John M. Becker

U.S. Used HIV Workshop to Undermine Cuban Government

Filed By John M. Becker | August 05, 2014 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barbara Lee, communism, Cuba, democracy, HIV, HIV/AIDS, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Obama administration, USAID

usaid-logo.jpgThe Obama administration used an HIV-prevention workshop as a front for efforts to undermine the Cuban government, the AP reports:

Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.

In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called "the perfect excuse" for the program's political goals -- a gambit that could undermine America's efforts to improve health globally...

In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the program in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.

The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, continued the program even as U.S. officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology...

In a statement late Sunday, USAID said the HIV workshop had a dual purpose: It "enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desire Cubans expressed for information and training about HIV prevention."

In response to the AP story, USAID spokesperson Matt Herrick issued a statement that reads, in part:

The United States has a long history of confronting human rights abuses, connecting the oppressed to the outside world, and helping people have a say in how they are governed. Within repressive environments such as Cuba, civil society and development practitioners alike are often subject to abuse, harassment, threats, verbal defamation, and unjustifiable prosecution and imprisonment. In these environments, USAID works with our implementing partners to ensure they are able to perform their work safely...

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to "tackle a community or social problem, win a 'small victory' and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny." But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

Reactions from lawmakers were mixed. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, told the Washington Blade that she was "appalled" by the reports. She called the use of an HIV-prevention program as cover for anti-government activities a "blatant deception" that "undermines U.S. credibility abroad and endangers U.S. government-supported public health programs, which have saved millions of lives in recent years around the world."

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a Cuban American, called USAID's promotion of democracy in Cuba "no secret" and slammed the media for "manipulating the coverage" of this story instead of reporting the Castro regime's "rampant human rights abuses."

An AP video report on U.S. efforts to undermine Communism and promote democracy in Cuba, including through the HIV-prevention workshop, is after the break.

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