Tuesday, July 3, 2012

U.S. democracy programs roll on

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.

  • On USAID spending in Costa Rica here and here; on NED grants 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.


Anonymous said...

The American government remains committed to regime change in Cuba, nothing more,nothing less. It has nothing to do with democracy or its US definition. There should be no hesitation in condemning these programs as what they are -- gross violations of another country's sovereignty. They are designed to elicit a specific response, and in that case they have been successful. Just ask Alan Gross. Recognizing the Revolutionary government as legitimate is something no administration has been able to fully accept. Obama is just the latest

brianmack said...

This is terrible news for Mr. Gross, his wife, daughter and mother. It's also tragic news for the people of Cuba. Anyone with a single brain cell knows why Obama did this. The sad part is that Obama is losing the edge among "thinking, progressive"
voters i.e. many. Perhaps pandering to the NJ and FLA electorate seems politically correct, what one sacrifices in so doing are the same people who got this man elected. Very sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Peters,

The issue of finding the way to get information in and out of the island without government supervision is key to a successful democratic transition and the US government would do well to help solve it.

The argument that this would violate Cuba's sovereignty is not valid because no government should use its sovereignty to deny its population freedom of information which is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which the Cuban government signed.

The issue is not whether the bagasse curtain should be breached to allow the free two way flow of information, but how best to go about it.

I think that the most intelligent way would have been to place the bgans in sites under diplomatic inmunity where the Cuban security services could not get at them.

Once istalled a limited number of independent reporters, librarians and opposition figures could be given password access to the bgans and the internet.

The Alan Gross attempt to place the bgans outside of sites with diplomatic immunity was totally unnecessary.

It served no useful purpose and exposed a US citizen to excessive risks.

In fact one can begin to wonder whether it was a simple boner or a precalculated provocation carried out with a definite end in mind, to have a US citizen arrested and imprisoned so as to aggravate relations between the US and Cuban governments in order to halt the efforts towards a gradual negotiated lifting of the embargo.

There is another angle to this faux pas that should also be considered.

This initial failure to create a mesh network in Havana will now stop it from being successfully applied until after Alan Gross is released.

This will also retard the demise of the totalitarian Cuban system.

Thus a wondrous technological advance that could have been used to speed up the Cuban democratic transition has wound up becoming an obstacle to its own success.

Is this accidental, or was this outcome consciously sought?


Anonymous said...

the cubans i've met from one side of the island to the other are usually well informed. the americans ive met don't have a clue about cuba.
so lets sing clearly, and end this terminology of 'democracy' transition and call it what it really is. the only country in the world interfering in the internal sovereignty of cuba is the only nation sworn t o regime change. how should the cuban government react?

brianmack said...

CANTACLARO, you want a regime change in Cuba? Allow unlimited internet,
phone and cable T.V. service FREE
to the people of Cuba. Plan and simply. Please, use your intelligence and think! There's no way the people of Cuba would continue
allowing the insanity and stalled potential if they could only communicate with us. I am amazed that this discussion isn't rallying dozens to this blog.

Anonymous said...

The real debate I would like to have is about the way the contractor hired by the State Dpt. went about trying to set up a mesh network in Cuba.

Was this program investigated to find out the causes for its failure?

Why was a non Spanish speaking Cuban unaware of the repressive situation existing in the island sent to on this mission there?

Why was Alan Gross instructed to install the Bgans within Cuban territory instead of in diplomatic sites where it would be immune and could not be seized by Cuban authorities but would still be able to receive and transmit information and could serve as secure sites for a mesh network?

What benefits would be derived from placing the bgans in places where the Cuban Ministry of Interior could seize them?

Did this not necessarily endanger a US citizen an hinder the development of a mesh network?

Why was the necessary communication equipment for this project that was being sponsored by the Dpt of State being attempted to be smuggled into Cuba instead of simply brought in through the diplomatic pouch?

Was Alan Gross set up in order to worsen relations between the government of both countries and to retard the implementation of a mesh network in Cuba or was his arrest the result of sheer ineptitude?

Whatever the cause of this results, who was responsible for them?

What sort of consequences did the responsible official in charge of this program receive for these results?

What sort of measures is the State Dept going to take to get Alan Gross out of the predicament the subcontractor of the State Dpt program got him into?

What sort of measures are going to be taken to put the program into place in Cuba as soon as possible?

If none of these things have been investigated, I would respectfully request Hillary Clinton, the Sec. of State to please look into them.


brianmack said...

Cantaclaro, I totally agree with almost all you've written. Here's my thought, we didn't need Alan Gross
or the hundreds of millions to attempt to "change" Cuba. All we
need to do is discontinue the embargo.
All Cuban's would be able to access the media/voice out of the USA. That would solve the problem. Now, what I see are the elite expatriates who, perhaps, want the entire country when
change comes and control the situation. Maybe? A bit far fetched but let's change this insane policy.

Anonymous said...

As to the request for Cuban Grant Proposals I frankly do not think that there is any need for the State Dpt to outsource this programs.

Unless of course the State Dpt wants to make a futile effort to distance itself from these programs which would evidently be childish.

Better for the State Dpt to do a professional inhouse job than to give it to anateurs that know nothing about the Cuban repressive environment so that they can screw things up like they did in the Alan Gross snafu.

There are two divisions to setting up a mesh network in Cuba, These are setting up a mesh network and teaching oponents of the Cuban government how to use it for their diverse activities.

Let's analyze each of these.

The bgans or similar devices necessary to transmit and receive to a satellite internet service that would evade Cuban internet and telephone censorship would obviously have to be set up in foreign embassies or consulates where the Cuban repressive apparatus could not get to them.

By my count there are 23 diplomatic sites in Havana that could be used for such a network.

Obviously not all such foreign governments would be agreeable to installing a bgan on its embassy site in Havana.

A previous labor of obtaining permission from foreign governments would have to be done.

After that the necessary equipment would have to be brought into the country.

Finally the bgans would have to be installed, supervised and given maintenance.

Obviously, no independent contractor would be able to do all this.

Only the State Dept. can get the permission of the foreign governments, bring the hardware into the country safely on the diplomatic pouch and hire the technicians that would be based for considerable periods in the country to install, supervise and give maintenance to the mesh network.

Now the objective of a mesh network is to create a net of anonymous collaborators who would be able to get information in and out of the country and to organize its collection and distribution inside of it.

Now what possible use would non Cuban residents in the island independent contractors have in such a situation when their very presence in the island would be easily detected and supervised and inevitably allow the Cuban counterintelligence organs to identify the members of the anonymous web they attempt to contact?

This is absolutely illogical and seems more a piñata of sorts created to enrichen stateside independent contractors than a procedure that will help the Cuban opposition.

The small number of independent reporters, distributors of information and human right observers that would be given access to the mesh network should be chosen by members of the US diplomatic corps in the USINT sections on a strictly individual, anonymous basis, provided with:
1- Laptops.
2- A web site to report to.
3- Passwords that would change periodically.
4- Programmed times to make use of the mesh network to avoid congestion and slow communications.

Every effort should be made so that no person hooked up to the network knows the identity of the others to avoid the arrest of members of the network if police infiltration occurs.

Training should be conducted through tutorials provided through the mesh network itself that would explain not only how to use the network but also the activities each member with access to the network is assigned.

Periodically each member of the mesh network's access will be evaluated and all those that do not have results that merit it or are suspected to be under the control of Cuban security will be disconnected.

In a totalitarian environment like the Cuban, outsourcing these activities to independent contractors is like sending sheep to the slaughterhouse.

The Cuban repressive apparatus is one of the best in the world! Stop underestimating them and making it easy for them to carry out their work!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


I favor neither the right wing exile position to use the embargo to overthrow the Cuban govbernment nor the Cuban government's position to lift it unconditionally.

I think the first strategy is stupid and counterproductive and actually helps the Cuban government to stay in power by allowing it to play the role of victim and receive nationalist support from the population.

I believe the 2nd position would weaken the Cuban government and would eventually lead to its demise but that it is optimal one since the increase in the standard of level of the Cuban population that would result from it would in all probability prolong the life of the totalitarian government in the island.

The most intelligent strategy, in my opinion, would be the one Obama is carrying out at present, to lift the embargo gradually through negotiations in exchange for Cuban government measures that will promote a democratic transition in the island and the return to a market economy.

This measure will not allow as rapid a short run increase in the standard of living of the Cuban population but I think that it will help minimize the duration of the totalitarian dictatorship running the country and promote a non violent solution to the Cuban crisis.


Anonymous said...

In short, the only possible activity that the State Dept. could outsource should be the preparations of the necessary tutorials to teach the Cuban personnel that will be hooked up to the net how to connect, transmit and receive information through it and how to conduct the activities they are going to carry out within the island.

And this is probably not even necessary because it would be even cheaper if it were performed by Dept of State Employees itself.

If we want to save the taxpayer's dollars and reduce the federal deficit we should begin by reducing unnecessary federal outsourcing of activities that federal employess can perform more cheaply and cost effectively than private contractors.

The Federal Government should cease being a huge piñata for private companies well connected with politicians.

This is nowhere more true than in the programs to finance the Cuban transition to democracy where it is so hard to ensure that there is no waste and corruption and that the money given to the private contractors is effectively being used for the purpose it was intended.

If the GAO audits performed on these programs detected as much waste as it is rumored in the way that private contractors administered the funds, then these programs should be administered directly by federal employees subject to greater supervision to avoid corruption and waste and to ensure that the funds are spent effectively for their intended purpose.

To me some of these programs that require staff on the island are unsecure, wasteful, have very few intended results, facilitate Cuban government infiltration of opposition groups, transfer huge quantities of resources to the Cuban Ministry of Interior and are administered in a corrupt fashion.

They also create a group of Cuban American interests groups that are not really interested in a Cuban return to democracy because their modus vivendi will disappear.

Therefore I suggest that the State Dept. stop outsourcing all these activities and carry them out with its own personnel.

This will be cheaper and make a more significant contribution to the Cuban democratic transition.



Anonymous said...

A mesh network in Cuba will make possible to use against the totalitarian dictatorship there a leaderless and non structured anonymous opposition.

This will be an opposition that will have an anonymous leadership that will specify general goals and means of achieving them that will be communicated through the mesh network to descentralized cells that will have the responsibility of choosing the proper time and place to execute the general instructions.

Once it gets off the ground, random numbers can be even used to decide these matters and confuse the authorities even further.

Something as unsophisticated as the numbers in the license plates of cars passing in the street could be used for these purposes.

Unlike today, such an opposition will be hard to infiltrate and for the security services to be aware of their future activities.

In this manner the perfect totalitarian society can be successfully subverted and a democratic transition promoted.

But the lynchpin of all this is allowing the opposition to communicate among themselves without government interception and supervision.

This is where the mesh network comes in.

It is frustrating to see the implementation of such a wondrous technology in the hands of such incompetents that do not understand how to apply it in a corrosive, pervasive totalitarian environment.