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Issue #1651      August 13, 2014

Covert action against Cuban youth

Some US destabilising assaults against Cuba have become so much the norm that they are no longer news. These include economic blockade and travel restrictions. Others, however, like special covert actions, serve to restore US aggression to public awareness, especially when those covert acts are exposed or when they fail.

That’s the case with yet another revelation on intrusion in Cuban affairs by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). According to a recent Associated Press (AP) story, USAID hired Creative Associates International to recruit 12 young people from Peru, Costa Rica and Venezuela to pose as tourists in Cuba beginning in late 2009.

They were to befriend young Cubans, particularly university students, and try to convert them into “change agents” and anti-government activists. Engaging with them as colleagues in “civic projects,” one an HIV-AIDS educational initiative, the visitors gained their confidence. The Cubans received money.

The onset of the program coincided with the arrest by Cuban authorities of Alan Gross, a USAID-funded agent now jailed in Cuba after supplying dissenting Cubans with high technology communications equipment. The AP report reveals that discussions about risk of detection were ongoing between the amateur agents and their Creative Associates handlers, mainly because their indoctrination as to security precautions had been scanty. The program ended in 2011.

In a statement issued August 5, the Cuban Foreign Ministry denounced the US goal of “converting young Cubans ... into political actors.” The US government was called upon to “once and for all cease its subversive, illegal, and covert actions against Cuba in violation of our sovereignty.” It linked the disclosures to another AP report published in April that told about the “Zunzuneo” project.

Zunzuneo was a USAID-financed initiative administered by Creative Associates that began in 2010. Its purpose was to engage Cuban young people in social messaging after having been lured through music, sports, and cultural information showing up on their cell phones. To evade Cuban detection, the “Cuban Twitter” project utilised text messages and relied upon technical support personnel in other countries. Zunzuneo was financed by funds diverted from USAID projects in Pakistan.

Documents obtained by AP show plans for building a “subscriber base [of] perhaps hundreds of thousands” and collecting contact information. Eventually, “operators would introduce political content that would enable Cubans to organise ‘smart mobs’ – mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring.” After two years and only 40,000 Cuban enrollees, the program ended.

Cuban analyst Iroel Sánchez asks: “Will the US government learn from these new failures or will its policies toward Cuba continue as a feast for the incompetent?” The revelations recall earlier US interventionist initiatives put in place after predominantly military and terrorist modes of de-stabilisation went out of fashion. Funnelling of millions of federal dollars to oppositionists in Cuba through Florida-based private and public agencies came to very little; funds were stolen or went astray and favoritism prevailed in selecting Cuban recipients. The convictions as US mercenaries in 2003 of 75 anti-government activists cast a pall over quiet US interventionist attempts, mainly because of video documentation of US payments shown at their trial.

Yet manipulation of social media continues. According to close observer Tracey Eaton, “The US government awarded an additional $400,000 to the Maryland company that designed and operates Piramideo, a social network aimed at sending millions of text messages to Cuba.” The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), responsible for the US Radio and TV Marti – broadcaster of propaganda to Cuba – “signed the one-year contract with Washington Software on June 20.”

The OCB, charged with shaping message content, awarded Washington Software half a million dollars in September, 2011 for a weekly output of 24,000 text messages fixed so as to evade Cuban barriers. Since then, the contractor has received US$4,321,173 from the USAID.

Editorialising, the Mexican La Jornada newspaper points out that the US government, no longer wedded to coups, death squads, and invasions, now “relies upon concepts like democratic development, strengthening of civil society, and defence of human rights.” But significantly, “this destabilising attempt occurs just when nations in the region are devising mechanisms of multi-national interaction. [Ultimately] the effect of programs like those under consideration will be to deepen the superpower’s isolation in the region.” It seems that “Washington, far from being a guarantor of international legality, democracy, and human rights has switched to being a systematic, habitual violator of such principles.”

Although President Obama in November, 2013 lectured right-wing blockade apologists in Miami on outmoded US policies on Cuba, he’s silent on the current debacle.

People’s World

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