US contracts Latin American youth for subversion in Cuba

Autumn 2014

Granma International reports on an investigation by Associated Press which exposes a new USAID programme to manipulate Cuban youth

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) secretly sent young Latin Americans to Cuba in an attempt to incite opposition and destroy the Revolution, according to an investigation conducted by Associated Press (AP), the same agency which exposed the ZunZuneo project, based on the use of new mobile phone technology to promote destabilisation in Cuba.

Since October 2009 young Venezuelans, Costa Ricans and Peruvians have been sent to Cuba by USAID with the goal of inciting a rebellion on the island.

AP revealed, “The travellers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and travelled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.”

The project employed covert methods commonly used by US intelligence services, such as secret lines of communication, fronts and lies; encryption of information; security measures; promoting exchanges with overseas agents; seeking intelligence information on Cuban society; psychological preparation of emissaries in the case of possible detection by Cuban State Security; use of codes in communications, among others. Nonetheless the journalists assert that the project was plagued with “incompetence and risks.”

The covert, illegal operation contracted people from the region, even after the arrest and sentencing of US contractor Alan Gross, imprisoned for committing acts in violation of the independence and territorial integrity of the Cuban state.

Young Cubans who were in contact with the “travellers,” such as university student Héctor Baranda, who became friends with a group of visitors, were shocked to hear about the AP report and those working for USAID.

Costa Rican Fernando Murillo was one of the young Latin Americans who worked on the project. “Their assignment was to recruit young Cubans to anti-government activism,” stated AP. The mission consisted of organising “programmes disguised as civic activities, including a workshop on health prevention.”

“Murillo was instructed to check in every 48 hours and was provided with a set of security codes.”

“I have a headache,” for instance, meant the Costa Rican thought the Cubans were watching him.”

USAID hired the firm Creative Associates International which also participated in the creation of the ZunZuneo program.

According to documents obtained by AP and interviews conducted in six countries, “USAID’s young operatives posed as tourists, visited college campuses and used a ruse that could undermine USAID’s credibility in critical health work around the world: An HIV-prevention workshop,” which was described as the “perfect excuse” for the programme’s political objectives.

The investigation revealed that the “operation often teetered on disaster...There was no safety net for the inexperienced travellers, who were doing work that was explicitly illegal in Cuba.”

According to emails obtained by AP, after Gross was arrested, USAID informed its operatives, privately, that they should consider suspending their scheduled plans to travel to Cuba.

However, in April 2010, Fernando Murillo was sent to Havana. He was contracted by Creative Associates to “turn Cuba’s apathetic young people into effective political actors.”

In Santa Clara, Murillo met a cultural group that called itself “Revolution,” a modest outfit of artists devoted to electronic music and video.

If the idea was to hold a series of seminars to recruit new “volunteers,” Murillo needed a theme that would both draw in potential recruits and still be sanctioned by the state.

He initiated a HIV workshop, which in November 2010 attracted 60 young people. The workshop was supposed to offer participants straightforward sex education to prevent contracting the virus. But the ulterior motive, documents obtained by AP show, was to use the workshop as a recruiting ground for young people by showing them how to organise themselves.

When he was contacted in San José, Costa Rica, Murillo said he could not speak about the details of his Cuba trips because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement. He said he wasn’t trying to do anything beyond teach, “I never said to a Cuban that he had to do something against the government,” he said.

However, in the six page report which Fernando Murillo sent to Creative Associates, he emphasised that the workshop was “the perfect excuse for the treatment of the underlying theme.”

Elsewhere in the report Murillo revealed another objective, “to generate a network of volunteers for social transformation.”

Manuel Barbosa, a founder of artistic group Revolution, said in a recent interview in Santa Clara, that the Costa Ricans never told him that they were working for USAID.

AP’s report also stated that “Staging a workshop as a front to subvert a foreign government risked casting suspicion on USAID’s legitimate public health mission, including a more than three billion dollar annual HIV program that the agency says has helped some 50 million people in nearly 100 countries.”

While Murillo and the Costa Rican travellers focused on the HIV workshop and other programs, teams of Venezuelans and Peruvians were deployed to Cuba’s college campuses. Their mission, documents and interviews show, was to “recruit university students with the long-term goal of turning them against their government.”

In late 2009, Creative Associates contracted Venezuelan lawyer Zaimar Castillo, then 22, who ran an organisation called Renova. His organisation visited student residences on campus at the University of Santa Clara and took weekend trips to meet the families of students. A separate team of young Peruvians also targeted the university in Santa Clara.

They described the students and their facilities in great detail, noting complaints and fairness issues that might be exploited. Potential recruits were listed by name, and then profiled, their leadership qualities assessed in a spreadsheet.

Nonetheless, the Cuban students, in recent interviews with the AP, said they were astonished to discover that the foreigners were acting on behalf of USAID.

On 3 September 2010, Irving Perez, a manager at Creative Associates’ office in San Jose José, called a meeting via Skype to announce a change in strategy. “Our programme will no longer rely on trips to the island, at least not as the backbone of the operation,” Perez told the travellers.

Instead of travelling to Cuba, they would try to help certain Cuban “star contacts” get exit visas to train in a third country.

AP recognised the failure of the subversion project.

On 4 August White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment, when questioned about the project.

“I can not comment on the report (published in the US press) as there are several inaccurate points. I invite you to go directly to USAID.”

A statement made by USAID spokesperson Matt Herrick asserts that USAID denies secrecy of their programmes in Cuba, commenting, “The United States Congress finances pro-democracy programs in Cuba to increase Cubans’ access to more information and the strengthening of civil society.” Herrick added that all programs carried out in Cuba are available to the public via the webpage “This work is not a secret, it is not covert and it is not illegal.”

However, just as in the case of the ZunZuneo project, the characteristics of this new subversive programme place it in the category of unconventional war methods, which have been used increasingly over recent years. This form of warfare seeks to achieve goals of domination and regime change in countries the US considers opposed to its interests, without direct involvement of traditional forces on the ground, which results in relatively lower costs for the aggressor country, but not for the victim.

The participation of “unqualified” personnel in traditional intelligence operations is codified in the US Special Forces’ TC-1801 training circular. According to the circular, unconventional warfare involves a “multi-agency” effort by the United States. The entire project operatively reflects this doctrine, in which USAID plays an important role.

The federal agency obtains multimillion dollar funds from US tax payers for supposed humanitarian work around the world, but has been exposed to be a front for intelligence operations.

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