Friday, January 22, 2016

USAID mission: Shape the Cuba narrative

A multimillion-dollar U.S. government-financed program was aimed at, among other things, developing an "information program focusing on the impact of foreign investors and foreign tourists on Cuba" and sensitizing the "business community and foreign leaders about the labor conditions and tourist apartheid in the island."
That's according to a document that the U.S. Agency for International Development released on Jan. 19 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that I made on Oct. 8, 2011.
The document describes a contract that USAID awarded to the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C., for a program called, "Uncensored Cuba."
The contract ran from March 31, 2005, to April 30, 2009, and was worth up to $7,231,663. USAID wound up paying the Center for a Free Cuba $6,652,853.12.
USAID censored details of Uncensored Cuba's budget, redacting the salaries, fringe benefits, communications, travel and other costs.
Budget details redacted
Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, signed the contract. It stated:
During the three-year period of this cooperative agreement, the Center for a Free Cuba plans to focus on the following objectives:
#1: To continue its democracy building program that attempts to break Castro's monopoly of information by providing Cubans with literature on transition to democracy and market economics,

#2: To support and strengthen the emerging civil society in Cuba,
#3: To encourage the international community to play an active role in protecting human rights and the transition to democracy on the island,
#4: To develop an information program focusing on the impact of foreign investors and foreign tourists on Cuba and Cubans as a way to sensitive the business community and foreign leaders about the labor conditions and tourist apartheid in the island.
These objects will be achieved by:
> Publishing and distributing books, brochures and videos in Cuba,
> Encouraging and strengthening civil society,
> Providing material assistance for Cuba's pro-democracy movement,
> Sponsoring an international outreach program.
While the contract is dated, it illustrates the way that Washington tried - and continues to try - to shape the narrative about Cuba, painting it as a nation that is hostile to foreign investment and discriminatory in its treatment of its citizens as compared to tourists.
A second document obtained under FOIA shows that the Center for a Free Cuba proposed the Uncensored Cuba program on Dec. 11, 1997.
The program called for providing "material assistance to various elements of Cuba's nascent civil society, including independent doctors, economists, lawyers, human rights activists, and religious leaders. Assistance will include laptop computers, typewriters, fax machines, copiers, short-wave radios, cameras, tape recorders, carbon paper, etc. At least 12 visitors to the island will hand-deliver equipment which will be purchased in accordance with USAID regulations."
USAID awarded the program $2,249,709 from April 1998 to February 2003, the document shows.

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