Nixon Resigned, but “Dirty Tricks” in Cuba Live On

Today, August 8th, marks the fortieth anniversary of Richard Nixon’s decision to resign the presidency. History has been unkind to the 37th President of the U.S., and rightly so.  In one account of his resignation, Nixon is described as “paranoid, vicious, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, with a casual disregard for anything besides his own standing.”  In another, presidential historian Robert Dallek calls Watergate, “the worst threat to America’s democratic institutions since the Civil War.”

In no review have we seen Nixon called to account for the demons he released in Chile; backing the overthrow of its democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, for his full-throated support for Allende’s successor, General Augusto Pinochet, or for Nixon’s blustering denials that the U.S. played any role whatsoever in Allende’s removal from office in a coup or for the carnage that followed.


In the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon was a champion of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the fiasco that ultimately dropped onto John Kennedy’s desk soon after he dispatched the Vice President in the 1960 election.  Declassified documents released by the National Security Archive say Nixon, who “proposed to the CIA that they support ‘goon squads and other direct action groups’ inside and outside of Cuba,” repeatedly interfered in the invasion planning.


As President, Nixon was mesmerized by the prospect that Allende could be elected Chile’s leader, and by the threat he could pull the penumbra of Communism across Latin America.  As Peter Kornbluh has reported, CIA director Richard Helms informed his senior covert action staff that “President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States.”  In a move that is familiar to Cuba watchers, Nixon ordered Helms and the CIA to “make the Chilean economy scream,” to prevent Allende from succeeding.


The CIA, as the New York Times reported, “spent $8 million in Chile supporting the political opposition and establishing a network of those committed to Allende’s downfall.”  When the coup took place, as Kornbluh writes in his book, The Pinochet File, thousands of Chileans were rounded up and taken to the National Stadium; several hundred were executed there. During Pinochet’s bloody 17-year dictatorship, thousands more were killed; to this day over 1,100 remain “disappeared.”


As with so much else, Nixon lied about Chile without relent.  He told David Frost in 1977 that “Allende was overthrown, eventually, not because of anything that was done from the outside, but because his system didn’t work in Chile and Chile decided to throw him out.” Just as he misled the nation about Watergate, “tricky Dick” grossly dissembled on the U.S. role in Chile.


Laid alongside what he wrought upon Chile, USAID’s activities in Cuba are mere “dirty tricks,” but we suspect Nixon would have loved them just the same; although, like us, he might be astonished by who oversees them in the White House’s Oval Office today.


Earlier this year, we reported on the development agency’s ZunZuneo scandal, disclosed by the Associated Press, in which USAID supplied an SMS service to Cubans with mobile telephones, never telling them it was created by the U.S. government or that they were being profiled politically.  USAID and the State Department loudly denied the truth of ZunZuneo’s regime change provenance.


As its Administrator Rajiv Shah told a Senate Subcommittee in April:


“To the extent that the AP story or any other comment creates the impression that this effort or any other goes beyond that for other ulterior purposes that is just simply inaccurate.”


Now, the AP has returned with a blockbuster on a group of “nearly a dozen [untrained] neophytes” from Latin America recruited for a mission by USAID contractor Creative Associates International to enter Cuba as tourists and “gin up rebellion” among the Cuban population; yes, this is eerily similar to what opened the door to Alan Gross’s prison cell that slammed shut behind him almost five years ago.


In one especially objectionable operation, they used their participation in an HIV prevention workshop as a “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.


Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) called it “worse than irresponsible. It may have been good business for USAID’s contractor, but it tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.”


Yet, as William LeoGrande observed in the Huffington Post, “when AP blew the cover on the phony health program, USAID’s response was to stick by the ridiculous claim that it was just trying to help Cubans tackle a ‘community or social problem.’ USAID decried the AP story’s ‘sensational claims’ about the program’s subversive intent, declaring flatly, ‘This is wrong,’ but without actually denying any factual assertion in the piece.”


As Nixon sent the CIA into Chile, one member of its Directorate of Operations responded with this astute analysis:


“Covert operations to stop Allende from becoming president would be worse than useless. Any indication that we are behind a legal mickey mouse or some hardnosed play will exacerbate relations even further with the new government. I am afraid we will be repeating the errors we made in 1959 and 1960 when we drove Fidel Castro into the Soviet Camp.  If successful for the moment we would bring upon ourselves…a much worse image throughout Latin America and the World.”


The warning was ignored, and we know now what happened to Chile and to Nixon.  Will anyone persuade Obama to shut this “mickey mouse play” down?


A note: CDA will be taking a summer recess on the week of August 18. There will be no Cuba Central Newsblast on Friday, August 22.


U.S. sent Latin American youths on secret anti-Cuba mission; used HIV/AIDS workshop as “perfect excuse” for regime change activity

Over a period of at least two years beginning in late 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) dispatched almost a dozen young Costa Rican, Peruvian, and Venezuelan nationals on secret missions to Cuba to encourage anti-government opposition, reports the Associated Press. The young travelers were organized by Creative Associates International (the same organization behind the 2010 creation of ZunZuneo), a USAID contractor.  The youths posed as tourists to befriend young Cubans, and in one case held an HIV/AIDS prevention workshop as a pretense for identifying potential anti-government organizers.

The program, which began just months after the arrest of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, gave the young workers only limited training and almost no “safety net” for carrying out explicitly illegal work in a country with highly sophisticated counterintelligence systems. Some of the travelers were paid only $5.41 per hour. By late 2010, Cuban authorities began to inquire about the source of the workers’ funding, at which point Creative Associates decided to help “star contacts” obtain visas in order to travel to a third country for training, a strategy that fell apart after the visa money for one of the contacts was intercepted.

The use of an HIV workshop as the “perfect excuse” to recruit political dissidents has drawn criticism from Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), who heads the subcommittee that oversees USAID’s funding. In a statement ssued Monday, Leahy said that the program “tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.” Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) called the program “just wrong,” and Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13), co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, stated, “This blatant deception undermines U.S. credibility abroad and endangers U.S. government supported public health programs.”

In an official response, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations states, “the Government of Cuba’s repeated denouncements against the subversive plans that the U.S. government continues to carry out against Cuba, are confirmed.” InterAction, an alliance of health NGOs, contributed to the backlash, saying that the U.S. “should never sacrifice delivering basic health services or civic programs to advance an intelligence goal.”

USAID spokesperson Matt Herrick defended the program in his statement on Monday: “This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.” In a press brief on Monday, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki denied that the program was aimed at regime change, saying that the HIV workshop “enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of … training about HIV prevention.”

Creative Associates called the HIV workshop a “success story,” and Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (FL-25) praised the USAID programs as “precisely the types of activities that the United States must vigorously pursue in closed societies.” The program received similar praise from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27).

According to the AP investigation, there is no evidence that the USAID program succeeded in organizing anti-government activists. Additionally, the Cubans that were targeted as potential organizers were never aware that the foreigners who had befriended them were working on behalf of the U.S. Government.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, wrote Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, pointing out discrepancies between testimony presented by USAID’s Rajiv Shah during the ZunZuneo scandal and the information disclosed by AP this week.

Her letter (available here) read in part:

“In his appearance before your Subcommittee (April 8, 2014), Administrator Shah broadly denied that ZunZuneo or ‘any other’ USAID activity in Cuba is used for ‘ulterior purposes.’  He either elided the gaps in this newly-disclosed program, or he failed to account your expressed frustration about inadequate efforts to train subcontractors who work in risky environments, in response to your question.  He also failed to take heed of your concern that USAID’s engagement in programs such as recruiting inexperienced Latin youth to ‘gin up rebellion’ described for the first time by the AP, puts all USAID staff and subcontractors at risk.”

To view the AP’s video describing the USAID program, see here. To read the documents obtained by the AP, see here.

Alan Gross says goodbye to his family

Alan Gross, according to a statement by Scott Gilbert, his attorney, has said a final goodbye to his wife and youngest daughter, and told Gilbert that his life in a Cuban prison “is not worth living,” reports the Associated Press. Gilbert said that Gross’ emotional and physical health have rapidly deteriorated in past months, especially after the death of his mother in June. Gross has also refused visits from officials of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. In April, he told his lawyer that his 65th birthday would be the last he “celebrates in Havana, one way or another.”

In response to questions about Gross’ condition, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that U.S. officials “keep his case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban Government, [and] make clear the importance the United States places on his welfare.” Gross’ wife Judy told Bloomberg on Monday that her husband “feels they’re doing nothing, he hasn’t seen any evidence.”

A group of 300 U.S. rabbis sent a letter to President Obama on Monday urging the President to “take whatever steps are necessary” to secure Gross’ “immediate release” from prison. The rabbis describe Gross’ case as “a priority for our nation” and “a moral imperative.”

In response to the rabbis’ letter, National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, “We use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately.” Alan Gross’ wife, Judy Gross, however, remains frustrated: “The answer is always, ‘We’re doing as much as we can, and it’s at the top of our list.’ I’m not sure why they won’t tell me what they’re doing. It makes me suspect that perhaps they’re not doing as much as we would hope.”

Miami art exhibit by imprisoned member of Cuban Five canceled because of threats

Sweat Records gallery in Miami was forced to cancel an exhibition of the artwork and poetry of Antonio Guerrero, an imprisoned member of the “Cuban Five,” after they received threatening messages, reports El Nuevo Herald. The exhibit is titled “Yo me muero como viví” (“I die as I lived”). Guerrero’s paintings, completed during his incarceration, represent the time he has spent in a Miami federal prison since being arrested in 1998, Café Fuerte reports.

According to Café Fuerte, Guerrero wrote in an introductory note to the exhibit:

“All of these images had something in common: they were memories of the unjust and cruel treatment that we were given from the first day of our arrest, they were moments of our survival during 17 months, isolated in the punishment cells of the so-called ‘hole’ of the Miami Federal Detention Center.”

The Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Two of the men have been released, while three remain imprisoned, including Guerrero, whose sentence ends in 2017.

Guerrero’s exhibit was sponsored by several groups who have allied with the Cuban Five in the past, such as the Alianza Martiana (Martí Alliance), reports Café Fuerte. Progreso Weekly reports that the exhibit has been shown in other cities in the U.S. After the exhibition was announced last week in Miami, however, the gallery immediately began to get threatening calls.

“That exhibit is a provocation!” remarks Ninoska Pérez, a commentator for the Miami-based Radio Mambí. “These people want to believe that our community has changed and that there is no indignation at a provocation like this.”

A gallery employee said the exhibition, which was scheduled to open on August 9, was subsequently canceled because the gallery did not want to get in the middle of the conflict between the hardline Cuban exiles and the supporters of the Cuban Five, reports El Nuevo Herald. Instead, the exhibition will move to a new location, which has not yet been revealed.

See a sampling of Guerrero’s paintings here.

Cuba to collaborate with Bronx Museum

Representatives from Cuba are working with the Bronx Museum to plan Cuba’s first major exhibition by a U.S. museum, according to a report by The Art Newspaper. The plans were first announced at the opening of an exhibition in Cuba called “African American Artists and Abstraction,” which includes works from nine U.S. artists.


Panama to invite Cuba to 2015 Summit of the Americas

Isabel de Saint Malo, Panama’s Vice President and Minister of Foreign Relations, said that Panama will invite Cuba to participate in the seventh Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Panama in May 2015, AFP reports. Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962, but in 2009 member states extended a new offer of membership. Cuba, citing “negative historical baggage,” has repeatedly declined to rejoin the organization.

The Summit of the Americas is a meeting of all 35 member countries of the OAS, and has taken place since 1994. Since the last Summit, which took place in Colombia in 2012, many Latin American countries, including Argentina and Bolivia, have threatened to boycott the 2015 Summit if Cuba is not invited. The 2012 Summit was the first to end without a formal joint declaration, because continued U.S. and Canadian opposition to Cuba’s future participation prevented a consensus from forming behind the concluding statement.

De Saint Malo said that the majority of the region wants Cuba’s participation, and she says that Panama’s role as host country is to reflect the desire of all countries that participate in the summit.

Luis Miguel Hincapié, Panama’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that while formal invitations will not be sent until this November, Cuba’s Vice President Gladys Bejerano had expressed interest in participating, EFE reports.


Cubans place record number of international calls in 2013

Cubans made a record number of international calls in 2013, making 23% more than in 2012, reports Café Fuerte. According to a report by Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), most of these calls — 97,516,493 of them — were placed from abroad to people in Cuba, which represents an increase of 20% in that category from 2012, while 33,232,635 calls originated in Cuba, an increase of 28% from 2012. The most international calls are placed between the U.S. and Cuba, reports Café Fuerte.

This increase in calls correlates with an increase in subscribers to cell service, which reached 2.1 million by the end of 2013 and continued to increase through the beginning of 2014. Several past reforms also likely made this increase possible, including the liberalization of the cell phone market in 2008 and the elimination of the 10% surcharge on calls to the U.S. in December 2012.

Reporters Without Borders asks Cuba to release jailed blogger

Reporters Without Borders on Thursday called on Cuba to give a “clear explanation” of the status of jailed blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats and demanded his “immediate release,” reports Fox News Latino. Santiesteban-Prats, whose blog criticizes Cuba’s political situation, was convicted in 2012 of “home violation” and “injuries” relating to a dispute with his former wife, and has been in prison since 2013. He was recently accused of trying to escape. Reporters Without Borders calls the charges “trumped-up.”

Recommended Reading

Why the AP’s ‘USAID Travelers in Cuba’ Story Matters, Pan-American Post

The Pan-American Post responds to the newest revelations about USAID’s democracy promotion programs in Cuba. It describes what it considers the three most concerning aspects of the program, which included using HIV clinics as a front, confusing Cubans’ complaints with willingness to rebel against the government, and providing minimal training for the people it secretly sent to Cuba.

How USAID’s Covert Ops In Cuba Endanger Health Workers Everywhere, Andrew Breiner, Think Progress

Breiner puts this week’s report on the USAID program that used HIV clinics in Cuba as fronts for promoting political dissent into the larger context of the U.S. using health programs in several foreign countries for ulterior purposes. He argues that that the recurrence of this strategy has led to distrust of health workers in foreign countries.

The Maxwell Smarts of USAID Are at It Again in Cuba, William LeoGrande, Huffington Post

William LeoGrande compares USAID’s recent “comical incompetence” in Cuba to the antics of Maxwell Smart of the late-1960s TV series “Get Smart.” LeoGrande quips, “It isn’t really USAID’s fault. After all, they’re not an intelligence agency, they’re just playing at being one.”

One more chapter in USAID’s covert action adventures, Phil Peters, The Cuban Triangle

Peters condemns USAID’s lack of responsibility and disrespect for the Cuban citizens that are unknowingly swept into the agency’s poorly organized secret operations. Citing USAID’s denial that the operations were ‘covert,’ Peters criticizes the agency for wanting “the option of operating covertly with none of the responsibilities of agencies that do so professionally.” Peters also points out that USAID’s use of an HIV clinic as the “perfect excuse” for a subversive operation puts other foreign health programs in jeopardy. Part of the problem, Peters says, is that the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 continues to be “the financial wellspring of these programs,” which “[aim] to overturn Cuba’s political order.”

How USAID Cuba Revelations May Threaten Global Health Programs, Brianna Lee, International Business Times

Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, tells the International Business Times that USAID’s decision to use an HIV workshop as a front for political subversion will “only make the distrust worse” in many of the places where the agency operates. Kenny points out that in many countries “USAID is viewed with more suspicion,” and that creating more distrust could damage U.S.-Latin America cooperation in the face of global challenges such as the current Ebola outbreak.

Obama Says He Wants to Cut the ‘Stupid Sh-t’? Start with Bad Cuba Policy, Ric Herrero, Huffington Post

#CubaNow director Ric Herrero brings up President Obama’s unofficial foreign policy slogan – “Don’t do stupid stuff” – in the context of the AP’s report on the USAID’s program, arguing, “If President Obama is serious about cutting out the stupid stuff, then an overhaul of our current approach towards Cuba is long overdue.”

Cash-strapped Cubans fret over dual currency, Portia Siegelbaum, CBS News

Ms. Siegelbaum, CBS bureau chief in Havana, talks to Cubans about an interview with Joaquin Infante, advisor to the head of the Cuban Association of Economists, which was published in Granma on Monday. In the interview, Infante asserts that “The currency and exchange rate unification in the state sector should not be put off,” but that unification for the rest of the population should be slower. Meanwhile, many Cubans worry about what unification will mean for them. One woman wonders, “Will I be able to afford to buy new clothes for my 14-year-old daughter and to give her money to go out to have fun with her friends or will things still be as expensive as they are now?”

Havana restaurants thrive on available local food, Sheere Ng, Boston Globe

Ng reports on the evolution of paladares, privately owned restaurants in Cuba, which have succeeded by serving exceptional versions of everyday Cuban dishes.

Farewell from Jaime, Jaime Hamre, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Jaime Hamre, CDA’s second Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Intern, reflects on her experience at CDA as she leaves to work at Insight Cuba.

Recommended Listening

Another Secret U.S. Sway Effort In Cuba Uncovered, Here and Now

Investigative reporter Jack Gillum speaks with Robin Young, co-host of NPR’s “Here & Now,” about the latest USAID regime change revelations in Cuba reported by the Associated Press.

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