U.S. officials on Wednesday announced plans to spend up to $3 million for a “development program” aimed at “exposing exploitation” of Cuban laborers, including hotel employees, sex workers and others who are ostensibly part of the country’s hospitality and tourism industry.
The U.S. Agency for International Development will award as many as three grants worth $500,000 to $1.5 million each for the three-year program. The application deadline is Sept. 2.
The agency says it will offer the grants as part of an expansion of its support for “nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), legal networks and journalist organizations that further examine the unfair exploitation of Cuban laborers, including sex workers, and the realities under which they live.”
USAID normally requires the recipients of development grants to display agency branding, but officials are waiving that requirement to try to ensure that program workers operate undetected in Cuba.
Cuban law bans USAID programs on the island and objects to U.S. government interference in the country’s internal affairs.
USAID’s description of the program is below:
Background and Context
For more than 60 years, the Cuban dictatorship has sustained itself in part by repressing internal dissent and tightly controlling all aspects of political, economic, and social life on the island. As a part of the economic and social control in Cuba, citizens working within industries such as hospitality, tourism and healthcare continue to be paid unfair wages, while the regime benefits from revenue that reflects market rates (or higher). While the regime earns heavy profit from foreign tourists’ purchases for five-star hotels, beach resorts, so-called “nostalgia tours” and cosmetic-surgery packages, the Cuban laborers who support these lucrative businesses – most of which are owned by Cuban military elite – live on a few dollars a day. These workers struggle to provide for their families and lack access to basic needs, such as water, electricity, housing, food, and medicines.
The pattern of labor exploitation tracks with documented exploitation of Cuban doctors and medical workers by the regime. For years, the regime has “exported” medical personnel to countries for fees, services or goods provided directly to Cuban leadership in Havana. The Cuban doctors and nurses who are “exported” rarely see a fair percentage of those fees themselves; many have reported being assigned without choice and forced to stay overseas against their will, often in unhealthy working conditions. Many Cuban doctors and personnel attempt to defect. While Cuban “medical tourism” is often portrayed in international media as an act of benevolence, the data and facts show that it is labor exploitation, and in some cases, modern-day human trafficking.
USAID supports human rights defenders and civil society watchdogs that investigate exploitation and human rights abuses, including those related to Cuban doctors. For 2020, USAID will expand its support to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), legal networks and journalist organizations that further examine the unfair exploitation of Cuban laborers, including sex workers, and the realities under which they live. USAID is especially interested in supporting investigation and reporting related to the tourism and hospitality sectors, as previous human rights and civil society reporting has historically pointed to these industries as egregiously exploitive. USAID LAC/Cuba is requesting applications in this area of strategic interest.
While USAID reserves the right to fund activities outside this specific area, priority will be given to those applications that are most responsive to the issue area detailed below. Applicants are encouraged to submit innovative ideas that are not a duplication of current U.S. Government (USG)-funded activities, as USAID seeks to expand the network of groups receiving assistance.
One of the Cuban regime’s largest sources of income comes from the tourism and hospitality industries. The political elite – primarily through the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), control nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy, including large hotel chains, rental car companies, and other tourism-related businesses. Any foreign company interested in opening a hotel in Cuba is forced to negotiate directly with the regime, and the regime controls all aspects of the business operations, including the hiring of and payment to Cuban workers. Cuban workers in the tourism industry are only paid a fraction of what the regime receives from these foreign investors, mere pennies to the dollar of what tourism and hospitality workers receive in other countries. While sexual exploitation is a separate and very serious problem that warrants global attention, there is an aspect of Cuba’s “sex tourism” that is tied more closely to the broader tourism industry than in other countries.
USAID seeks applications from organizations with experience in Cuba or similarly closed countries that wish to address the following objective:
- Track and analyze the exploitation of the Cuban workforce related to the tourism and/or hospitality industries.
Related to the above objective, interested applicants should provide a detailed proposal for :
- The development of tools, reporting systems, and networks that can consistently investigate, collect, and analyze verifiable information about the exploitation of Cuban workers.
- Plans for articulating and publicizing their findings within Cuba and Latin America, and with regional and international bodies, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
- Plans for educating exploited workers inside Cuba on global standards.
- Strategic analysis offered for steps the Cuban regime can take to improve rights.
Programing should be consistent with the U.S. Government’s 2017 “National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” the Libertad Act of 1996, and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, all of which are detailed in USAID’s APS No. 7200AA19APS00011. Support may not be provided to any individuals affiliated with the Cuban regime.
Prospective award recipients are asked to send any questions about the program to the following address: CUBAAPS@usaid.gov. The deadline for questions is Aug. 10.
USAID says program leaders should have “at least ten years of experience managing and implementing similar development programs, with preferred experience working on Cuba democracy programs.”