Absent a successful transition, "the United States could face a massive humanitarian catastrophe on its shores."
Cuban activists "lack the necessary skills" required to carry out a democratic transition "in a deliberate and strategic manner."
Those were among the conclusions of a contractor's proposal submitted to the U.S. Agency for International Development on May 29, 2008.
USAID accepted the proposal and the contractor sent Alan Gross to Cuba. He was arrested after his fifth trip to the island in 2009. Cuban authorities accused Gross of taking part in a “subversive project aiming at bringing down the revolution" and slapped him with a 15-year jail sentence.
In 2010, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the contractor's proposal and other documents. USAID denied the request in 2011.
On Sept. 30, 2014, the agency said "upon further review and analysis," it was reversing its earlier decision and releasing a redacted version of the contractor's technical proposal.
The agency also apologized for the delay, saying:
Unfortunately, USAID is experiencing a substantial backlog of FOIA requests and appeals. Please know that USAID management is very committed to providing responses to FOIA requests and appeals, in addition to remedying the FOIA backlog.Development Alternatives Inc., of Bethesda, Md., wrote the proposal while pursuing a contract entitled, Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program.
USAID censored the technical proposal and released only a page of DAI's cost proposal.
The agency declined to release the proposal of the losing bidder, Management Systems International, in Arlington, Va. Records show the company has received $223 million in USAID grants since 1988.
DAI has more extensive experience than MSI. DAI's proposal stated:
DAI has managed 72 projects with grant programs, administering a total of approximately $1 billion in grants.DAI said its programs have included:
- $11 million spent in Venezuela
- The $12 million grants component of the Counter-Narcotics Consolidation of Alternative Development Efforts activity in Bolivia
- The $58 million grants component of the Liberia Community Infrastructure Projects
- Almost $50 million for OTI's Indonesia and Timor-Leste Transition Initiatives (Editor's note: OTI stands for USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, aimed at moving quickly in nations experiencing conflicts and transitions).
- $348 million for 4,514 small grants under the Iraq Transition Initiative - the largest grants-under-contract program (in dollar value and in number of small grants) USAID has ever mounted.
|Names of managers redacted|
Preparing for democratic change in Cuba is essential if external support is to be meaningful in facilitating successful transition from the current regime in Havana. Indeed, the dissolution of a longstanding repressive regime does not necessarily mean the emergence of a democratic substitute.A democratic transition "requires many things," including:
- A new leadership that is capable and committed to democratic principles
- An organized political party structure that can mobilize change
- Citizens who understand and accept democratic values
- An engaged civil society
- Security forces that recognize the new authority
- The effective delivery of basic goods and services
- Some measure of economic growth
- Protection from rear-guard actions of the former leadership and well-funded supporters such as Hugo Chavez.
|Operations details redacted|
Should some of these key ingredients be missing, democratic transition in Cuba may fail to gain traction and the island could slide toward some other form of authoritarian government.DAI said the transition was "ultimately dependent on domestic actors," but "external players can also shape the trajectory of these transitions."
The driving forces of change could come from within the Communist Party. Economic crisis could force change. There could be gradual "demand-driven change" as young people, church leaders or others press for reforms, the proposal stated.
But it's difficult to know for sure. Therefore, the proposal stated:
A strategy to hasten and strengthen a successful transition must therefore pursue openings on each front and be prepared for all eventualities.
|Names of mobilization experts redacted|
The contractor said the program was similar to projects it managed in Venezuela, Pakistan and Serbia.
DAI said USAID designed the CDCPP "to bolster the effectiveness of independent voices within Cuba and educate citizens on the roles, norms, and values of a democratic society."
But Cuba's democratic activists aren't ready to lead, the proposal stated.
Reformist actors in Cuba, who we expect to play a leading role in the island's democratic transition, lack the necessary skills required to proceed in a deliberate and strategic manner. For decades, the regime has systematically suffocated them of leadership experience, access to information, opportunities to organizes, and resources. Given their importance to a successful transition, building their skills will be a priority of this grants program.
|Recruiting details redacted|
DAI said the Cuba program was "complex, strategically important, and highly politically sensitive." But it said it was up to the task.
We recognize the challenges involved because of our experience in politically charged democratic transitional environments around the world, including Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Georgia, Timor-Leste, and Indonesia.The contractor said key priorities included:
DAI is the industry leader in large-scale grant management in complex environments.
Identify and secure office space, lodging, communications capability, and transportation to support what will be a complex program that will grow and expand at a demanding pace.
|Names of key personnel redacted|
But DAI also envisioned scenarios that would require them to manage the program from Cuba.
Detailed contingency plans for pivoting from an off-shore to in-country program will be developed over the course of the first year of this program.The proposal said grantees would be "at substantial risk" for receiving USAID support.
...USAID/Cuba and program implementers must operate with great discretion and commit to protect grantee information at all costs. Having worked in many hostile environments, DAI understands this responsibility and takes it very seriously.DAI also said the program is politically delicate.
The long and acrimonious history of the United States with the Castro regime makes this a highly politically sensitive program to implement. Accordingly, CDCPP must operate both with finesse and within accepted DG promotion parameters lest the Cuban government use this information to rally nationalist sentiments against democratic reforms. There are also, of course, complex and highly emotional U.S. domestic politics that factor into this transition initiative.
|Organizational chart redacted|
...Proximity dictates a U.S. obligation to facilitate a successful democratic transition in Cuba, barring which the United States could face a massive humanitarian catastrophe on its shores. It is unusual for a USAID program to carry responsibility for such serious domestic political consequences and potentially elevated security threats.Other excerpts of the proposal:
- Once conditions in Cuba allow for the deployment of the USAID/Cuba mission, the operational environment for this program will change dramatically. As with a disaster response, the transformation cannot be incremental; it will require adoption of a new approach, intensity of activity, structure and staff. Doing so requires a clear institutional mechanism to "flip the switch" so that the inertia of the established pace of operations does not carry on, hamstringing the next phase of the transitional operation. Speed and clarity will be of the essence. The opportunity for external actors to influence the trajectory of a transition is typically the greatest at the early stages when reformers are under-resourced, in greatest need of technical guidance, and operating at a low capacity.
- The ability of Cuba's new transitional democratic leaders to communicate with the general population during the transitional period will be crucial in order to convey key transition messages, continue the democratic acculturation process, dispel rumors that will inevitably emerge swiftly, and counter efforts by internal and external actors to spoil an orderly transition. Equipping reformist forces with communications capabilities and ensuring geographic coverage will be a key component of the contingency plan. We anticipate that all of the equipment and vehicles for this initial stage of Phase II activities will need to be brought in to the island.
- Our information sharing efforts will ensure the new Cuban leaders are at the center of the coordination and decision-making process, in order to enhance their legitimacy and give direction to what may be a massive international response.
- Democratic transitions are rarely smooth - nearly half of all democratic transitions experience a period of backsliding during their first five years. For reformers, the challenge is to build support for democratic change and strong organizational capacity in a short period...
- ...Most cases of democratic backsliding to autocracy occur under conditions of economic stagnation. This underscores the need for broad-based economic stimuli in the early stages of the democratic transition to create jobs, create confidence for private investors, and demonstrate to the general population that there will be tangible democracy dividends if they stay the democratic course.
- The programming demands on USAID/Cuba will become immediately more complex and management intensive with the creation of an in-country mission. A field presence will be required, entailing project visits, geographic coverage, networking with grantees and their partners, and assessments of how the program portfolio should adapt to the changing operating environment.
- Likely priorities will include ensuring macroeconomic stability, especially protecting against runaway inflation should confidence in the Cuban peso crumble. DAI will be ready to deploy experienced post-socialist economic stabilization specialists toward this end.
- A key lesson from post-socialist transitions in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union is that socialist political and economic institutions do not transfer easily to market-based, democratic governance structures. Pushing rapidly ahead on a reform agenda before some of these institutions are restructured can lead to disaster. Many experts believe the "shock therapy" strategy pursued in Russia before the requisite regulatory institutions were in place contributed to the creation of the new oligarchs who now block democratization.
- ...USAID/Cuba's transition strategy will be strengthened to the extent it accurately reflects the evolution and diversification of voices within the Cuban-American exile community.
- Researching, writing, and talking about Cuba is virtually an industry unto itself. CDCPP must help USAID navigate the maze of political advocates and experts and secure access to the best and most impartial Cuba analysis. By definition, this means openness to sourcing expertise from outside the standing ICRP consortia, and DAI is please to include in its CDCPP team the Inter-American Dialogue. The Dialogue's Cuba program has run continuously for two decades and has been regarded across presidential administrations as the pre-eminent source of thoughtful, nonpartisan analysis on Cuban affairs. Through the Dialogue, DAI will ensure that USAID has access to the best and most credible research available.