In June 2015, the State Department announced a program to send at least 15 Cubans to graduate school in the United States so they could “more effectively establish, lead, manage, and grow independent organizations in Cuba.”
On Sept. 30, 2015, the International Research and Exchanges Board, or IREX, snagged the contract, worth $1,584,158. The Cuban Nonprofit Management Scholarship Program is scheduled to run through Sept. 30, 2019.
The State Department and the Agency for International Development reported spending $603,256,352 on this and other training programs from 2007 to 2018. See graphic.
The 17-page scholarship application for Cubans warns that the U.S. government is financing program. Applicants must check off the following statement:
I acknowledge that this program is funded by the United States Government (Economic Support Funds) and if chosen to participate, I agree to all risks and liabilities that this entails.
The application says IREX is seeking “qualified and dedicated individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to civil society, community or non-governmental organizations.”
Cuba is not shown as a participant on the IREX website. Nor is there a listing of Cubans who won scholarships as part of the program.
The University of Texas at Austin says it received a grant in connection with the program. The website states:
Grant that supports the professional growth of emerging nonprofit leaders from Cuba by offering U.S. university graduate-level degrees in nonprofit management.
The school gives no additional details.
The University of Texas and IREX likely withhold details about the program because they fear the Cuban government may retaliate against participants.
Cuban officials have said they object to U.S. government educational programs because they are not transparent. And they don’t like the idea that American officials are paying to train Cubans so they can more effectively carry out civic activities aimed at undermining the socialist government.
Here’s how the State Department has explained the program:
U.S. foreign assistance for Cuba seeks to empower Cubans to freely determine their own future by increasing human capacity, promoting community level engagement, and expanding civil society networks. Since 1996, the United States has provided assistance to increase the flow of information on democracy, human rights, and free enterprise to Cuba through a variety of U.S. and foreign non-governmental organizations.
Participants will also receive English language training and a hands-on trainee/internship program in a U.S. non-governmental organization or professional association as part of the project. At the end of the project, participants will have a set of tools and skills to manage and grow civil society organizations that will effectively support democratic principles in Cuba.
The goal of this project is to empower and prepare nonprofit leaders to use entrepreneurial tools and strategies and to grow Cuba’s nascent civil society base and enable the nonprofit sector to work more efficiently and effectively as a means to promote democratic principles in Cuba.
The individuals that participate as students and interns in this project will be able to demonstrate knowledge of and skill in multiple aspects of management of nonprofit organizations, enabling them to return to Cuba to provide greater expertise in the field and capable of employing their newfound skills as founders, employees, or advisors for independent organizations in any variety of issue areas.
IREX is located at 1275 K St. NW in Washington, D.C. The organization reported that it received $72,137,240 in government grants and contributions from July 2015 to June 2016, according to 2017 tax records.
The group “provided educational experiences to study in the U.S. for approximately 2,319 international students from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016,” records show.
IREX reported that it has more than 400 employees, including foreign local hires, in 25 offices in 19 countries.
One IREX employee, Tara Susman-Peña, says on her bio that she “lived for a year in Havana, Cuba, and is fluent in Spanish.”