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5 findings about USAID travelers' program in Cuba

Tuesday - 8/5/2014, 3:25am  ET

In this July 9, 2014 photo, a woman walks in front of the building that once housed the human rights group Fundacion Operacion Gaya Internacional in Heredia, Costa Rica. Fernando Murillo was the charismatic head of the group and he'd been contracted by Creative Associates to turn Cuba’s politically apathetic young people into "change agents." Murillo was an idealist devoted to human rights. A former boy scout, he had no experience in undercover work, yet would soon face off against one of the world’s most sophisticated counter-intelligence services, on a mission for Cuba’s adversary, the U.S. Before his trip to Havana on April 5, 2010, Murillo was given basic security training. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

The Associated Press

In April, The Associated Press revealed that the U.S. Agency for International Development had overseen the creation of a secret "Cuban Twitter" program to stir political dissent on the island and bypass Cuba's stranglehold on the Internet. But that program was part of a larger operation.

A new story by the AP reveals the agency secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using health and civic programs to provoke political change. The operation began just as American contractor Alan Gross was sent to jail in December 2009 while working for another USAID-sponsored project.

Here are five things to know:

1."THE PERFECT EXCUSE": The young spies from Costa Rica created an HIV-prevention workshop that they called "the perfect excuse" to recruit political activists, a ruse that could undermine USAID's credibility in critical health work around the world.

2.THEIR EFFORTS WERE FRAUGHT WITH INCOMPETENCE AND RISK. Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers, and there was no safety net for the young Latin Americans, who were doing work that was explicitly illegal in Cuba.

3.VENEZUELANS AND PERUVIANS WERE DEPLOYED TO CUBA'S COLLEGE CAMPUSES. The objective was to recruit university students with the long-term goal of turning them against their government. Potential recruits were listed by name, and then profiled, their leadership qualities assessed in a spreadsheet.

4.WHETHER ANY OF THE POLITICAL OBJECTIVES WERE EVER REALIZED IS UNCLEAR. In fact, their Cuban contacts in recent interviews with the AP said they were astonished to discover that their foreign friends were acting on behalf of the U.S. government.

5.THE CONTRACTOR, CREATIVE ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL, CHANGED ITS STRATEGY. In September 2010, Creative Associates shifted from sending outsiders into Cuba to develop dissidents among college students to getting exit visas for the new Cuban leaders and training them off the island. Other beneficiaries in Cuba would receive cash payments to run the recruitment efforts.


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