For the second time in four months, the Associated Press
a gross distortion of USAID's Cuba Democracy Program that has made it the
subject of unjust derision from the legions of U.S.-Cuba policy critics. The
news agency evidently believes it has stumbled upon a vast, sinister U.S.
conspiracy to overthrow the Castro regime, calling to mind those halcyon days
of exploding cigars and poisoned wetsuits. It is nothing of the sort.
Previously, AP reported
that USAID sought to foment an uprising in Cuba by introducing a rudimentary
Twitter service for Cubans to utilize free of regime snooping. Now, we are told
that USAID sent hapless youths from Latin America to Cuba to recruit agents to
lead that national uprising.
Such assertions are ridiculous on their face. Moreover, it
is distressing to see how easily people can apparently accept the notion that
their government would involve itself in such lunacy.
The good news is, we don't. As I have written
previously, I was intimately involved in implementing USAID's Cuba Program in
the latter years of the George W. Bush administration. I wrote
about the Twitter program back in April, and I participated in discussions
during the Bush administration about ways to encourage purposeful foreign
travel to Cuba by fellow Spanish-speakers to break down the Cuban people's
These were not spotty spring-breakers or members of loopy
tourist groups that are licensed to travel to Cuba today on "cultural
exchanges." They were seasoned members of Latin American NGOs with a commitment
to democracy, civil rights, and human development. Their task was to develop
relationships with ordinary Cubans outside of regime control for the express
purpose of restoring to them some sense of individual self-worth and dignity
that has been systematically trampled upon by the Castro regime for three
generations. The idea that the U.S. government was running a "clandestine
operation" to lead an uprising is simply risible.
Our real target was breaking down the barriers that the
Castro regime imposes on Cuban citizens to keep them isolated from one another
and civil society atomized. Helping individual Cubans to see themselves as
human beings with natural rights -- indeed, in control of their own destiny -- and
connecting them to the outside world was part of the strategy. I would venture
to say that people on the streets of Peoria would hardly find such a policy as
scandalous as AP apparently does.
Beyond the gross mischaracterization of the program,
however, there appear to be other serious problems with AP's reporting, not
least of which is that some of the groups interviewed by its reporters have subsequently
about the reporters' ethical violations, including quotes out of context,
identifying interviewees despite their request for anonymity, and bullying them
into giving answers that fit a predetermined narrative. USAID also criticized
the report as "sensationalist" in a strongly worded defense
of the program.
As for the critics who have had a field day with the latest
AP report, it's all so much faux high-mindedness and rectitude. The
bottom line is that what matters to them is less what is being done under the
program than the fact that the program exists at all. It represents an irritant
and obstacle in the long-sought dream of U.S. reconciliation with the Castro
regime. Frankly, one of the biggest ironies is their charge that we are
"interfering" in the internal affairs of a country whose government has been
interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbors for five decades.
Be that as it may, the Cuba program isn't going anywhere,
because it is doing good work on behalf of the people of a captive nation. And
because serious foreign policy practitioners understand that such programs are
vital tools in the foreign policy toolkit in the 21st century. Indeed, some of
the techniques developed under the Cuba program have been implemented elsewhere
in similar situations. That means that, in the end, all the critics have is
their self-satisfying ridicule for a program that exists only in their
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