U.S. Government contractor detained in Cuba
News from Cuba | Sunday, 20 December 2009
A U.S. government contract worker has been detained in Cuba for distributing communications equipment to civil society groups. The man was detained on December 5th, and the New York Times broke the story on December 12th after speaking with U.S. officials. The man's name has not been released, but he is an American citizen working as a subcontractor to a third party under a USAID contract to Bethesda, MD-based development company DAI.
The man apparently entered Cuba on a tourist visa, which Cuban officials say is an immigration violation. It's unclear exactly what type of communication devices he was distributing aside from cell phones and laptops. When asked if the materials included things like GPS and satellite phones, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley responded: "I think it is the ability to communicate globally."
American officials are still waiting for a response to a request for consular access to the man, but said "they were encouraged that the Cubans had not publicized the detention, and they said they were hopeful that he might be quietly released," the New York Times reported.
The Cuban government has not said anything publically about the case, but Politico reported that "Cuban authorities have confirmed elements of a foreign agent case to bring against him based on confirmation from various US authorities of his status as a USAID subcontractor." The Cuban government considers USAID programs to promote democracy a violation of Cuba's sovereignty and an attempt to overthrow the current leadership. Under the Cuban penal code, it is illegal to take part in activities and programs funded by the U.S. government.
USAID's Cuba programs have also been intensely debated in the United States. Government Accountability Office reports have found that millions of dollars have been distributed to groups in Miami without competitive bidding or oversight, resulting in millions of dollars in misused and stolen funds. In 2008, the Bush administration vowed to overhaul the program, to award contracts to groups outside of Florida, and to focus more on delivering communications equipment to the island.
José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch criticized Cuba's "draconian laws" that make handing out cell phones illegal, but also argued that the "contractor's covert conduct raises questions about whether Mr. Obama would fulfill his promise to break with the confrontational tactics that Washington has employed toward Havana for five decades."
A statement by DAI President and CEO Jim Boomgard, stated "In 2008, DAI competed for and was awarded a contract, the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, 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."