Gross and the Masons for years. Gross had delivered “a number of items, including a video camera,” to José Manuel Collera Vento, the island’s top Mason, back in 2004, prosecutors said. The Cubans said the camera came from Marc Wachtenheim, who worked for another USAID contractor, the Pan American Development Foundation, a block from the Bush White House. Indeed, Cuban counterspies seemed to know everything the Americans had been doing.

At least one reason why became apparent on April Fools’ Day, 2011, when it was revealed that José Manuel Collera Vento, grand master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba’s Freemasons, was a double agent. “For his subversive actions, on April 1st, 2011, Collera received the highest distinction of the Popular Assembly of Cuba: the Escudo Pinareño,” the Masonic Times sadly announced the following day, adding that he “appears today to be just a puppet of a totalitarian regime.”

A year before Gross’s arrest, experts on the regime say, Cubans already had Internet access and email to the outside world, although the connections were slow. And a year after his arrest, the USAID risked even those fragile freedoms by clandestinely launching a supposedly independent Cuban Twitter-style network, called ZunZuneo, via a web of front companies and foreign servers—a covert action program in everything but name.

Who were they kidding? Not Cuban counterspies, who have been cracking CIA plots like walnuts for decades.

And not Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the panel overseeing the USAID, who called the ZunZuneo caper “dumb, dumb, dumb” when The Associated Press broke it last week.

And maybe “dumb” wasn’t such a bad thing, given the agenda of the planners behind these laughable schemes. “It’s not about being effective,” explains Fulton Armstrong, a top former Latin America expert at the CIA and White House National Security Council. “They know that they’re not going to overthrow the regime. They know that their assets on the island are mostly opportunists…and that the Cuban government has demonstrated that many ‘opposition’ recipients of our aid are actually its agents.”

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba knew Collera was a double agent long before Elias met with him, according to cables obtained by WikiLeaks. Apparently, they never told the USAID. (Elias did not respond to emails and telephone calls asking for comment, and a USAID spokesperson says of him, “We currently have no record of this individual being a contractor being a contractor for USAID.”)

“But the programs’ sponsors also know,” Armstrong tells Newsweek, “that locking policy into regime-change mode, getting feckless clandestine operators and members of the ‘opposition’ in jail, and in general trying to provoke the Cuban government keeps the powerful Cuban-American politicians in Washington on their side.”

Leahy said the USAID had “absolutely not” told him about its clandestine Cuban Twitter app, even though he’s chairman of the Senate panel that writes the agency’s budget. “If I had been,” he told MSNBC, “I would have said, ‘What in heaven’s name are you thinking?'”

On Tuesday Leahy will get to ask just that of Rajiv Shah, the USAID’s administrator, at a hearing of his Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. As chairman, Leahy can ask anything he wants, for as long as he wants. He might think to ask somebody why Akram Elias is still working with the State Department. Word is, he’s angling to launch a pilot program for international university students, through a State Department contractor.

Newsweek contributing editor Jeff Stein writes SpyTalk from Washington.

USAID Scuttled American’s Release From Cuban Prison

April 10, 2014


By Jeff Stein

Aggressive “regime change” projects in Cuba by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) scuttled a chance to free one of its contractors jailed on the island, a former top Senate aide to John Kerry says.

Fulton Armstrong, who was a top CIA and White House National Security Council expert on Latin America before joining Kerry’s staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2010, also told Newsweek Tuesday that, contrary to USAID statements, the Obama administration “had not been briefed on the [USAID’s] regime-change programs, and that the secret operations continued just as they had under Bush-Cheney—aggressive, over-funded, and in obvious need of oversight and review.”

USAID disputes that characterization. “USAID works in places where we are not always welcome,” the agency said on its blog last week. “To minimize the risk to our staff and partners and ensure our work can proceed safely, we must take certain precautions and maintain a discreet profile. But discreet does not equal covert.”

USAID also maintains that its “democracy” programs in Cuba, like its controversial ZunZuneo social media app for Cubans, have always been part of “the public record.”

On Dec. 3, 2009, Cuban authorities arrested USAID contractor Alan Gross in Havana on suspicion of subversive activities. He had made several trips to Cuba bearing sophisticated computer gear designed to allow Cubans to communicate beyond the reach of state security. Gross had been scheduled to meet in Havana with an American citizen who was a representative of the Freemasons, the centuries-old, secretive Christian organization, whose Cuban chapters were also involved with USAID political activities, Newsweek reported Monday. Gross, 64, is now serving a 15-year sentence in prison. He announced this week he was going on a hunger strike.

USAID’s “regime change” programs continued after the arrest of Gross, Armstrong said, complicating steps to free him. “When Gross was arrested, Cuban officials gave pretty clear signals of two desires for his release,” Armstrong told Newsweek. “That the programs be made less blatant and insulting to them, and that the Obama administration designate a serious, non-bureaucratic person to discuss this and other matters with them.”

With backing from Sen. Kerry, Armstrong and his counterpart on the staff of Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, struck a deal with USAID and the State Department in 2010 to pare back some of the agency’s more aggressive Cuba programs and budget, Armstrong said. With that, the release of Gross seemed imminent.

“Senior USAID and State officials were happy with the reforms as good for the programs as well as for gaining the release of Alan Gross, and they asked Senate and House Committee staff to brief Cuban officials on them,” Armstrong said. “We did so, and our chairmen met with senior Cuban officials to drive home the message.”

The Cubans were happy, too—to a degree, said Armstrong, the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for Latin America from 2000 to 2004. “They responded very positively and said that the cleanup—which they understood would be done in phases—would certainly help them make the case for expedited procedures for Gross’s release.”

When the Cubans complained in the early summer of 2010 that “regime change” activities on the island were continuing, Armstrong said, “We provided assurances, accurately, that the responsible people at USAID and State supported the reforms.”

But die-hard USAID officials scuttled the looming deal, Armstrong said, by telling their contractors in Cuba to continue their work. “They reassured their contractors and grantees that, despite rumors of change, business would continue as usual—information that would surely reach Cuban ears—and they later leaked to the press that, in fact, program funding remained unchanged and the reforms were not being implemented,” Armstrong said.

“At that point, the discussions about program reforms to gain Gross’s release ended.”

USAID did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a heated Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday, chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called USAID’s ZunZuneo project “cockamamie” and said, “As far as I can tell, the USAID and the Obama administration have all but forgotten about [Gross].”

USAID administrator Raviv Shah disputed that. “I think about Alan every day,” he said, according to Reuters, but referred further discussion on Gross to the State Department.

“The State Department takes the lead in these types of issues and they are highly sensitive and I would defer to them to be able to explain to you in the appropriate private setting what’s taken place,” Shah said.

Newsweek contributing editor Jeff Stein writes SpyTalk from Washington

What is wrong with the white houses plan for democracy in cuba?

April 9, 2014


by Zuleika Rivera, LAWG Intern

ZunZuneo or the “Cuban Twitter” continues to dominate headlines as details regarding U.S. Agency of International Development’s (USAID) failure to inspire a “Cuban Spring” through a “discreetly” funded social networking platform remain unclear. The Associated Press (AP) first broke the story on April 3, 2014 outlining the parameters of the USAID and Creative Associates International program to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cell phone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its restrictions of the internet. The idea behind the development of the social media platform, according to AP, was to create a credible news source for Cubans on the island. ZunZuneo drew more than 40,000 followers and gathered data (such as location, cell phone numbers) on its users which was hoped to be used for political purposes. According to the AP, the social network managers hoped to use this information to trigger “smart mobs” that would protest the current Cuban government and generate a “Cuban Spring,” head nodding to the “Arab Spring,” a series of protests and uprisings that swept through a handful of Arab countries from 2010-2013.

How did the United States successfully keep ZunZuneo a secret for so long? USAID used shell companies and foreign banks in the Cayman Islands, United Kingdom, Spain and Costa Rica in order to conduct its programs. USAID contracted with Washington Software Inc who was given $3.2 million to text subscribers of TV and Radio Marti. They were required to send 24,000 messages a week and no fewer than 1,800 an hour. They were also required to create an account and give full access to the Authorized Representative for the contracting officer, the government’s technical experts who are responsible for developing and managing the technical parts of a contract. USAID subcontractor, Creative Associates, received $6.5 million to carry out work in Cuba and later another received $11 million from USAID. The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors gave to Mobile Accord $60,000, and USAID also gave Mobile Accord $1.69 million to help run ZunZuneo. Similarly, the New America Foundation was given $4.3 million in 2012 under the Open Technology Institute; their role in the program, if any, remains unclear.

Soon after its creation in 2010, ZunZuneo gathered a lot of followers; and when famous Colombian-born singer Juanes hosted his “Peace Concert” in Cuba’s revolutionary plaza, the ZunZuneo took the opportunity to begin collecting data on Cubans. They polled all of their users on their general thoughts on the concert line-up; and as Cubans innocently answered, ZunZuneo gathered their data. In 2010 when ZunZuneo was at its height, they asked a Denver-based mobile company to join in (Mobile Accord). In their article, the Associated Press mentions a Mobile Accord memo that indicates that they were fully aware of their involvement, stating, “There will be absolutely no mention of the United States government involvement. If it is discovered that the platform is, or ever war, backed by the United States government, not only do we risk the channel being shut down by Cubacel [Cuba’s cell phone provider], but we risk the credibility of the platform as a source of reliable information, education, and empowerment in the eyes of the Cuban people.”

At this point Creative Associates had moved all corporations abroad and had made sure there was no money trail leading back to the United States. By 2011 Creative Associates was thinking of expanding their program and had agreed that the management team should not find out the United States government was involved. At this time they asked Mobile Accord to become independent from the United States government; but that became increasingly more difficult to do, as revenue from text messages was not enough. Finally, in September 2012 the program had to be cut, and it disappeared mysteriously from the Cuban landscape.

The White House has said that the program was not covert because they had disclosed the program to Congress and the program was intended to foster the free flow of information amongst Cubans on the island. Congress denies ever knowing about the program. The legality of this program is also in question since according to U.S. law any covert action by a federal agency must have presidential authority and Congress should also be notified. USAID has said that it is a “congressionally mandated and congressionally supported effort” and that it was reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). But the GAO report does not list any programs by name or any specifics about what programs were being carried out. It only says that USAID is conducting programs with “greater focus on information technology to support independent bloggers and developing social network platforms.” Similar to the White House, USAID said this was a discreet, not covert program. USAID came out with its own statement claiming that much of what was reported is false. While ZunZuneo doesn’t portray the full scope of the Obama Administration’s plan towards democracy promotion in Cuba, it is certainly the ugly side of it.

ZunZuneo proved it had little success in promoting freedom of expression on the island to support a more open civil society through a covert, or “discreet” program; and when compared to the White House’s policy to facilitate cross-cultural communication through people-to-people exchanges, ZunZuneo’s success diminishes to zero. In 2011 President Obama took a big step towards “promoting democracy” in Cuba by easing restrictions on travel for U.S. citizens to Cuba. While Cuba remains a sovereign state with its own political system, the legacy of U.S. policy towards Cuba doesn’t recognize this. The Obama Administration has taken steps to engage Cuba in a different way but still under the guise of “democracy promotion.” The President has liberalized travel regulations for purposeful travel as a way to empower and engage civil society in Cuba and in the United States. Its success was immediate: in 2011 73,500 U.S. citizens traveled legally to Cuba, and in 2012 that number increased to more than 98,000. Since the easing of restrictions, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued more than 250 people-to-people licenses, nine charter companies have been set up and there are more than 20 active travel service providers. People-to-people travel has led to authentic interactions between Cubans and U.S. citizens, which has deconstructed the Cold War image of Cuba as the enemy and presented a more accurate Cuban reality. Current regulations have allowed researchers and students to travel to Cuba, to study Cuba “on the ground,” and come back to the United States ready to share their experiences of a different Cuba, a Cuba that is changing.

People-to-people travel has created a new class of ambassadors: citizen ambassadors that in their exchanges on the island promote the core values of democracy. The exchange of ideas between real people via a different brand of “democracy promotion,” program, such as people-to-people travel, is what will inform Cubans about “democracy,” not spam social messaging. The Obama Administration should focus on initiatives such as un-restricted travel to Cuba for all U.S. citizens, and high level dialogue with the Cuban government to talk about a variety of issues of common interest. These tactics will not only save money from unknowing taxpayers, but educate about U.S. ideals and realities by real people who are not trying to destroy Cuba, in a much clearer, less secret, non-covert manner. Rather than staining USAID’s reputation around the world, and smearing the Obama Administration as cold war re-enactors, the time is long overdue to sever our ties with difficult-to-clarify, “discreet” democracy promotion programs.

ZunZuneo proved to be a failure; the 53-year-old economic embargo on Cuba, another failure, and the list could go on. Cuba is not our enemy, rather our neighbor; and we should begin to treat them as such. Behind closed doors, judgments can be passed; but in the world arena, we should be “keeping up with the Joneses”—the 188 countries that annually vote in the UN General Assembly to end the embargo—and begin on the path toward a respectful, normal relationship with Cuba.
– See more at:

%d bloggers like this: