The Obama administration has ordered private contractors to stop sending satellite communication gear into Cuba, the Miami Herald reported today.
The paper added: “The government also prohibits contractors from traveling to Cuba more than twice a year, and the trips are now vetted by top administrators.
The U.S. Agency for International Development began changing its strategy in Cuba after some members of Congress started questioning USAID’s tactics, said the Herald story (download PDF).
On April 1, Sen. John Kerry requested that officials review the agency’s Cuba programs before spending more money on them. The Herald’s story, by Frances Robles, quotes Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones as saying:
Senator Kerry has asked the administration to conduct a review of the programs before spending the next tranche of taxpayers’ money to study their effectiveness, their implications for U.S. policy toward Cuba and Latin America, and their implications for Americans and Cubans participating in them.
Mark Lopes, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean for USAID, told the Herald that many of the agency’s ideas for internal management controls came from Congress. He said:
The fundamental principle of the program continues, but, is it under new management? Yes. Are the programs managed differently? Yes.
Lopes denied Cuban government accusations that the agency works with the CIA to undermine the socialist government. He told the Herald:
We are a development agency, not an intelligence agency.
The core of the USAID Cuba program remains in providing humanitarian support, building civil society and democratic space, facilitating the information flow in, out, and within the island. These programs are comparable to what we and other donors do to support democracy and human rights in repressive societies all over the world.
The Cuban government in recent weeks has been airing television programs about U.S. government-financed programs in Cuba. In one program, a Havana history professor named Raul Capote says that U.S. officials recruited him to work with them.
The program shows undercover video of Capote meeting with a string of Americans, including Rene Stanton Greenwald and Mark Anthony Sullivan. Cuban authorities claim that Greenwald and Sullivan are CIA employees, information that is difficult if not impossible to verify.
The video also shows Capote meeting with Marc Wachtenheim, the former Cuba program director for the Pan American Development Fund, which received $2.3 million from USAID for the program in 2008.
Capote was known as Pablo to the Americans, and Agent Daniel to the Cubans.
He said he communicated with Wachtenheim and other Americans using satellite communication gear that they supplied.
The television program shows screenshots of Skype messages asking how things were going with the satellite system, which Capote is shown using. But at one point, Capote says he is worried that the satellite equipment – illegal in Cuba – will get him in trouble, and his handlers tell him to get rid of it. The television program shows a screenshot of a purported December 2010 message between Wachtenheim and Capote. Wachtenheim is nicknamed Amigowashington1000. The message reads:
Amigowashington1000: What did you do with that thing?
Capote: With what?
Amigowashington1000: With the equipment. I hope you’ve gotten rid of it. You’re not keeping it with you, are you? It’s very dangerous. If someone talks too much and they find it in your house, it’s very bad for you and for me.
Capote: And who would talk too much?
Amigowashington1000: On this channel it’s not advisable, but use your imagination. Remember why I had to get out of there the last time.
Capote: OK, don’t worry. It’s in a safe place.
Amigowashington1000: That’s good. I trust that is how it is. If they find it, it will complicate things for you, for us and for someone who is in prison, you understand?
That last comment must be a reference to Alan Gross, the American contractor who was jailed in Cuba and accused of distributing satellite communication gear.
Wachtenheim told the Herald that he ran the Cuba program openly. He said:
The only surprising thing about these videos is how closely they resemble the East German propaganda of the 1960s. .… Isn’t it curious that the same people who claim that foreign assistance programs in Cuba are ineffective, also go to all ends to try to discredit them?
The Herald said:
The PanAmerican Development Foundation issued a statement saying that it promotes civil society and private sector development that benefits disadvantaged people, and is prohibited from working with political parties or intelligence agencies.
The Herald story also quotes Phil Peters, author of the Cuban Triangle blog, who said:
These projects are not classified, but they are covert operations in Cuba. What these videos show is that they’ve got our number. They watch people come in and see who they meet with.
In the Capote video, Cuban authorities claim that U.S. officials printed a box full of pro-democracy flyers that they hoped would be distributed at a protest on Aug. 13, 2006 – the 12-year anniversary of the so-called Maleconazo, an outbreak of civil unrest that occurred in 1994.
Cuban dissident Darsi Ferrer was evidently supposed to help lead the protest. A surveillance video showed an American official escorting Ferrer into his home on that day, which Cuban officials say demonstrates U.S. officials’ active role in Cuba’s internal political affairs.