Thursday, April 9, 2015

{think} Cuba summit revisited

Still no answer
This week's Summit of the Americas stirred memories of a very different summit held in Panama in 2011.
It was called {think} Cuba and the organizer was a California woman named Stephanie Rudat.
Her blog declared: "Ask me anything." So I asked if she was getting any U.S. government money to put on the summit.
Stephanie Rudat
I never got an answer, so I went to Panama in April 2011 to try to talk to organizers of the three-day event.
Rudat had promised to bring together some of the world's most effective technology-driven activists to jump-start the process of change in Cuba.
The {think} Cuba website stated:
This international task force will collectively support efforts of Cuba’s leading activists and have the opportunity to present initiatives that put their ideas into action. Together, with combined expertise and a global perspective, they will push the pursuit of freedom and improvement of circumstance for Cubans.
Rudat had organized summits before. She was co-founder of the Alliance for Youth Movements, which received $225,690 in State Department funds to gather a group of activists and entrepreneurs in Mexico City from Oct. 14 to Oct. 16, 2009, records show.
In November 2009, the Huffington Post called Rudat one of "11 Twitter Activists You Should Be Following."
She was on the advisory board of Team Rubicon, an innovative disaster-response team made up of doctors, firefighters, medics, military veterans and others. Team Rubicon President Jake Wood wrote of Rudat:
I guess I can’t really pin down what it is that she does, other than run the Alliance of Youth Movements and serve on the boards of a gabillion organizations. She basically identifies young, powerful movements and ensures that they have the tools and mentoring necessary to ensure their success. I’d say she’s good at what she does. Oh, and Oscar calls her the Madonna of nonprofits. I’m just saying…

Rudat stated that the purpose of the {think} Cuba summit was "to expose, engage, educate, and enroll select global youth leaders to better understand, support and collaborate with and for Cuban activists while creating a consortium united for the positive development of Cuba and our world."
She told an interviewer:
Toppling dictators is something I really like.
In an April 7, 2010, article called, "Effective Tools and Strategy: Kicking it Up a Notch in Cuba and Beyond, Rudat wrote:
Technology is boosting connectivity, engaging and enrolling the masses to push against repression faced by the people of Cuba, but it's going to take unlimited, uncensored access for technology to truly affect change. Creating a way for Cubans to securely communicate with the rest of the world, to freely express their reality and organize for change, is essential. Likewise, those off the island need to be able to easily respond with support and solutions. Free communication is the key that will empower them to use technology to organize and launch a legitimate movement. 
Gene Sharp
Collaborators listed on the now defunct {think} Cuba website included the Albert Einstein Institution, whose senior scholar Gene Sharp has been featured in the New York Times. Sharp is the author of a popular guide showing how to overthrow dictators using non-violent methods. A YouTube video called "How to Start a Revolution" quotes one of his supporters, Col. Bob Helvey, who had been accused of being a spy. He responded:
I was not a member of the CIA. Never have been. Never will be. And if you don't believe me, go fuck yourself.
Rudat had led summits in New York, Mexico City and London. The Mexico gathering attracted an impressive list of speakers and participants. They included:
  • Jack Dorsey, the creator, co-founder and chairman of Twitter.
  • Steve Grove, then head of news and politics at YouTube (now director of News Lab at Google).
  • Jason Liebman, co-founder and CEO of Howcast, dedicated to creating the largest library of how-to videos on the web. His organization, Howcast Media, received $524,500 from the State Department in 2008 and 2009 for digital media, social networking and other services, records show.
  • Marc Wachtenheim, then head of the Cuba Development Initiative, or CDI, aimed at bringing together hemispheric leaders who "implement strategies in collaboration with the Cuban people to advance their democratic, economic, and social development..."
Several U.S. officials also attended the Mexico event. Among them:
  • Maria Otero, then under secretary of state for Democracy and Global Affairs.
  • Alec Ross, then senior advisor for innovation for Hillary Clinton.
  • Jared Cohen, who advised the State Department on such topics as counter-terrorism, youth and the "War of Ideas."
InterContinental Miramar Panama
I figured some of the same experts would show up in Panama for the invitation-only event.
I wasn't invited, of course, but went anyway.
Employees of the InterContinental Miramar Panama, the purported summit site, said they had no knowledge of the event.
"It´s very strange," one hotel employee told me. "People have been asking about the event all week."
Another female employee, who helps arrange events and banquets at the hotel, hadn't heard of the event, either.
Reinaldo Calviac, then Cuban ambassador in Panama, told me:
Who knows? Up until now it has been a clandestine event.
Rudat was nowhere in sight at the InterContinental hotel. She listed her partner as Absot Marketing. I went to the company's Panama office on the 13th floor of the Century Tower.
The Century Tower
A receptionist sitting just inside the door told me that Rudat was not in. Vanessa Fuentes, listed as the company´s founder, wasn't there, either.
Vanessa Fuentes
So I pretty much struck out.
Looking back, I suspect that the Pan American Development Foundation was behind {think} Cuba.
Back then, Marc Wachtenheim worked for the PADF, which had received at least $4.3 million for Cuba programs from 2007 to 2009, records showed.
Marc Wachtenheim
Wachtenheim's biography lists him as an “Ambassador” for Alliance of Youth Movements, the same organization that organized similar summits. His biography states:
For a decade and a half, Marc Wachtenheim has designed and led international development programs focused on building democratic institutions and local capacity in complex social and political environments, including as a staff member of the World Bank in two continents, and on multiple USAID and US Department of State-supported projects internationally.
For approximately 10 years, Marc Wachtenheim served as Director of the Cuba Development Initiative where, under his leadership, the effort assisted thousands of Cuban citizens and hundreds of pro-democracy organizations. 
I sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the Agency for International Development, asking for details of PADF's work in Cuba, but USAID did not respond.
Surprise, surprise...

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