On Saturday, Cuban YouTuber, blogger and broadcaster Boris Sancho invited me to his program, Hablando Claro (Speaking Clearly), to talk about democracy-promotion projects in Cuba.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent millions of dollars to promote democracy in Cuba. Sancho asked me how much of the money actually reaches the island. I told him I didn’t know the answer. I asked USAID the same question in 2013.
“The vast majority of this money is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba,” the agency told me for a story published in the Miami Herald.
The U.S. government does publish short descriptions of what it does with much of the money spent on Cuba projects.
I created an interactive graphic where you can explore descriptions of $221,330,016 in projects carried out from 2001 to 2020. See graphic.
Some activities are detailed:
- To continue the publication of the journal “Islas ” which seeks to inform Cubans of African descent on the island and in exile about civil rights about racial discrimination in Cuba, the experience of civil rights movements, and tools to organize and bring about change. Amount: $124,466.
- To strengthen analysis about governance in Cuba. The organization will develop a governability index to measure and compare Cuba’s political system with other countries in the world. It will analyze the Cuban government’s structure and performance in areas such as the rule of law, political participation, effectiveness, political stability, transparency and economic freedom. Amount: $88,200.
- To foster a democratic civic culture among youth in Cuba. Activities include workshops on democratic culture and human rights as well as the practice of civic values such as tolerance and fair play through sports activities with youth. Amount: $120,963.
- To promote women’s rights in Cuba. Red Feminista will establish contacts with women’s movements throughout the world, collect materials and initiate a series of training programs inside Cuba for independent women activists. Amount: $30,000.
- To empower independent Cuban artists to promote democratic values. The group will strengthen its four most successful independent civic centers and studios to produce, perform and exhibit their work in uncensored community events. Each space will host artistic performances, circulate information, distribute materials, and offer trainings for members within the community. Amount: $75,161.
- To gather and disseminate information in Cuba about the role of the military in the transition to democracy in Central and Eastern European countries. Amount: $50,000.
- To work with the Varela Project leader, Oswaldo Payá, and his allies outside Cuba in building international, multiparty support for the Varela Project. Amount: $50,000.
- To foster dialogue between Cuban democrats and Colombian intellectuals and to raise awareness about the political, economic and social situation in Cuba. Amount: $107,520.
In other cases, the descriptions are vague and the dollar amounts are high:
- Civil Society Developed Through Information Dissemination. Amount: $9,297,157.
- Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Program – Unspecified Project [through NGO – United States Unknown]. Amount: $8,347,920.
- Democratic Engagement at the Community Level. Amount: $2,027,343.
These descriptions reveal very little about how the money is spent and how much of it reaches Cuba.
A Creative Associates International program worth $11,170,671 was described as follows:
Strengthen the legal, regulatory, institutional, and information environment which protects and enables the growth in associational life and the development of independent and sustainable civil society organizations (CSOs). Build the capacity of civil society organizations to act as agents for reform and support their participation in democratic decision-making through articulating and representing their members interests, engaging in service delivery, and advocating for issues which become part of the public agenda and are reflected in public policies.
It wasn’t until later that the public found out Creative was behind a controversial project known as ZunZuneo. See ZunZuneo and other “discreet” adventures.
Development Alternatives Inc. managed another project that wound up in the news. It was described like this:
The Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program was awarded to help the U.S. Government implement activities in support of the rule of law and human rights, political competition, and consensus building, and to strengthen civil society in support of just and democratic governance in Cuba. Amount: $6,225,913.
Later, we learned that the company had hired development worker Alan Gross to travel to Cuba to set up Wifi hotspots. Cuban authorities jailed him in 2009 and he spent five years in prison. He was freed in 2014 as part of a deal that the Obama administration worked out with Cuba’s socialist government.
The Obama administration paid his lawyer $3.2 million. The government’s description of that payment should win a prize for most words without saying anything. It reads:
Strengthen the legal, regulatory, institutional, and information environment which protects and enables the growth in associational life and the development of independent and sustainable civil society organizations (CSOs). Build the capacity of civil society organizations to act as agents for reform and support their participation in democratic decision-making through articulating and representing their members interests, engaging in service delivery, and advocating for issues which become part of the public agenda and are reflected in public policies. Encourage the strengthening of a civic culture which supports democratic institutions and processes, active participation in political and civic life, and the civic virtues of tolerance, pluralism, compromise, trust, and respect for individual rights, including gender equality.
For more on the Gross case, see: Alan Gross: A soldier left behind, Alan Gross and his descent into hell and Alan Gross tells all.
Another thing Boris Sancho and I discussed on his program was Cuba spending under the Trump administration. This interactive graphic shows nearly $40 million in USAID spending under Trump, less than I incorrectly reported earlier. See Cuba spending: Setting the record straight.
I’ll leave you with two more graphics. The first shows activity descriptions ranked by amount and showing from 2001 to 2020. The top activity is described as “civil society developed through information dissemination.”
The last graphic divides Cuba projects into 23 different categories, led by “Democratic participation and civil society.”