USAID: Cuba Program 'Not Secret ... Not Covert'

Tuesday, 05 Aug 2014 11:00 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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A project under the Obama administration that dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba to identify and recruit political activists used civic programs as a cover — including an HIV-prevention workshop, something that has drawn ire from legislators.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told Politico that it would be "worse than irresponsible" if USAID "concocted" an HIV-prevention workshop to promote a political agenda.

The young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Peru were part of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project that had them travel around the country "to recruit young Cubans to anti-government activism," according to an Associated Press investigation.

The project began shortly after President Barack Obama's inauguration and a speech about forging a "new beginning" with Cuba.

The mission — to identify and recruit political activists — was "fraught with incompetence and risk," according to Fox News.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who is a Cuban-American, voiced support for USAID's programs in Cuba.

"We must continue to pressure the Castro regime and support the Cuban people, who are oppressed on a daily basis," she said.

The federally funded USAID issued a statement to the AP defending its use of the HIV program, explaining that it "enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desire Cubans expressed for information and training about HIV prevention."

The Hill reports that USAID issued a statement to the AP explaining that the agency's work is "not secret … 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," the statement said.

USAID criticized the AP for sensationalizing the story and the agency's desire to support civil society programs "to give voice to these democratic aspirations."

USAID hired Washington, D.C.-based Creative Associates International to help with the program, which began in 2009 and may or may not still be ongoing.

Politico reports that the Obama administration defends using an HIV-prevention workshop for the USAID mission and denied that it was meant for political purposes.


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