An Obama administration program secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change, a clandestine operation that put those foreigners in danger even after a US contractor was hauled away to a Cuban jail.
Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the US Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.
In one case, the workers formed an HIV prevention workshop that memos called “the perfect excuse” for the program’s political goals — a gambit that could undermine America’s efforts to improve health globally.
But their efforts were fraught with incompetence and risk, an Associated Press investigation found: Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers. The young workers nearly blew their mission to “identify potential social-change actors.” One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught.
“Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you,” read a memo obtained by the AP. “Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.”
In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the program in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.
The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, continued the program even as US officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology...
Drawing on documents and interviews worldwide, the AP found the travelers program went to extensive lengths to hide the workers’ activities. They were to communicate in code: “I have a headache” meant they suspected they were being monitored by Cuban authorities; “Your sister is ill” was an order to cut their trip short...
USAID has yet to provide the AP with a complete copy of the Cuban contracts under a Freedom of Information Act request filed more than three months ago.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in office during the program and is a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, said in her new book “Hard Choices” that she was pleased “to see change slowly creeping into the country.”