The U.S. government’s Cuba democracy programs extend beyond USAID; some are administered by the State Department’s Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau, known as DRL, which has just issued its latest request for Cuba grant proposals. This one seeks to fund the usual activities: training of human rights activists, use of communications technology, social media, etc. This part of the preamble sort of jumps out:
“Special thought and consideration should be given to the selection of consultants and other personnel who may be required to travel to Cuba. To the extent possible, travel by U.S. citizens and permanent residents should be limited or excluded. It is preferable that personnel who travel to Cuba speak Spanish fluently, possess solid understanding of the Cuban context, and have prior experience on the island, in order to maximize their effectiveness in this unique operating environment.”
I can understand that the government doesn’t want to repeat the Alan Gross experience of sending someone to attempt to operate covertly in Cuba, knowing no Spanish and little about the country.
What I don’t understand is the preference for foreign operatives, even over U.S. citizens or residents who are knowledgeable and fluent. Either it means that the U.S. government believes that foreign nationals are less likely to be detected by Cuban state security, or it wants others to take all the risks.
The breakdown of 2011 funding for all these programs has been provided to Congress and posted on the Herald’s website. The Herald’s story highlights the emphasis on communications technology and reports that equipment such as the “satellite phones” that Alan Gross installed (the BGANS systems, which create independent satellite Internet connection with WiFi) are no longer part of the program.
Meanwhile, if you really want to follow this program you should follow Tracey Eaton. At Along the Malecon and Cuba Money Project he is providing more information on these programs than anyone else, such as:
- A 2008-2009 program document from the International Republican Institute that includes discussion of BGANS, and more from IRI here and here.
The message in all this is that the United States remains very committed to the Cuba democracy programs and to carrying them out in Cuba by sending money, resources, and operatives.
One may view that commitment, and USAID’s m.o., as great, or as the opposite. But one can’t dispute that the consistent U.S. message here, from Bush to Obama, is that U.S. recognition of Cuban sovereignty is selective. And if you think that the issue of sovereignty has something to do with the arrest and incarceration of Alan Gross, this is not good news for him.