AP: USAID used HIV workshop as front for espionage in Cuba

posted at 10:41 am on August 4, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Four months ago, the Associated Press uncovered an abortive attempt by the US Agency for International Development to create a Twitter-like social media network in Cuba in order to facilitate unrest and revolution against the Castro communist government. That operation may have seemed like a lark, but now the AP reports that it wasn’t the only covert operation for USAID in Cuba. The agency used HIV prevention among its covers for provoking youth into rebellion, a discovery that may put more of its operations under scrutiny elsewhere:

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 aim of the programs isn’t in question. The Castro regime has a brutal human-rights record and has subjected Cubans to misery and poverty for decades. The US has always considered Cuba as a key interest, and the Castro regime as a problem to be solved, although every administration since Dwight Eisenhower’s has failed to free the Cubans from despotism. Fidel Castro, now apparently semi-retired, has been wily enough to play the rest of the world against the US and survive, and now his brother Raul has managed to do so for the last several years as the dictator.

The choice of agency, though, is more than a little curious. USAID styles itself as an outreach agency to “end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity,” which is a noble enough mission when conducted overtly. It operates around the world to fight poverty and disease, particularly HIV. They also use their investment dollars quite explicitly to promote democracy in places such as Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Cubans probably wouldn’t allow USAID to operate that openly on those efforts, but that may not be the only place where that’s true and where USAID is working on global health initiatives. This exposé will have some of those countries wondering just what USAID is doing with HIV workshops and other seemingly innocuous and beneficial efforts.

USAID issued a statement denying the story, but not very specifically:

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.

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to “tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.” But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

If the AP misreported the story, then “this is wrong” definitely applies to them. If the AP got it right, though, “this is wrong” may apply better to efforts to use USAID and its poorly-trained recruits into a covert-ops agency.

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WINNING!

workingclass artist on August 4, 2014 at 10:56 AM

There are no clean hands in this story.

vnvet on August 4, 2014 at 10:56 AM

What a shock. U.S. intervenes for freedom! Naturally, the AP finds it atrocious and announces it to the world (if it’s really true). They cannot, however, report on Obama’s long string of lies, the corruption at the AG’s and other cabinet offices, in the VA, IRS, ICE …

erp on August 4, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Funny how the media always comes down on the side of the bad guys.

formwiz on August 4, 2014 at 10:59 AM

While I’m not really sure why Obama would be interested in doing this, why would I be surprised?

Cindy Munford on August 4, 2014 at 11:02 AM

I understand the need for spying, but holy crap our government has taken it to whole new levels of idiocy, permeating seemingly every aspect of society and using every tool at their disposal. Using organizations intended for humanitarian assistance (development, medical help, natural disaster recovery) in order to spy removes the impartiality and legitimacy those groups need to function properly.

Look at the crap the UN is rightly receiving for harboring (knowingly, unknowing…the result is the same) weapons for Hamas in Gaza.

Is there anywhere and anything we don’t spy on? Bueller? Bueller?

xNavigator on August 4, 2014 at 11:02 AM

brilliant but idiotic for being in the news

jp on August 4, 2014 at 11:04 AM

And I’m sure those Cuban doctors working abroad are doing it for the joys of Hippocratic medicine, not to spread Castro Communism </sarcasm>.

I’m surprised Team SCOAMT is targeting Cuba

Steve Eggleston on August 4, 2014 at 11:07 AM

American sentenced to 15 years for setting up Internet in Cuba ‘has withdrawn’ and warned he is contemplating taking his own life

* Alan Gross, 65, was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working covertly in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access

* His attorney, Scott Gilbert, said in a statement Monday that his client ‘has withdrawn’ and told him ‘life in prison is not a life worth living’

* Gross said goodbye to his wife and youngest daughter during a recent visit

* His hips are failing and he has lost most of the vision in his right eye

* At the time Gross was arrested he was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s U.S. Agency for International Development, which promotes democracy on the island

* Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison

Resist We Much on August 4, 2014 at 11:10 AM

USAID? LOL… That is one of the most uselessly incompetent agencies in the federal government. When I was in the Army, we used to joke about having to go down to central America to “fix” the problems USAID created.

Look, if we wanted to get rid of the Castro regime, the US military could take them out, and do it by lunch on Thursday.

The problem is, there is no foundation in Cuba for a peaceful democratic government to emerge after taking out the dictators. See Iraq. See Libya.

On the upside, at least the best cigars on the planet would be totally legal again.

Conservative Mischief on August 4, 2014 at 11:11 AM

The agency used HIV prevention among its covers for provoking youth into rebellion

Gay Mafia?

faraway on August 4, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Steve Eggleston on August 4, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Me, to. I figure it is his idea of paradise.

Cindy Munford on August 4, 2014 at 11:17 AM

This sort of thing could backfire you know.

Evi L. Bloggerlady on August 4, 2014 at 11:18 AM

Why do I think that if promoting democracy and freedom is one’s actual goal, using a government agency to do the promotion is a bad idea?

No matter how beautiful the blueprint, using inefficient and corrupt tools will spoil the finished project.

Dolce Far Niente on August 4, 2014 at 11:28 AM

Cuba is not a threat to America. At this point it is just plain bullying.

coolrepublica on August 4, 2014 at 11:55 AM

What ever they did not seem to get any results.
Or as Obama would say, “Mission Accomplished!”

albill on August 4, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Community organizing??

Deano1952 on August 4, 2014 at 12:23 PM

I’m surprised Obama would even allow spying in Cuba.

yetanotherjohn on August 4, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Anal jihad…

fortcoins on August 4, 2014 at 1:00 PM

The aim of the programs isn’t in question.

Sure, but that doesn’t make wasting taxpayer money on the fantasy any more palatable.

corona79 on August 4, 2014 at 1:15 PM

Cuba?
Fidel? He is as close to food for worms as any semi-animate on the planet.
WGAS? (Who Gives A Shiite)

$7,000,000,000,000 President Precident Downgrade United States Increase in the National Debt …

Cuba Squirrel

Missilengr on August 4, 2014 at 2:59 PM