Monday, October 25, 2010

Exclusive: Q&A with USAID

Several interesting developments have emerged in the Alan Gross case. Reuters reported on Sunday that Judy Gross wrote a letter to Raul Castro in August and apologized for her husband's work. The letter said:
To the extent his work may have offended you or your government, he and I are genuinely remorseful.
The New York Times followed the story and said the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, was was taking a less aggressive approach toward Cuba:
In an effort to win Mr. Gross’s release, administration officials and Congressional aides said Usaid had quietly changed the way it administers its programs in Cuba, shifting the focus from those intent on ‘regime change’ to those that support educational exchanges and the growth of small businesses.
Phil Peters, a former State Department official who writes the Cuban Triangle blog, said he wants to know more. He asked:
...why doesn’t the Obama Administration explain in public how it has put its own stamp on the program?
It is true that many details of USAID's work in Cuba have not been disclosed. One official told me that the U.S. government can't reveal all that it does to protect the dissidents it is trying to help.
I am working on a series of freelance stories about civil society in Cuba and U.S. government programs aimed at promoting democracy. The Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C., helped finance my latest trip to Cuba. See details here.
I have been inquiring about USAID and other U.S. government programs that operate in Cuba. USAID today sent me a statement in response to my initial questions.
I welcome additional information, opinions and ideas from government employees on both sides of the Florida Straits, Cuban bloggers, exiles, dissidents, experts, scholars and others. Feel free to send in your thoughts about pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

The Q&A is below:

Eaton: Can you make any general statements about the status of U.S. pro-democracy programs in Cuba ? The arrest of Alan Gross had an impact on these programs, I understand. Have things gotten back to normal?

USAID: The U.S. Government continues to try to reach out and engage with the people of Cuba, as we do with most other countries in the world. Naturally, the arrest of Alan Gross, a dedicated international development worker, prompted a review of our ongoing efforts with Cuba . Such a process is part of a continuous/evolving effort to shape and refine our assistance programs to better reach the citizens of Cuba and develop closer links between our people and societies. We feel strongly that such interaction benefits both of our countries.

Eaton: Can you cite any success stories these programs have had over the past year or two?

USAID: As with all development efforts around the world, the most notable successes have resulted from concentrated efforts over a longer period. For example, we have trained hundreds of journalists over a ten year period whose work has appeared in major international news outlets. We have facilitated information sharing into and out of Cuba as well as within Cuba . In a place where communication is so limited, basic access to information is an important achievement. In addition, we have provided critical humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression.

The news of the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo -- which inspired international outrage and condemnation of the human rights situation in Cuba -- was immediately disseminated outside of the island thanks, in part, to an increased ability to provide information out of Cuba .

Eaton: Have any of the goals or priorities changed since Barack Obama took office? I've read about the QDDR. I don't know what impact that has, if any, on Cuba programs, as I wrote here.

USAID: The QDDR is still underway and the results have not yet been finalized.

U.S. assistance to Cuba will continue to promote self-determined democracy in Cuba and greater communication with the people of Cuba. Funds will be used to provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression; advance human rights; strengthen independent civil society organizations; and support information sharing into and out of Cuba.

Eaton: My understanding is that the USAID is spending $15 million on pro-democracy programs this fiscal year. Can you say anything - specifically or generally - about where that money is going?

USAID: In fiscal year 2009, U.S. Government was appropriated $15.62 million for assistance programs on Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression; advance human rights; strengthen independent civil society organizations; and support information sharing into and out of Cuba.

Eaton: How much of the money from, say, $15 million reaches the hands of dissidents, pro-democracy activists and other aid targets in Cuba?

USAID: The vast majority of this money is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba. Our objective is to maximize the amount of support that benefits Cubans on the island. Since the $15.62 million in fiscal year 2009 funds has recently been programmed, it is too early to have a precise figure at this point, but the overall goal is to have the funds directly benefit Cubans on the island.

Eaton: Can you say anything about the challenges of trying to help dissidents in a country like Cuba, where dissident and human rights groups appear to be heavily infiltrated? Several dissident leaders I interviewed in Havana told me about state security agents who had moved in to apartments or homes right next door to them to keep tabs on them 24 hours a day.

USAID: It is sad and unfortunate that those with differing political perspectives and defenders of human rights are still being persecuted by their government. We admire their courage, however, and take all precautions possible to ensure that we don’t do anything that would further endanger the recipients of our foreign assistance programs or our implementing partners.

Eaton: How much input do targets of the aid have in how the pro-democracy funds are spent?

USAID: We draw on a wide range of experts to design our programs. We also work to carry out programs that are demand-driven and responsive to the needs of targeted beneficiaries.

Eaton: Some dissident leaders in Cuba have told reporters that they disagree with U.S. policy toward Cuba. Some of them say pro-democracy money only gives the Cuban government a pretext to arrest them. Others don't believe the U.S. government ought to be trying to influence internal matters in Cuba. Do U.S. officials take into account any of these views?

USAID: We acknowledge that there are varying views within Cuba and around the world regarding efforts to reach the Cuban people, and we certainly respect these differing views and take them into account. Clearly, no one is required to accept or take part in any USG programs if they don’t want to. There are many groups and individuals inside and outside Cuba who believe the funds are useful in supporting their ability to carry out their activities and promote fundamental freedoms -- freedoms, it should be noted, that are engendered in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and democratic norms throughout the world. Experience in Cuba and in other closed-societies shows that such programs play a positive role in empowering those who work towards positive change and the promotion of fundamental freedoms.

13 comments:

Cuba Journal said...

The Cuban people would have to be very stupid if they "trust" the intentions of USAID.

That organization, together with the National Endowment for Democracy, are 100% capitalist organizations which seek to finance and promote the mercenaries which the United States Interest Section directs inside the island.

Allan Gross was part of those plans to subvert and destabilize Cuban Socialism. As long as Obama keeps the Cuban Five in prison, keep Allan Gross in a Cuban jail. He new full well what he was doing. Let him pay the price for his illegal actions.

Tracey Eaton said...

Cuba Journal,
thanks for your comment.

Jose Pertierra said...

Cuba does not belong to the United States, and Washington has no business promoting "regime change" in the island. Miami, on the other hand, is within US territory, although oftentimes it behaves as its own planet as it promotes and protects international terrorism. Perhaps USAID might want to engage the Cuban-Americans in Miami to put a stop to the terrrorism they have promoted against the people of Cuba for over fifty years.

José Pertierra
Washington, D.C.

Tracey Eaton said...

Jose Pertierra -
Thank you for your comment. Saludos,
Tracey Eaton

Milton said...

The US is interested in promoting democracy only when convenient. These past 60 years at least in this hemisphere we have seen US involvement against democracies in Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Haiti. We see a continuous effort to topple the Cuban government through many anti-democratic actions. USAID money is another tool of the US government to continue to subvert Cuban democracy and return the island to the time when the US had full control. Any reading of Helms-Burton law and the entire history of US involvement with Cuba dating back to the early 1800's cannot bring the reader to any other conclusion; the US is more interest in possession and control than the wishes of the Cuban people. The only role of USAID is to disrupt Cuban sovereignty and return Cuba to US domination. 15 million USAID dollars buys a lot of dissidents anywhere, especially in an economically blockaded island. Milton Sanchez-Parodi

Cuba Journal said...

Milton:

I agree with you 100%. Anyone has a right to express opinions, pro or con, so here goes mine; it is not directed against any person in particular; it is just the way I feel.

"Anyone who believes that the U.S. is interested in promoting democracy is an extremely gullible person. Batista, Somoza, Trujillo, Pinochet and the Sha of Iran were the types of democracies which the U.S. has supported in the past. More recently, they have supported coups against Chavez in Venezuela and Zelaya in Honduras. Coup d'etat are the favorite "democracies" which the USA promotes."

Tracey Eaton said...

Milton,
thanks for your comments!
Tracey Eaton

Jack said...

I find it interesting that the U.S. is so fixated on human rights in Cuba to the point of almost zero contact. Yet, the U.S. has developed full relations with China, Vietnam, Honduras, to name a few, that have much worse human rights records. I have been to Cuba twice and my last trip I discussed over several days Cuban affairs with several people who were very critical of the Cuban government-- making their comments in public cafes sitting with an obvious foreigner. Could this happen in China or Vietnam? It is certainly time to end this dual system.
Jack Thornburg

Tracey Eaton said...

Thanks for your comment, Jack.

John McAuliff said...

The last paragraph of your interview with USAID should be looked at in the context of your post that Alan Gross will be tried.


Same old same old self righteousness. No implied regrets for sending Alan. No readiness to stop sending other Alans. What else do we expect the Cubans to do, endorse our right to interfere in their domestic polity?

I hope Alan and Judy Gross acknowledge frankly his violations of Cuban law since the US government does not seem prepared to. Cuba for humanitarian reasons should release him for time served.

My thoughts on the implications of the UN embargo vote
http://thehavananote.com/2010/11/obamas_self_inflicted_isolation

and of the mid-term elections
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-mcauliff/cuba-symbolizes-failure-o_b_780128.html

Cuba Journal said...

John: Unfortunately, I disagree with you. Being "nice" to the U.S. government will be seen by the imperialists as a Cuban weakness. The U.S. and that fraud named Barack Obama do not seek friendship or good relations with Cuba. Their arrogance leads them to only explore how they can profit from the current Cuban economic crisis. They will fail.

Mr. Gross should be brought to trial as a covert U.S. agent who violated Cuba law.

John McAuliff said...

Perpetual war is not of benefit to either country.

Honest acknowledgement of error by Mr. Gross, perhaps focusing the blame on the beltway bandits at Development Alternatives Incorporated, provides a face saving solution to both countries.

The lesson will have been learned by Washington even if it cannot admit it publicly because of domestic politics.

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