U.S. activist: “Toppling dictators is something I really like”

Stephanie Rudat's blog says: "Ask me anything." So I asked if she is getting any U.S. government money to put on the {think} Cuba summit in Panama in April.

A California social entrepreneur wants to unite some of the world’s most effective technology-driven activists at an invitation-only gathering aimed at jump-starting the process of change in Cuba.
Stephanie Rudat is convening the elite international task force in Panama the week of April 11. Her three-day event is known as {think} Cuba and it’s backed by big bucks and big ideas.
The project’s website says:

This international task force will collectively support efforts of Cuba’s leading activists and have the opportunity to present initiatives that put their ideas into action. Together, with combined expertise and a global perspective, they will push the pursuit of freedom and improvement of circumstance for Cubans.

Rudat is a co-founder of the Alliance for Youth Movements, which received $225,690 in State Department funds to gather a group of activists and entrepreneurs in Mexico City from Oct. 14 to Oct. 16, 2009, records show.
In November 2009, the Huffington Post called Rudat one of “11 Twitter Activists You Should Be Following.”
She is on the advisory board of Team Rubicon, an innovative disaster-response team made up of doctors, firefighters, medics, military veterans and others. Team Rubicon President Jake Wood writes of Rudat:

I guess I can’t really pin down what it is that she does, other than run the Alliance of Youth Movements and serve on the boards of a gabillion organizations. She basically identifies young, powerful movements and ensures that they have the tools and mentoring necessary to ensure their success. I’d say she’s good at what she does. Oh, and Oscar calls her the Madonna of nonprofits. I’m just saying…

Rudat says the purpose of the {think} Cuba summit is “to expose, engage, educate, and enroll select global youth leaders to better understand, support and collaborate with and for Cuban activists while creating a consortium united for the positive development of Cuba and our world.”
David Trotter, who runs a website called Launch52, posted a video interview with Rudat on Feb. 23. In the interview, Rudat said one of her goals is to give people the power to choose their form of government, not necessarily America’s style of democracy.
She said seeks to improve human rights conditions and expand democratic freedoms for people around the world. She said:

We are all brothers and sisters. There is not one person out there who doesn’t deserve our attention and our love.

She said looks for actions that will leave the greatest lasting impact. She said in the Trotter interview:

Toppling dictators is something I really like.

Technology is one of her chief weapons. In an April 7, 2010, article called, “Effective Tools and Strategy: Kicking it Up a Notch in Cuba and Beyond, Rudat wrote:

Technology is boosting connectivity, engaging and enrolling the masses to push against repression faced by the people of Cuba, but it’s going to take unlimited, uncensored access for technology to truly affect change. Creating a way for Cubans to securely communicate with the rest of the world, to freely express their reality and organize for change, is essential. Likewise, those off the island need to be able to easily respond with support and solutions. Free communication is the key that will empower them to use technology to organize and launch a legitimate movement. Movements are significantly powered online to expose the depth of an issue on a grand scale and rally those both affected and not to seek on-the-ground solutions.

Without the ability to confidentially access technological resources available, posting blogs, using social media, cell phone technology and more are a gamble for those living under oppressive regimes. Unjust harassment, incarcerations and brutality by Cuban authorities will ensue unless the citizens have access to freely express themselves online and use the tools to proactively seek solutions. Similar circumstances threaten Egypt, Venezuela, China and countless other nations around our globe. The brave leaders risking their lives to take action on any level are a minuscule representation of the people coping with the brass tacks muting their disparaged voices. Often, those hushed by fear have subsequently succumbed to the control their authoritative government demonstrates. In fact, I would argue that many of those same people feel a sense of safety embracing the dictatorship controlling their livelihood.

Collaborators listed on the {think} Cuba website include the Albert Einstein Institution, whose senior scholar Gene Sharp has been featured in the New York Times. Sharp is the author of a popular guide showing how to overthrow dictators using non-violent methods. A YouTube video called “How to Start a Revolution” quotes one of his supporters, Col. Bob Helvey, who had been accused of being a spy. He said:

I was not a member of the CIA. Never have been. Never will be. And if you don’t believe me, go fuck yourself.

Earlier this month, Rudat said Sharp:

is one of those people that makes me sit back in awe. It’s not just his genius. It’s his profound desire to help people help themselves get out from under the stronghold of dictatorships. He’s a compassionate me. Humble and determined.

Rudat has organized summits in New York in 2008, Mexico City in 2009 and London in 2010. The Mexico gathering attracted an impressive list of speakers and participants. They included:

  • Jack Dorsey, the creator, co-founder and chairman of Twitter.
  • Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube.
  • Jason Liebman, co-founder and CEO of Howcast, dedicated to creating the largest library of how-to videos on the web. His organization, Howcast Media, received $524,500 from the State Department in 2008 and 2009 for digital media, social networking and other services, records show.
  • Marc Wachtenheim, head of the Cuba Development Initiative, or CDI, which is aimed at bringing together hemispheric leaders who “implement strategies in collaboration with the Cuban people to advance their democratic, economic, and social development…” The CDI is a Pan American Development Foundation project. The PADF received at least $4.3 million for Cuba programs from 2007 to 2009, records show. One source who spoke on condition of anonymity told me that the PADF was backing the {think} Cuba conference. I have not found any records to confirm that information yet.
  • Matthew Brady, program director at Freedom House, which has received $101,922,990 from the State Department and USAID since 2000, records show.
  • Chris Csikszentmihályi, a media and technology expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • James Eberhard, an expert in global wireless markets.
  • Kristen Morrissey Thiede, who helps develop new businesses at Google.
  • Sameer Padania, who works at, dedicated to human rights video and action.
  • David Nassar, a campaign strategist whose work has been supported by USAID and the National Democratic Institute.

Several U.S. officials also attended the Mexico event. Among them:

  • Maria Otero, under secretary of state for Democracy and Global Affairs.
  • Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • Katie Dowd, new media director at the State Department.
  • Jared Cohen, an author and member of the State Department’s policy planning staff. He advises on such topics as counter-terrorism, youth and the “War of Ideas.”

Some of the same experts are likely to show up in Panama.
One Cuban source told me he saw the event as “elitist” because it is an event of mostly non-Cubans who don’t all have a clear understanding of Cuba. The source said some Cuban-Americans – such as Felice Gorordo of Raices de Esperanza – were declining to take part. I’ve sent an e-mail to Gorodo to ask if that’s true.
Gorodo is listed on the Alliance for Youth Movements’ website,
The site shows Jared Cohen as a co-founder and board member. He is director of Google Ideas, touted as “a new entity at Google aiming to re-frame and act on old challenges in new and innovative ways.” His biography says:

He is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he focuses on terrorism and counter-radicalization, the impact of connection technologies, and “21st century statecraft.” Previously, he served for four years as a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff under both Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. In this capacity, he advised on the Middle East, South Asia, counter-terrorism, counter-radicalization, and the development of the “21st century statecraft” agenda. He is twice a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Meritorious Honor Award.

The deadline to apply to attend the summit has passed and the application has been taken down (see cached version of application).
{think} Cuba says it will pay the travel, lodging and other expenses of those who accepted to attend the summit. We’ll see if Rudat – who has said “technology is synonymous with transparency – voluntarily reveals the source of the money.

Links to Rudat’s pages:
Twitter. Among her followers: Yoani Sanchez (and me, too).
Facebook, which was the source of the photos that make up the cover image.

Published by


Tracey Eaton was the Dallas Morning News bureau chief in Cuba from 2000 to early 2005. Before that, he headed the paper’s Mexico City bureau. Eaton, a former Fulbright scholar, has been a journalist and photographer since 1983. He has conducted journalism workshops in Guatemala, Bolivia and Nicaragua, and has been an invited speaker at conferences in Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Cuba. Eaton has been a staff writer at seven daily newspapers, including the Miami Herald. He was metropolitan editor at the Houston Chronicle before moving to Florida. He created a Cuba blog called Along the Malecón in 2008 and travels to Havana regularly. In 2010, Eaton received a Pulitzer Center grant to support his reporting in Cuba. He has been investigating U.S.-financed pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

20 thoughts on “U.S. activist: “Toppling dictators is something I really like””

  1. Stephanie Rudat has joined the long list of “anti-Castro” benefactors. The lushly financed April gig in Panama was preceded by several ominous events, such as Lincoln Diaz-Balart giving up his congressional seat so as to better pursue his anti-Castro endeavors begun by his father, Rafael Diaz-Balart, way back in 1959 when Rafael, because of the Cuban Revolution, lost his lucrative position as a top minister in the Batista dictatorship only to discover that being anti-Castro in Florida was and is much more lucrative than being pro-Batista in Cuba. Another ominous prelude to the April gig in Panama was a recent very incredible gathering in the Dominican Republic of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush with the former right-wing leaders of Spain and Colombia that worked hand-in-hand with the George W. Bush administration (Otto Reich, Roger Noreiga, John Bolton, etc.) and the most radical Cuban exiles in Florida (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balarts, etc.) to overthrow the Castro rule in Cuba. You ask about the financing for Rudat’s overthrow of the Cuban government enterprise? The Bush political dynasty and the Diaz-Balart dynasty — both incredibly wealthy — will join with many other rich right-wing groups to fund Rudat, including the Bush/Diaz-Balart groups that desperately wants to regain control of Cuba while Fidel Castro still lives. Did Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s leaving Congress and the amazing session in the Dominican Republic not get your attention? It got Josefina Vidal’s and she (the prime defender of Revolutionary Cuba) rates the April gig in Panama as the biggest threat to Revolutionary Cuba during her lifetime. I agree with her.

    1. Tracey,
      The first I heard about the Panama event, the first time I heard about Stephanie Rudat, the first time I heard about Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s connection to the Panama gig, and the first I heard about the Bushes, father and son, being in the Dominican Republic huddling with their two most famed international anti-Castro zealots (the former heads of Spain and Colombia) were in e-mails from a Cuban insider that I met on my 2004 visit to Cuba. (Neither he nor I are pro-Castro but we are both pro-Celia Sanchez and pro-Josefina Vidal). To my knowledge, the insider has never been wrong on impending events in Cuba. In 2006, for example, on what he then considered his deathbed, Fidel Castro summoned Josefina Vidal to his bedside and asked her if she would be interested in being at the head of a post-Castro Cuban government (considering his recognition of his health/age as well as that of his brother Raul). Josefina told him no, that she had no desire “whatever” to ever head the Cuban government. But she also told him: “But I will continue putting my life on the line every day for the rest of my life to prolong your revolution and your legacy.” Castro did not verbally respond to her but he was crying when she “hugged him, kissed him and then departed the room.” I believe that happened in that manner because everything else from that source has, let me say, either happened or eventualized. But I was deeply surprised to learn from that source that Josefina Vidal considered the upcoming April gig in Panama, fueled by Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Stephanie Rudat (whom I had never remotely heard of), to be “the biggest threat to the revolution in my (Vidal’s) lifetime.” The recent Cuban documentaries on state TV, YouTube, etc., reflected her public views but like with a CIA operative her prime views were private but already focusing on the Panama gig. Vidal is convinced that the Bushes and the Diaz-Balarts are “extremely anxious” to overthrow Castro while Fidel and GHWB are still alive, with Lincoln recently creating a “White Rose” campaign named after his father’s “White Rose” campaign (to overthrow Castro) initiated way back in 1959. (A Diaz-Balart White Rose campaign in 2011 designed strictly after a Diaz-Balart White Rose campaign of 1959 is more than a bit interesting to Vidal, who is very much aware that few poliltical efforts in American history have been as well funded). I realize I am doing Vidal a disfavor because she would never want her significance in Cuba or her standing with Fidel Castro to be known. Do I think Fidel in 2006 or today would have the power on the island to elevate Vidal or anyone else of his choosing into the leadership role on the island? Yes. Am I surprised Fidel rates Vidal so highly? No. He equates her with Celia Sanchez and, remember, from 1957 to Celia’s death in 1980 “Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones,” a very correct observation made by Cuban insider Roberto Salas in his book “A Revolution in Pictures.” (In the U. S. Cuban observers are not supposed to comprehend Celia Sanchez’s power from 1959 to 1980 or Josefina Vidal’s power from 2006 to the present or else such comprehension would counteract the Cuban agenda in the U. S.). The reason Celia made all the decisions was because Fidel, whether he agreed with her or not, totally supported her. (He disagreed, for example, with her cabled request to Moscow for nuclear misslies). The reason Vidal is the key person on the island today is because all the Cuban leaders know that she is totally supported by Fidel and no other Cuban leader, including Raul, has such total support. So, do I think Stephanie Rudat or Josefina Vidal will win what Vidal considers a vital upcoming battle? I think Vidal will win but only at odds of 55-to-45. It will be a close call. Rudat will have unlimited funding and unlimited no-holds-barred forces to back up that funding. Not to realize the urgency of incredibly powerful forces to “retake Cuba before Fidel dies of old age” is to not understand the U. S./Cuban exile/Cuba conundrum. The little gig in Panama in April should right now be the primary focus of that fascinating conundrum.

    1. If “BobH” works for the CIA or the Diaz-Balarts, please inform him that he needs to get in line. Four others so inclined have had no problem contacting me regarding the two above, very innocent, non-combative Rudat postings. When the postings were referenced, I asked if “Lincoln or Rudat sent you?” He answered: “Neither of them ever heard of you and if they did I’m sure they would like you.” That was three days ago and I’m still trying to decipher what was meant by that purposely parting comment. I would like to be in Panama this month but four-wheeling and bird-watching in the Virginia mountains remains too much of a priority.

    2. Thanks Admin,

      Please let Mr. Haney know that I am no longer associated with the CIA and am freelancing now; four-wheeling and bird-watching in remote regions of Arizona while on the tail of the Rudat Bird.

      Not much for getting in line either.


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