“Some years ago, when he was a senator, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed fear that the State Department was turning over funds to USAID [intended] for freedom and democracy promotion in Cuba that were going somewhere else,” writes Cuban journalist Iroel Sánchez. “On removing the lid from that pot, fetid vapors rose up, the same that businesses, ‘industry,’ and sustenance for adventurers, parasites, and Mafiosi always give off.”
In one of its recent editorials calling for a new U.S. approach to Cuba, the New York Times agreed: “The funds have been a magnet for charlatans, swindlers and good intentions gone awry.” The Times cited the $244 million the U.S. has spent in the last 18 years to instigate “democratic reforms” in Cuba.
Analyst Tracey Eaton tracks such U.S. “democracy promotion” projects, which in reality are aimed at subverting Cuba’s government. He monitors the flow of money. Data he presented recently testify to the commitment and extensive resources the U.S. government dedicates to this effort. Continuation of such funding would cast a long shadow on any new U.S. policies toward Cuba.
As a bureaucracy with personnel, material rewards, and levels of responsibility, the U.S. subversion apparatus directed at Cuba is formidable and must foster considerable loyalty among participants. Other anti-Cuban projects may not have as much hold on practitioners – fine-tuning blockade regulations, for example.
According to Eaton, “Over the past 15 years, dozens of organizations have received U.S. funds for democracy programs in Cuba.” USAID beneficiaries include, among others: “Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba – $3.4 million from September 2011 to September 2014…, International Republican Institute – $3.7 million from August 2008 to June 30 2012…, International Relief and Development – $3.5 million from September 2011 to September 2014…, and Creative Associates – $7 million from August 2008 to June 2012.”
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is a U.S. agency that, supervising the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, exerts control over Radio and TV Martí in Miami. BBG, which broadcasts U.S.-approved news and views to Cuba, operated on a $27 million budget in 2014.
Beginning in 2011, BBG paid Washington Software in Maryland $4,398,409 to send emails and text messages to Cuba – $1.2 million in 2014 alone. Eaton reported recently that the BBG paid $69,259,200 over 21 years to writers, performers and artists throughout the world to pass material reflecting U.S. propaganda and biases on to Cuba. Individuals and companies receiving such largesse have carried out 17,868 “transactions” with Cuba since 1983. Some 27 percent of the outlay went to undisclosed foreign recipients; Eaton listed 1400 others by name.
One is former CIA agent Dan Gabriel’s company, Applied Memetics. That enterprise consumed almost a million dollars in two years as it expanded social media in Cuba. It introduced a “new model of journalism that is based around a global story – in this case, the struggle for human rights and democracy around the world.”
Alan Gross was a USAID agent who has now spent five years in a Cuban jail. On five trips to Cuba posing as a tourist, Gross delivered high technology communications equipment to anti-government agitators. In doing so, he violated Cuban laws, and was arrested, convicted and given a 15-year sentence. Many in the United States envision an exchange of Gross for the three “Cuban Five” prisoners still in U.S. jails. These are Cubans who were caught by the U.S. while monitoring the actions of possibly violent anti-Castro groups in South Florida, and given outrageously long sentences after a joke of a trial. Cuban government leaders have promoted the idea, and the New York Times held up such an exchange as a crucial first step toward improved U.S.-Cuban relations.
Alan Gross was part of the U.S. internal subversion system in Cuba, a bit player, to be sure. He had covert action expertise and operated under a veneer of noble intentions. Getting rid of the apparatus which provided cover for Gross and others has yet to be figured into contemplated changes, particularly those President Obama would need to implement. Can Cuba trust the U.S. government while the subversion system Eaton describes remains in place? And more immediately, can a U.S. president dismantle the existing bureaucracy in charge of such projects?
A constituency of place holders will surely resist moves to close down their operations and so deprive them of the financial rewards, praise and power they are used to. Their continued activities are a serious obstacle to improving U.S.-Cuban relations, including a prisoner exchange.
There’s no indication a U.S. president can push this sector into retreating. The backing he or she can count on would come from Cuba solidarity activists with little organizational support from the larger community and from a few sympathetic but still reticent congresspersons.
High expectations for change are justified, but any popular mobilization toward that end logically must take this reality into consideration. The focus so far has been on pushing President Obama toward changes he is legally authorized to carry out. The missing link, however, may be popular pressure put on the U.S. Congress in any possible way.
Photo: Tourists ride in a classic American car on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba in Oct. 2014. Franklin Reyes/AP