USAID is making headlines again for operations to topple the Castro regime in Cuba; this time its a new report indicating President Barack Obama approved a program that secretly dispatched young Latin-Americans to Cuba to provoke political change in the communist island.
Some fear the program unnecessarily put the lives of the participants in peril, especially in light of the imprisonment of contractor Alan Gross, who has been jailed since the Cuban government convicted him of participating in political subversive activities that involved bringing in cell phones and other communication equipment to residents of the island. Months after his imprisonment, Gross, it was revealed, was actually a contractor of USAID.
The Associated Press reported that since 2009 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had sent Venezuelans, Costa Ricans and even Peruvian visitors to the island, often posing as tourists, to scout Cubans who they could convince to turn into political activists.
In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memo0s called the perfect excuse for the programs political goalsa gambit that could undermine Americas efforts to improve global health globally.
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At stake in this scandal is whether the operatives had appropriate training to navigate through Cuba, where simply uttering the wrong words in the street can land you in jail.
The Associated Press carried out its own investigation, finding that many operatives were inexperienced and lacked adequate training for their mission: “One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to invade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught.”
The AP also found that Creative Associates International, the company that hired these operatives, continued with the program, even after U.S. officials told them to consider suspending travel after the arrest of Gross. At one point their mission was almost blown, as Cuban officials started questioning who was bankrolling their trips.
Creative Associates did not reply to the APs request for interviews.
An example of the covert operations held by the organization is highlighted in the report of as many as 60 Cuban citizens who participated in an HIV prevention workshop organized by Fernando Murillo, a Costa Rican operative hired by Creative Associates. The Costa Rican man was 29 at the time of the mission, but his job back home was heading the human rights organization named Fundacion Operacion Gaya Internacional. Murillo announced and recruited young Cubans who were interested in learning more about HIV prevention and awareness.
However, the purpose of the seminars, the AP reports, was to recruit apathetic youngsters in the island to turn them intoeffective political actors.
Murillo declined to comment on the report, saying he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Creative Associates.
In a statement issued in response the AP’s investigation USAID in part said:
“Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. USAID makes information about its Cuba programs available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Chief among those universal values are the right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders. Sadly, the Cuban people and many others in the global community continue to be denied these basic rights.”
Many fear that the work of legitimate health workers trying to treat epidemics and provide medical care abroad is further compromised by these covert operations.