USAID contractor: Plan for the unexpected when working in Cuba


The Pan American Development Foundation and its partners trained 19 Cuban leaders and helped organize more than 3,000 events in less than four years, the organization reported.
In a post on Sunday, I griped about the group’s lack of transparency and dozens of redacted pages that the U.S. government sent me after I filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
Then today I found a PADF report on its activities in Cuba from Oct. 1, 2011 to June 30, 2015.
In the 11-page report, the group said it had reached 57,360 Cubans, including members of 77 civil society members, despite Cuban government efforts to harass, intimidate and detain democracy activists.
PADF said it “occasionally reprogramed activities if they were going to coincide with periods with elevated security risks.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development finances the group’s activities in Cuba. The full report is below:

Cooperative Agreement AID-OAA-A-11-00037
October 1, 2011–June 30, 2015
DATE OF SUBMISSION: September 28, 2015

This report summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and under Cooperative Agreement AID-OAA-A-11-00037. Within the framework of this 45-month program, PADF carried out initiatives designed to increase the free flow of information. The program delivered technical assistance, digital and printed informational materials, and basic communication technologies (ICTs), as well as in-kind material support to grassroots leaders and members of civil society groups (CSGs) to assist
them to meet their basic needs.
This program supported a wide range of civil society activities tailored to foster greater information sharing between Cuban civil society leaders and community members. Activities included professional development courses, film screenings, literary and artistic exhibitions, and technology certification courses, among others. PADF also delivered targeted material support to members of Cuban civil society to strengthen their efforts to become producers of information and conduits for sharing such information.
PADF supported Cuba’s nascent civil society by strengthening their information-sharing and organizational capacity. To this end, PADF provided information and technical assistance to diverse stakeholders, including independent journalists, women’s rights advocates, youth, artists, writers, educators, members of faith communities, and members of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Ongoing communications with members of Cuban civil society allowed it to tailor activities to ensure that they were sensitive to the complex and evolving conditions on the ground. PADF adjusted its methodologies throughout the program to better respond to the program beneficiaries’ areas of interest and their specific needs for technical assistance, uncensored information, and in-kind support.
During the life of the program, PADF activities reached over 50,000 Cuban beneficiaries in all 15 Cuban provinces. More specifically, the program achieved the following results:

 57,360 Cubans accessed informational materials distributed in Cuba by PADF and its international partners.
 19,154 individuals participated in civic activities and events that supported fundamental freedoms.
 3,255 civic participation events were organized by PADF and its partners, including trainings, workshops, screenings, group discussions, literary readings, artistic exhibits, and others.
 77 civil society groups (CSGs) received basic communication tools (ICTs), organizational capacity building assistance, and material support to satisfy the basic needs of CSG leaders and their members.
 32 Cubans participated in intensive training programs in 8 countries in Latin America and Europe.

“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.” – Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo

For over 55 years, the Cuban government has maintained a Marxist-Leninist system in which the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) has imposed strict ideological conformity throughout the society. As the only political party allowed to operate in Cuba, the CPC operates as the “leading force of society and of the state,” as defined by the nation’s legal framework. The ruling party routinely utilizes repressive tactics to enforce its ideals, to restrict the basic rights of citizens, and to marginalize critical voices. For over five decades, the government has frequently turned to surveillance, harassment, and arbitrarily detaining those found sharing dissenting views with members of the community. Likewise, participation in independent, non-state civic organizations is prohibited and considered grounds for punishment.
For decades, the Cuban government has tightly controlled access to information and the activities of its citizens. In Cuba, the State owns and operates all media outlets and restricts the availability of non-partisan printed and digital informational materials. Unlike most countries around the world, the Cuban people also cannot openly participate in civic activities that are not sponsored by the state or freely access information published online. Instead, the government closely monitors the activities and communications of its citizens, blocking unauthorized email content, tracking users’ online activities, and filtering websites containing information deemed contradictory to the accepted ideology. Likewise, citizens found sharing information deemed contrary to official ideology, or those mobilizing community members to find solutions to local challenges, often face harassment, threats, acts of violence, arbitrary detention, and other forms of intimidation.
Despite widespread restrictions on basic freedoms in Cuba, an increasingly confident civil society has started to emerge in the country. Today we see in Cuba a gradual but steady growth of a civil society that is better organized and equipped to demand their right to freely exchange information and ideas. For example, in 2015 a group of Cuban citizens developed and publicly presented an unprecedented proposal to revise the existing Cuban Media Law. This initiative was noteworthy for directly challenging the authority and power of the State. The authors of the bill sought to guarantee the right of individuals to access information and prohibit actions aimed at coercing and censoring journalists. They also called on the State to respect the confidentiality of news sources, private personal communications, and unfettered access to the Internet, in addition to other rights. That same year, another group of citizens participated in municipal-level elections as independent candidates. These trailblazing candidates were not elected, but they did succeed in communicating their views and perspectives with many of their fellow citizens. Their actions may also pave the way for others to take similar actions in future elections.
Since the program was launched in 2011, the world has witnessed the Cuban people become increasingly reliant upon alternative news sources. In 2012, Cuba was hit by Hurricane Sandy that left 500,000 people without electricity for days and damaged over 188,000 homes. Unlike with previous disasters, Cubans turned to independent journalists for updates on the devastation. In fact, independent journalists were the first to report on the prolonged power outages, water contamination, and food shortages. That same year, independent journalists also provided daily coverage of the spread of cholera in eastern Cuba. These events cemented the prominent role that independent journalists would increasingly play within Cuban society.

“Freedom will be bereft of all effectiveness if the people have no access to information. Access to information is basic to the democratic way of life.”
–Abid Husain, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression (1995)

Today, a growing number of Cubans are also turning to portable flash memory devices to get their information and entertainment, including TV shows, movies, music, and international news coverage, rather than depending on the local media and programming. More and more Cubans regularly use their phones, email, Facebook, and other social media to receive and broadcast information about local, national, and international events. The program contributed to the formation such communication channels and the expansion of citizen-led efforts to disseminate uncensored information within Cuba.
The program fostered spaces for information sharing and democratic citizen participation. Furthermore, PADF support sought to reduce communication barriers through the provision of uncensored information, ICTs, and technical assistance to support the flow of information. In light of the enormous barriers that the Cuban people must overcome to acquire information and communicate their aspirations for the future, PADF worked to amplify the voices of ordinary Cuban people struggling to advance democratic principles and greater respect for human rights. Since this program was launched in 2011 we have witnessed the gradual but steady expansion of independent media outlets and citizen-led civic participation initiatives. These initiatives and many others suggest that Cuba’s nascent civil society is becoming more active, organized, and capable of checking, monitoring, and restraining the power of political leaders and state officials. Despite these advances, more work must still be done until all Cubans can freely exchange viewpoints, receive and distribute unbiased information, and share their ideas with others without fear of persecution.

PADF carried out diverse activities to encourage the sharing of uncensored information, ideas, and solutions within Cuba. The program delivered targeted material support and technical assistance to more than 70 civil society groups (CSGs) in Cuba, a civil society network that extends to all 15 Cuban provinces.
PADF leveraged partnerships that brought specific expertise to provide support to local leaders and civil society networks. Recipients of program support included youth, artists, faith- based groups, bloggers and authors, journalists, legal aid providers, HIV/AIDS rights advocates, LGBTI community members, educators, and advocates for the rights of women and minorities.

“I want to keep learning about videography to be able to show the world what happens in my country and to set the record straight regarding what our government says–that everything here is fine, nobody is repressed, and no independent journalists are persecuted.” –Videography training participant

Communication with local beneficiaries allowed for the better planning of interventions to satisfy local demand for information and trainings, as well as respond to any evolving security conditions and emerging opportunities for engagement within Cuba. The program closely monitored continuous feedback from its on-island partners to ensure that Cuban stakeholders played a leading role in determining the type of support that provided.
The program enlisted the support of civil society experts to impart trainings to members of Cuban civil society. In total, 68 international trainers shared their knowledge and skills with program beneficiaries through trainings held in Cuba. Trainers hailed from 10 countries in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. PADF and its partners worked hand-in- hand to evaluate the professional qualifications and match them to the needs and interests of program participants.
In addition to delivering technical assistance to civil society members within Cuba, the Program also facilitated the travel of Cubans to locations in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Throughout the life of the program, a total of 32 Cubans traveled to nine (9) countries where they had the opportunity to receive hands-on practical training and technical assistance, informational materials, and ICTs, as well as to establish relationships with international civil society leaders, human rights and democracy advocates, journalists, educators, authors, filmmakers, and business leaders, among others.
PADF and its partners delivered educational trainings to Cuban civil society members located in 13 of the country’s 15 provinces. These included trainings conducted within Cuba and also those that were held in the nine countries mentioned previously. These educational exchanges allowed Cubans from across the country to gain new skills and abilities related to audio-visual media production, civic values, critical thinking, computer literacy, human rights, humanities, journalism, organizational management, and the use of digital libraries to access information and spur discussions.
Although the program reached beneficiaries across the island, most program-supported educational activities were Havana, Villa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.

“Let us not forget that [independent civil society in Cuba] is winning firm spaces. Before we were looked at like outcasts. Because civil society is more organized, people now come to us because they know that we can exert pressure and resolve routine problems. We are a counter-balance to government authoritarianism and we have to take on that responsibility.” –Program beneficiary, February 2015


Component 1
Having access to information is essential for civil society to inform others about the issues that are important to their lives and to mobilize a critical mass of citizens to take a stand and demand greater responsiveness from their leaders. Citizens must be able to obtain information, debate ideas, form groups around common views if they seek to influence the decisions and actions in their country. This program provided information and the tools to support civil society in these efforts.
Under Component 1, PADF delivered informational materials, including printed and digital resources, educational activities, and material support to improve access to information. Throughout the life of the program, 57,360 people in Cuba accessed informational materials distributed in the country, including members of 77 civil society organizations. The program delivered books, instructional guides, videos, and courses covering a wide ranges of topics that included philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history, and foreign languages. PADF supported professional development conferences to support educators in adopting teaching methodologies that reflect recent advances in the field of education. The program fostered the expansion of libraries and computer resource centers where students and community members could complete computer literacy certification courses. The program also developed human rights and civic education materials for children, parents, and teachers, as well as videos and discussion guides that showcased the work of human rights advocates from across the globe. Videos and discussion guides produced under the program also compared and contrasted life in Cuba with life in other countries in Latin America.
To strengthen the distribution of information in Cuba, PADF also provided material support to Cuban civil society organizations. This included materials such as office supplies, personal hygiene products, etc. This support assisted recipients to make ends meet or support local activities. Among materials delivered were 1,374 communication tools like USBs that allow people to share information among themselves.

Component 2
Civil society groups in Cuba operate in a challenging environment where they continuously face government pressures that restrict their natural growth. While citizens are allowed to engage in state-sponsored activities, they cannot freely organize around other issues that do not conform to the ideology endorsed by the state. Under this Component, the program supported the development and professionalization of 19 civil society leaders from more than six civil society groups across the island. Trainings and technical assistance were designed to strengthen the organizational capacity of independent Cuban civil society groups. Experts worked closely with CSG members to assess operational areas that included their structure as an organization, mission, vision, resource management, outreach, and communication strategies. Based upon the needs assessments, tailored trainings were developed in areas including analytical instruments, theoretical knowledge and practical application of new theories, work methodologies, and organizational and communications strategies. Trainings strengthened the long-term sustainability of CSGs and their capacity to produce and disseminate information and ideas with a broader segment of the population. Participants also received technology and hands-on training to help them to use these tools to produce and circulate information within the island.

Component 3
For over five decades the Cuban people have faced restricted access to technology and opportunities to learn to use communication tools to produce information at the local level and share uncensored ideas and perspectives with members of their communities. Under this Component, PADF created opportunities for the Cuban people to use technology to produce documents, creative written pieces, photographs, videos, blog posts, podcasts, digital newsletters, and other materials. The program delivered hands-on, practical training to ensure that program participants could apply new communication tools and methodologies to expand the reach and impact of their community activities. This support allowed 525 Cubans to create informational materials and freely express themselves in new ways. Additionally, over 160 Cubans participated in activities that enabled participants to create and distribute original literary works, photography pieces, and audio-visual materials.

Travel documents. In January 2013, the Cuban government relaxed travel restrictions for Cuban national to travel abroad. Though this provided new opportunities for program participants, it also required flexibility and quick learning to acquire travel documents for Cubans to travel abroad. Navigating the passport and visa application process for Cubans traveling abroad was a learning experience. Obtaining travel documents presented a new challenge since Cuban’s had not previously been allowed to travel internationally. It is worth noting that visa requirements and processing times often vary substantially by country. Likewise, visa requirements for Cuban travelers are constantly changing and can take much longer than expected. In some cases, delays in the visa application process required the rescheduling of travel and training dates to allow all participants to be present. In other cases, program beneficiaries had completed their visa applications only to learn that the government of the destination country had just changed its visa requirements for Cuban nationals. In other cases, beneficiaries were granted visas but were impeded from leaving Cuba.
License requirements. Working with Cuba under current USG regulation required securing the necessary approval for travel. This process required significant time and led to activities having to be postponed until required approvals were received.
Travel moratorium. In 2014, a moratorium was placed on all USG-funded international travel to Cuba. As a result, several approved activities were delayed and had to be modified. These modifications required activities to be re-designed and re-approved by donor.

  • Civil society turn over. In January 2013, the Cuban government modified its migration and travel policies to allow Cubans to leave the country without first obtaining an exit permit (“Carta Blanca”). This development encouraged many members of civil society to travel outside of Cuba or emigrate. Consequently activities requiring continuous participation or follow up of certain individuals became more challenging and evidenced the need to support capacity building among groups.
  • Security. The security situation in Cuba is a common challenge, particularly for independent journalists, bloggers, attorneys, and human rights advocates. PADF occasionally reprogramed activities if they were going to coincide with periods with elevated security risks.
  • Cuban customs reforms. During the program period, the Cuban government made profound changes to its customs regulations. These changes dramatically restricted the amount of certain goods that could be sent to Cuba and increased costs for delivering them to the Cuban people. Following the reform, Cuban customs also officials began to confiscate more and more items from travelers going to Cuba. As a result, adjustments were made in the types of materials and quantities provided to beneficiaries in order to reduce risk.
  • Communications with individuals in Cuba. Communication with program participants in Cuba was a significant but expected challenge. PADF utilized diverse mechanisms to reach program participants, email and telephone communications.
  • Congressional notification. Administrative obstacles were a common challenge that affected the timing of activities. One of the greatest challenges was the delay in the obligation of funds from early 2013 to September 2013 as a result of the prolonged Congressional Notification process. During this time, the program staff and partners planned activities and actions that were later implemented.

Plan for the unexpected. Working in a place that is changing requires planning for the unexpected. It is important for implementers to develop contingency plans to ensure that activities can achieve a positive impact even when they cannot be carried out as designed. Changes like the lifting of travel restrictions can require making changes to planned activities.
Civil society + innovation = solutions. It is common knowledge that Cubans are highly resourceful. Putting their innovative ideas into action has been difficult for lack of resources, yet international support can provide the much needed support for individuals and groups to carry out initiatives.
Targeted activities provide more sustainable results. Targeting activities to the skill level, knowledge and interests of beneficiaries is an essential element to generate sustainable results especially where capacity-building and information sharing is concerned. Ensuring that these elements are taken into account during program design and implementation has generated sustainable effects within Cuban CSGs since individuals who receive information that they are interested in sharing will do so naturally.
Match trainings and material support to meet local demand. As new opportunities emerge for engaging the Cuban people, civil society leaders require new and more diverse skillsets. The Cuban people are the most reliable sources of information on how changes that are taking place in the country are affecting community activities.

Under this program, PADF carried out activities with diverse groups within Cuban society to promote greater access to information and expand opportunities for citizens to produce and disseminate uncensored information to, from, and within Cuba. Over a period of 45 months, the program delivered specialized technical assistance, digital and printed informational materials, and in-kind material support to enable civil society groups to host civic participation events. Aid was directed to a broad cross-section of local leaders and members of civil society groups (CSGs) to support their efforts to foster the exchange of ideas and points of view between members of their communities. PADF assistance also strengthened the capacity of civil society organizations.

Independent Cuban civil society conducts opinion survey
On December 17, 2015 the governments of Cuba and the United States announced the restoration of relations between the two countries. Given the close proximity between these countries and for the United States being the “historical enemy” of the Cuban revolution, members of Cuban civil society decided to go out to various locations and conduct an opinion survey regarding these events. PADF supported the training of Cuban civil society members on designing and implementing surveys to measure public opinion. Following their international trainings, a group of civil society members developed a survey to assess perceptions toward the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuban governments. Working together with other members of the community, they conducted surveys in two provinces. A total of 200 individuals participated in the survey across these three locations. Among the survey respondents were university students, self-employed individuals, and professionals. Below are the select results from the survey:

Monthly community bulletin spurs citizens to action
Information has the potential to galvanize community support for taking action on critical issues affecting their lives. When PADF invited a community leader to attend trainings abroad so that he could learn ways to strengthen his civil society group and improve his monthly newsletter, few predicted the widespread impact this would have. Returning to Cuba energized by his off-island training experience, this community leader quickly began holding replication trainings with other members of the community. Those in attendance learned organizational management strategies and new techniques for creating multi-media informational materials. During the trainings, attendees discussed ideas for the community bulletin and the topics that they wanted to see covered. As interest in the bulletin grew, more community members joined the discussions. In the process of sharing ideas with one another, community members decided to work together and take decisive action to address the very issues they had been so passionately debating and writing about in their monthly publication. To this day, this bulletin is leading others to be the change they wish to see in their community.

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