Sunday, March 25, 2012

USAID shields Freedom House

The U.S. Agency for International Development this month refused to release key details of Freedom House activities in Cuba from January 2000 through December 2007.
USAID released its 1999 contract with Freedom House along with 11 supplemental agreements, but redacted the majority of the program descriptions that would give details of the non-profit organization's activities in Cuba.
I requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. In its March 16 response, USAID cited a FOIA exemption that covers "trade secrets and commercial or financial information" that is "privileged or confidential."
The exemption is vague enough to shield just about any information from public view. In this case, USAID uses the exemption to keep secret:
  • The strategic objectives of Freedom House.
  • Its past successes and lessons learned in Cuba.
  • The group's techniques for monitoring the efficiency of its Cuba Democracy Program, or CDP.
  • The identities of aid recipients and partners in Cuba.
  • The activities of its partners in Cuba.

In its response, USAID redacted much of the 1999 program description and an 11-page supplemental program description dated Nov. 15, 2003.
The document mentions "foreign partners" and "partners abroad" but does not identify them. It also discusses drawing attention to human rights abuses in Cuba, including "additional political advocacy in Mexico."
USAID also redacted information on:
  • Labor rates
  • Cost breakdowns
  • Indirect cost rates
  • Key personnel
When responding to FOIA requests for contracts, USAID asks the private contractor to weigh in on what should be kept secret. So in that sense, it's not even USAID that's running the show. The private contractors are evidently key in deciding what information should be released to the public.
I plan to file additional FOIA requests in the coming months. I'll post them on the Cuba Money Project website.

An aside:
While reading the 1999 contract, I noticed a reference to the Catholic Church. In light of the pope's visit to Cuba, I'll share it below:
At the request of Catholic Church officials in Cuba, no USAID-funded material assistance is to be provided directly or indirectly to the Catholic Church in Cuba, with the exception of books and other informational material. Exceptions may be authorized if requested in writing by the CARITAS Director in Cuba, but the authorization must acknowledge that assistance requested will be funded by USAID.


Laz Red said...

dirty waters

Tracey Eaton said...

It's hard for me to judge if there are any "dirty waters" or not. I don't have the information.
The documents don't provide any details. There's mention of a "Sindicato Independiente de", but the rest of the name was cut off. I think the name was probably left in by mistake.