Dissident’s arrest triggers debate over funding

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The Cuban government calls José Daniel Ferrer “a salaried agent of the United States.” He says his only loyalty is to Cubans who want democratic change.
Ferrer leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU by its Spanish initials. Cuban authorities detained him and other human rights activists on Oct. 1.
On Oct. 18, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded Ferrer be released. He said his arrest was “one more example of the Castro regime’s continuous and flagrant violation of human rights, which has recently escalated into a wave of repression against freedoms of speech, expression, and religion.”
Cuban officials rejected the accusations on Nov. 20 and accused the top U.S. diplomat in Havana of working with Ferrer to undermine the socialist government.
They accused charge d’affaires Mara Tekach of guiding and “financing of the behavior of José Daniel Ferrer,” interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, instigating violence, promoting division and attempting to recruit “mercenaries.”
See my 2013 interview with Ferrer below and read excerpts in Spanish.

UNPACU acknowledged receiving support from “various foreign institutions that promote values such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the separation of powers of state, without which it is impossible for a government to guarantee and respect human rights. With the help we receive, we do not finance weapons, bombs and terrorism. With that help, we buy printers and sheets of paper to print thousands of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and distribute them among the population.”
The U.S. government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into democracy programs in Cuba since the 1990s. The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Agency for Global Media oversee most of the projects. They do not identify recipients to protect them from reprisals.
It’s not unusual for dissident groups to receive money from different sources.
Funding is difficult to track. Some organizations receive U.S. grants for Cuba projects, then intermingle those taxpayer dollars with private contributions. That makes it easier for some dissidents to deny receiving U.S. government support.

José Daniel Ferrer of UNPACU

Tax forms sometimes list the amount of money given to dissident organizations. In 2016, for instance, the Cuban American National Foundation reported the following contributions:

  • $8,100 to the Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional
  • $34,464 to Las Damas de Blanco
  • $25,577 to the Frente de Acción Cívica Orlando Tamayo Zapata
  • $7,028 to the Movimiento Ciudadano Reflexión y Reconciliación
  • $99,431 to the Unión Patriótica de Cuba, or UNPACU
  • $17,439 to the Foro Antitotalitario, or FANTU

The IRS received the tax form on Feb. 12, 2018.
The late Jorge Mas Canosa founded the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami in 1981.
The CANF reported revenue of $5,005,018 from 2011 to 2017. For the first five of those years, much of the foundation’s work centered around community activities in South Florida.
In 2016 and 2017, revenue spiked thanks to $2,519,000 in contributions from the Jorge Mas Canosa Freedom Foundation. Some of that money went to Cuban dissidents, records show.

Cuban American National Foundation revenue from 2011 to 2017

Dozens of organizations have managed Cuba projects over the years. Money destined for Cuba sometimes passes through several organizations before reaching the island.
In 1992, the CANF founded the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, or FHRC. It has at times shared the same address as the CANF.
The two organizations’ mission statement is identical:

To empower Cuban civil society to build a durable democracy in Cuba that is free of human rights violations by enhancing the on-island civil society’s awareness and effectiveness in nonviolent activism and by facilitating civic training materials, communication equipment, thematic “know-how” manual (e.g. entrepreneurship, micro-financing, etc.) and financial support along with creating awareness and documenting, within the island and the international community, human rights violations while collaborating with international and on-island nongovernment organizations to provide for additional expertise and resources to provide humanitarian aid.

The FHRC reported revenue of $8,368,289 from 2010 to 2018.

Tax records show the organization channeled at least $3,324,741 to Cuban dissidents from 2014 to 2018.
The yearly amount dropped as low as $274,204 in 2017, but then began increasing, hitting $624,055 in 2018, records show.

On Sept. 23, 2011, USAID gave the FHRC $2 million for a three-year project called Poder – Program to Develop Empowerment Reliably. The program involved training activists and civil society to address their community needs. USAID said:
“Activities will provide an opportunity for participants to model democratic behavior by building expectations for an opening an window toward a future where collaborative meaningful engagement between citizens and local officials to address community needs is possible.”
USAID chipped in an additional $1,399,351 on Sept. 20, 2013. The program was aimed at continuing to enhance the skills of Cubans so they would be better able to “advocate for community needs, thereby increasing expectations and accountability for improved governance.”
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8 thoughts on “Dissident’s arrest triggers debate over funding”

  1. Ferrer is compromised by relations with a US Administration committed to regime change. Countries under threat overreact, as did the US with McCarthyism and Japanese detention.

    Statements of support for Ferrer from people like Joe Biden are opportunistic. There are far more significant voices for change in Cuba than the dissidents. An intelligent US policy of engagement will create space for both kinds of critics.

    One reason the dissidents are so marginalized within Cuba is that their dependence on exile politics and money, as well as on funding from the US government, leads them to be at best silent on the embargo but usually to embrace it. Wanting your neighbors and your country to suffer at the hands of a powerful neighbor that has long aspired to control it is to most of the population betrayal.

    Imagine what would happen if Ferrer, the Ladies in White, Yoani Sanchez, et. al. campaigned to end the embargo and said they would use their connections and political influence in the US to achieve that. They could justify their position accurately as the best way to increase US presence and influence and develop a more market oriented and successful economy. That would pose a real challenge to hard liners in Havana and their defensive repression.

    Trump Administration policy violates human rights of all Cubans. If they really care about liberty, he or his Democratic successor must restore the embassy and consulate, open travel totally and lift the embargo!

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