An American citizen working on a USAID contract was arrested in
So far, no comment from the Cuban government.
According to the Times, he had entered
The Post cited a source who says he was “working with local organizations that were trying to connect with each other and get connected to the Internet and connect with their affinity groups in the
I would say this poor fellow walked into an accident waiting to happen.
There are three issues here.
First is the objective of the program: “Hastening Transition to Democracy in
Second is the issue of the Cuban government’s perception of the program and its stated objective.
Which leads to the third set of issues, which are operational. It’s one thing to run civil society programs in countries where the local government is unopposed, it’s quite another to do so in a communist country that perceives the program as a national security threat. The USAID program’s connections to Cuban dissidents – real or invented – were the basis for the Cuban government’s jailing of 75 dissidents in 2003. USAID explained in December 2003:
In March 1999, the Cuban Government passed legislation which would impose 8 to 20 year prison sentences on any Cuban citizen found to be collaborating with activities funded through Section 109 of the LIBERTAD Act [the Helms-Burton law, whose Section 109 is the basis for the USAID program]. In March 2003, the Cuban Government arrested and sentenced to long prison terms Cuban citizens the Cuban Government accused of collaboration with Section 109 activities. Individual Cuban citizens and Cuban NGOs as well as
In other words, it’s a risky program to carry out, both for USAID grantees and the recipients of the aid. That’s why USAID has been very stingy with information about the program, and it’s why the program has looked like an odd hybrid of overt and covert activity.
Which brings us to the poor fellow in a Cuban jail today. I’ll call him Mr. Smith.
In 2006, the State Department offered to make
Break the information blockade by employing high tech communication devices to facilitate communications between activists on the island, foster a nascent civil society, and improve the dissemination of information to and from the island, especially by increasing the communication of democracy and human rights messages. Low-tech projects that serve the same purposes in a creative manner will also be considered.
Sounds like Smith was working on a program under that grant, or something like it. For more on the program, see USAID requests for proposals from 2003 and 2008 and a job announcement from January 2009.
The Washington Post article points out that “a Cuban citizen or a foreign visitor can be arrested for nearly anything under the claim of ‘dangerousness.’” That’s very true; the offense of peligrosidad predelictiva in the Cuban criminal code enables the police to arrest people based on no more than an officer’s judgment that they are up to no good. (Roughly translated: dangerousness with a propensity to commit crime.)
But my guess is that such a charge would not figure into Smith’s case. Experts on Cuban law can weigh in, but my guess is that if he indeed entered on a tourist visa he could have a legal problem there, and if authorities choose to apply laws like the one USAID cited above – sort of like failure to register as a foreign agent in our criminal code – he’s got another problem. In other words, a Cuban prosecutor would probably say Mr. Smith is already way beyond predelictiva.
Maybe he entered
Either way, this story was not destined to end well, as Val Prieto surmises at Babalu. One has to wonder how this mission was supposed to work, and what kind of warnings and instructions Smith got from his employer as he set off on his mission.
Where does it go from here?
A friend tells me (unconfirmed) that USAID grantees have curtailed trips to
As for Mr. Smith, it seems that his release will depend on an extraordinary exercise of prosecutorial discretion, or a diplomatic gesture or arrangement, or all three.