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    USAID Cuba, a Schizophrenic Policy

    USAID/Cuba, a Schizophrenic Policy
    May 7, 2013
    By Tracey Eaton (

    HAVANA TIMES — If Washington’s policies toward Havana were a person, the
    poor soul would likely be confused, maybe even schizophrenic.

    U.S. officials try to starve Cuba into submission with economic
    sanctions for more than five decades.

    Then they undermine sanctions by allowing Cuban-Americans to travel
    freely to the island, dumping fistfuls of cash on the island.

    Regime-change programs – democracy programs, whatever you call them –
    are another peculiar feature of the U.S. approach.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has spent more
    than $200 million on these programs since 1996. They are explicitly
    designed to influence internal affairs in Cuba and boost freedom. And no
    matter how noble the cause might be, the programs are at odds with
    development work in most parts of the world.

    The programs also operate under increasing secrecy at a time when
    governments and NGOs move toward greater transparency. See, for instance:

    -Publish What You Fund, a global campaign for aid transparency
    - aidinfo, which promotes development aid accountability, and
    - Avco openaid, designed to show people how development funds are being
    spent around the world.

    Even the U.S. government has gotten into the act with its Foreign
    Assistance Dashboard, which tracks foreign aid, and its so-called
    Greenbook, a historical record of U.S. aid to the rest of the world and
    USAID’s release of new datasets and technological tools meant to boost
    transparency (See April 30 announcement).

    But Uncle Sam’s initiatives have done little to reduce the secrecy
    surrounding USAID’s Cuba programs, which remain unlike development
    programs in most of the world.

    Take the case of the United Kingdom. The foreign secretary there
    dispenses development aid only if he is convinced that the money “is
    likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.”It’s not just a pledge –
    it’s written into the law. See International Development Act 2002.

    In sharp contrast, a key U.S. government goal in Cuba is to increase
    poverty, not reduce it.

    Keith Bolender writes in his 2012 book “Cuba Under Siege”: “…There is
    ample evidence to suggest that America is enacting collective punishment
    on the people of Cuba with the intent of precipitating the overthrow of
    the socialist experiment…”

    Douglas Dillon, under secretary of state during the Kennedy
    administration, helped set the tone in 1960 when he said it was
    Washington’s duty to cause “rising discomfort among hungry Cubans.”

    The strategy continued in the 1970s, according to “Cuba Under Siege,”
    which quotes a CIA officer as saying: “We wanted to keep bread out of
    the stores so the people would go hungry.”

    Efforts to suffocate Cuba continue today. Yet while trying to squeeze
    the Cuban economy, American officials also allow Cuban-Americans to send
    more than $1 billion in remittances to their families every year. It’s a
    sensible humanitarian gesture, but it erodes the impact of the sanctions
    that U.S. officials so carefully enforce.

    Time passes and these contradictory measures remain in place, ever more
    ingrained, part of aninstitutionalized machinery that has cost American
    taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

    In February 2012, Desmond Butler of the Associated Press focused on one
    piece of that machinery – a USAID program that sent American Alan Gross
    to Cuba to set up a satellite Internet network. Butler’s article began:

    “Piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags, American aid contractor
    Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking
    equipment were secreted into Cuba.

    The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the
    last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used
    by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually
    impossible to track.”

    Tom Paulson, a former reporter at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, wrote
    that the AP story added to an “ongoing discussion within the federal
    government about ‘re-inventing foreign aid.’”

    Paulson runs a website called Humanosphere, which analyzes the latest
    news in global health, development and poverty. He was strike by the
    AP’s claim that Gross was smuggling satellite telephone cards that
    aren’t available to the public and are “provided most frequently to the
    Defense Department and the CIA.”Paulson said U.S. officials said Gross
    “was just carrying out the normal mission of USAID.” He wrote:

    “Huh? This is the normal mission of USAID? This is certainly normal for
    the CIA, or those other branches of government legitimately set up to
    undermine authoritarian regimes around the world….

    “But is it wise, and in our long-term interest, to be enlisting USAID in
    this cause as well?

    “Should the agency that was set up primarily to bring food to the
    starving, medical supplies to the injured or otherwise engage in
    America’s humanitarian causes overseas also be doing covert political
    work against hostile foreign governments?

    “Is there a need to more clearly delineate foreign aid from foreign
    policy?”Some countries have objected to USAID’s intrusions. Russia
    kicked out the agency in September 2012.

    On Wednesday, President Evo Morales announced that his government would
    expel USAID from Bolivia.

    USAID had operated in Bolivia since 1964. Juan Ramón Quintana, minister
    of the presidency, said today that the agency did not reduce poverty in
    the country. Instead, it directly interfered in Bolivian affairs from
    1985 to 2005 and sought to maintain “political control” over Bolivia,
    Quintana said.

    “No one said anything” because ruling political parties benefitted from
    the “rain of dollars,” he said.

    “We have done rigorous research and what Bolivia should know is that the
    United States has not destined money for distribution to the poor, but
    rather to preserve its strategic interests outside its borders.”

    State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that
    Bolivia’s accusations were “baseless.” He said the agency’s goal was not
    political meddling, but “to help the Bolivian government improve the
    lives of ordinary Bolivians.”

    Whatever the case, Bolivia’s move was not a surprise. In June 2012,
    Bolivia along with Cuba, Ecuador, the Commonwealth of Dominica,
    Nicaragua and Venezuela signed a document calling for the expulsion of
    USAID from their borders.

    The document stated: “…USAID, through its different organizations and
    disguises, acts in an illegal manner with impunity, without possessing a
    legal framework to support this action, and illegally finances the
    media, political leaders and non-governmental organizations, among others.”

    Despite that glaring diplomatic red flag, “Bolivia’s decision to expel
    USAID came as a shock to the United States, as no one in Evo Morales’
    government had complained about the U.S. development agency’s
    activities,” Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.

    Mark Lopes, deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin
    America and Caribbean, told AFP that the agency had heard grumblings
    about USAID from the Bolivian government, but “we always found
    cooperative partners and government officials within all levels of

    Either the AFP story is inaccurate or Lopes is incredibly disingenuous.
    Bolivian officials had signed a document calling for the expulsion of
    USAID. That is not a mild complaint or a “grumbling.” That is a message
    telling USAID to start packing its bags.

    On the issue of transparency, Lopes told AFP: “This idea that we’re not
    transparent, not telling who we’re funding, is simply false.”
    Link: State Department cable outlining USAID strategy in Venezuela in 2006.

    Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the
    Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with the
    non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.