Just announced: $21 million in new Cuba grants

The U.S. government has released details of $21 million in new grants aimed at expanding use of social media in Cuba, increasing access to information, distributing laptops, boosting freedom of expression among young people, and supporting community groups.
The Agency for International Development will administer the awards, which include:

  • $6 million for programs aimed at increasing free expression among youth ages 12 to 24.
  • $6 million to expand Internet use and increase access to information.
  • $9 million to support neighborhood groups, cooperatives, sports clubs, church groups and other civil society organizations.

The money would be distributed over the next several years as part of an ambitious and sweeping plan that emphasizes “on-island activities.” Applications for the grants are due July 18, according to Grants.gov
The government advertised the grants on Monday as officials in Washington move closer to settling a 10-week-old dispute over $20 million in democracy funds destined for Cuba.
On April 1, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., held up distribution of the $20 million over questions about how the money was going to be spent.
The Miami Herald reported on June 10 that Freedom House was returning $1.7 million in funds because USAID asked too many questions about where the money was going.
Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a research organization in Arlington, Va., said it is unusual for organizations to return money to the federal government.

It’s pretty remarkable. I don’t think it’s ever happened before. It’s astounding that a grantee would tell the government that it’s not willing to explain exactly how it uses the money, and it makes crystal clear that the modus operandi is to send people clandestinely into Cuba.

Peters said it is “certainly understandable” that Freedom House is “extremely concerned” about protecting those people connected to its Cuba program.
“But if you step back from it,” he said, the group’s decision to return the money “really reinforces” that it carries out “political operations” in Cuba, which he described as “a very exotic use of USAID.”
Freedom House on Monday did not respond to a request for further information concerning its decision to return the money.
Non-profit organizations, along with public and private institutions of higher education, are eligible for the $21 million in grants announced Monday.
Below are more details about the grants:

Title: Making Spaces: Places for Youth Expression in Cuba
Program amount: A total of $6 million.
Number of awards: 2


The program objective of “Making Space: Places for Youth Expression in Cuba” is to focus activities on Cuba’s youth (ages 12 to 24) to increase opportunities for youth-to-youth interaction in Cuba, allowing the country’s young citizens to experience freedom of association and freedom of expression in social spaces organized outside state authority.

Program activities should encourage participation from marginalized and vulnerable populations, which would include Afro-Cubans, rural and inner-city youth, disabled youth, orphans, and at-risk youth (from broken families and single-parent households). Applicants should also integrate gender considerations into their activity design and implementation to allow and inspire both boys and girls and young women and men to participate in and benefit from the program. In the independent social spaces created through “Making Space,” Cuban youth will be able to share common interests, participate in group activities, and ultimately develop the leadership and social skills necessary to function effectively in a democratic society.

Cuban youth may also increase their understanding of the critical and inter-related roles that civil society, an independent media, and the rule of law (including human rights and fundamental freedoms) play in a democratic society.

Illustrative Activities Applicants are encouraged to design activities that will be implemented on the island and that will promote youth-to-youth interaction, providing Cuban youth with innovative, rewarding experiences that will allow them to gather socially in independent social spaces and to express themselves freely. Activities should be designed to stimulate the exchange of ideas and to encourage group decision-making, mentoring, and healthy competition. This will build the capacity of Cuba’s youth to develop the social and leadership skills needed to become effective leaders in their communities.

Applications that include a majority of on-island activities are strongly preferred. Applicants also are encouraged to include relevant and effective training activities and to propose different program approaches to reach both genders and different age groups. Younger Cubans, ages 12 to 15, will have different interests than those ages 16 to 18, while 19 to 24 year olds may be interested in activities related to CSGs and to the principles and practices of democratic societies. USAID prefers that the youngest participants engage in culturally-oriented activities. Group activities for any age group, but in particular for Cuban youth ages 12 to 18, could be organized around a wide range of themes, including art, music, science, martial arts, debating clubs, blogging, theater, sports, youth justice, computer skills, etc. Similarly, young females and males may have disparate interests, lifestyles, social outlets, opportunities and limitations, which applicants are encouraged to consider and reflect in their activity design.

Applicants are encouraged to be realistic when designing program activities taking into account the challenging implementation environment when working in Cuba. USAID would prefer to see project activities that are practical and achievable and, therefore, more likely to succeed. For example, USAID welcomes proposals that clearly explain: how an applicant will find and utilize independent (non-government-controlled) physical spaces where youth groups can meet; how the applicant will communicate with identified youth; and how it will inspire them to participate in youth activities. Activities also should enable older Cuban youth (19 to 24 years old) to better understand the critical role independent civil society groups play in democratic countries. Applicants are encouraged to provide opportunities for these Cuban citizens to participate as active members in CSGs or to form their own groups.

Applicants also are encouraged to work with existing independent CSGs on the island. Ideally, CSG activities will provide program participants with practical experience in decision-making processes and will give them an opportunity to design and implement group activities. Also, training in the application of democratic processes (including the fundamental role of CSGs) is strongly encouraged.

Through this award, Cuban youth also would benefit from learning the day-to-day operations (organizational skills) of a CSG: how to effectively advocate on issues of common concern; how to conduct public outreach; how address ethical issues and understand codes of conduct, etc. An important aspect of this award includes developing the leadership skills and social skills of program participants. For example, programs should strive to increase participants’ abilities to manage and lead groups, to work effectively as teams, and to communicate orally and in writing. Applicants should explain how they intend to impart these skills and provide the relevant information to the program participants.

Proposals also should consider experiential learning, group activities, and capacity building to increase Cuban youth’s understanding of the fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by democratic societies. USAID understands that touching directly upon such topics may be difficult given the current working environment in Cuba and encourages creative (and achievable) approaches to satisfy this objective.

Whenever possible, proposals should differentiate from other youth activities on the island and avoid overlap with other implementing organizations. Applicants should explain how they will identify beneficiaries for participation in the program and in which provinces they expect to work. Applicants should also provide an explanation of program activities and describe how these activities meet the program objectives and how they will be implemented on the island. Material assistance is an acceptable use of program funds, but applicants must provide a list of the needed material assistance in their applications. Program funds may be expended to support the purchase of informational materials, capacity building and training materials, as well as appropriate communications technology, business and office equipment, travel, per diem and training and program expenses.

Program Results

As previously stated, the program objective of “Making Space: Places for Youth Expression in Cuba” is to increase opportunities for youth-to-youth interaction in Cuba allowing the country’s young citizens to experience freedom of association and freedom of expression conducted in independent social spaces. By the end of the program, ideally, increasing numbers of Cuban youth, especially from marginalized populations, will be participating in a wide range of age-specific group activities and demonstrating improved leadership and social skills along with an increased understanding of the protected rights and fundamental freedoms critical to democratic societies.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Increased participation among Cuban youth (of both genders) in a range of non-political, civic, and cultural activities conducted in independent social spaces
  • Improved leadership and social skills of targeted youth
  • Increased understanding and knowledge of democratic values and fundamental rights and freedoms
  • Improved understanding of the role of CSGs in a democracy.

Title: Facilitating the Free Flow of Information
Program amount: A total of $6 million.
Number of awards: 2


The amounts and types of information made available during the internet era have been unprecedented throughout the world, but not in Cuba. The restrictions that the Cuban government has placed on the distribution of information, including access to the internet, have left many citizens yearning for greater access to unfiltered information.

During the last 20 years, various independent CSGs and networks have been filling this void by distributing uncensored information and knowledge throughout the country. These initiatives serve as an alternative to state-sponsored sources of information. A number of independent CSGs and networks also provide a safe place where individuals can conduct research and analysis on a range of religious, literary, cultural, economic, and philosophical themes or topics. This program will build on previous efforts to expand and deepen independent groups’ and networks’ ability to provide a range of unfiltered information using a variety of methodologies.

In addition to providing access to information and ideas developed outside the island, information should also feature information, articles and analysis developed by other independent sources in Cuba. The last few years have witnessed a significant increase in the amount of high-quality, locally produced information and analysis from a small but growing cadre of influential bloggers and independent journalists. Many of the articles produced by this group are published in international media outlets, yet very few Cuban citizens are able to access this information.

Networks of independent CSGs are well-placed to serve as a platform for distribution of locally produced information and will greatly increase access to information developed on the island. It is expected that the program will support information dissemination using a range of traditional and new media technologies that can be found in the country. For example, USB drives, CDs and DVDs are relatively simple technologies that can store large quantities of data that can be easily shared. Information contained on these devices can be targeted to the interests of populations that civil society groups and networks serve. Selected websites can be cached and used for research purposes.

Use of social media is small but growing, and it is expected that this program will increase the use of social media to reach broader segments of the population.

Use of laptops as a platform for dissemination of information is expected to continue.

While it is expected that some distribution of traditional print media such as books, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets will be supported, the focus of the program is on using and introducing the most appropriate technologies for achievement of program objectives. Materials provided through independent CSGs and networks should enable participants to make informed decisions about issues that affect them on a daily basis and help them think critically about local, national, and global events.

In addition to providing information and analysis, it is envisioned that this program will promote services provided by independent CSGs and networks that facilitate the free exchange of ideas. A wide range of events and activities that are of interest to the communities may include (but are not limited to) the exchange and debate of ideas, discussions on topics of common concern, the presentation of plays and movies, lectures and book discussions, events for children and youth, other cultural activities.

It is expected that this program will provide the training and technical assistance that will facilitate an increase of demand-driven activities which will promote community involvement and the development of social capital among individuals. It is expected that the program will build and strengthen the technical expertise of key individuals within the targeted CSGs and networks through training and other capacity building opportunities. Technical training could focus on the various aspects of information collection and distribution work including user services (assisting users find the information they need) and technical services (cataloging, preparing and classifying information). It is also expected that training will be provided on introducing and distributing new social media technologies, to better inform the Cuban public.

The program will also provide leadership development services to key representatives within the targeted groups. As leaders are identified within these groups, their leadership capabilities will be enhanced, and this cadre of leaders will ensure the long-term sustainability of services that are provided. To the extent possible, the project should encourage opportunities among the various CSGs and networks to exchange ideas, resolve issues of common concern, and potentially pool resources to achieve common objectives. Through these opportunities, organizations should be able to better serve the evolving needs of their communities.

Expected Results

  • Independent CSGs and networks serve as a platform to distribute unfiltered information throughout the island.
  • Community members that these groups and networks serve have greater access to information on diverse issues such as democracy, human rights, and free-markets.
  • Independent CSGs and networks provide community members with a range of innovative activities and services that encourage independent, critical thinking and the free exchange of information and ideas.
  • A cadre of leaders within these CSGs and networks are identified and their technical, networking and leaderships skills developed so that they are well-placed to serve their communities’ information needs.


Overview: Award recipients will retain overall management responsibility for all aspects of the program including management of all sub-agreements and sub-contracts. (See also section on Substantial Involvement.) In addition to adhering to the policies, laws, and regulations governing LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs assistance awards, recipients are also responsible for the following:

  • General program management, including financial management, reporting, and provision of assistance to Cuban counterparts.
  • In consultation with USAID, determining appropriate working and coordination relationships with other LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs program grantees and other U.S. and third-country non-governmental organizations working in Cuba.
  • In consultation with USAID, finalizing the life-of-project and annual workplans , project-specific results framework , and performance management plan (PMP, formerly the monitoring and evaluation plan) covering all program components within 60 days of award.
  • Designing and carrying out technical assistance programs set forth in the cooperative agreement and in other documents incorporated by reference.
  • Identifying, managing, and supporting other essential programs and communications.
  • Carrying out reporting and monitoring and evaluation responsibilities as described below.

Title: Democratic Engagement at the Community Level
Program amount: A total of $9 million.
Number of awards: 2


Under this award, and subject to the availability of funds, the USAID/LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs intends to make multiple awards to support this program, with approximately $3 million available for the first year. With these funds, USAID seeks to expand and strengthen the capabilities of existing and emerging CSGs to work with local communities, neighborhoods or other groups and help them identify, prioritize and carry out independent projects and activities.

The implementer(s) will also provide training to make community members more aware of their civic rights and responsibilities, develop leadership skills, and prepare people to participate more fully in democratic development activities.

The Community Engagement Program will target assistance to individuals and a variety of independent groups of citizens in communities or neighborhoods. Independent neighborhood groups, producer associations, cooperatives, water user groups, professional groups, church groups, and sports clubs are a few of the types of groups that implementers may select as development partners.

The program will target independent CSGs that have expressed interest in learning more about democratic principles and procedures and citizen�s roles and responsibilities in a democratic society; a willingness to help communities carry out community-based projects or activities; and experience with identification of activities, procedures, or projects which communities could plan and implement.

Applicants should maintain a flexible outlook and be willing to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves in order to achieve early successes and show other communities what can be accomplished. Applicants may decide to target support to areas and CSGs that have prior experience with international development or humanitarian programs, or to areas and CSGs that have never interacted with international programs.

Implementation activities are likely to move faster with groups that have prior international development experience, but the need for assistance may be greater in areas that have not received prior assistance. Regardless of the degree of prior involvement with international assistance, it is expected that the experience gained from this program will reduce a group’s dependence on the state and lay a foundation for democratic government by providing people with tools that will allow them to solve their own problems and by strengthening their confidence and capabilities to plan and carry out independent, self-help projects.

To strengthen the capacity of CSGs and promote sustainability of the program, implementer(s) will provide training and mentoring to individuals in leadership positions or with leadership potential to hone their leadership and management abilities.

Implementers will work with CSGs to strengthen their organizational, administrative, financial management, outreach, communications and general project implementation capabilities. The program will also provide training in civic rights and responsibilities, participatory development, and citizen oversight of local projects to ensure that people understand their roles and responsibilities in the project implementation process and to prepare people for the experience of working together on self-help activities. This training will be followed up by technical assistance and mentoring support for both the local CSG and the community to ensure that they can work effectively together to identify critical community needs, motivate groups, design new development activities and implement local projects. Implementers will also be on the lookout for emerging CSGs and groups that have potential to become CSGs.

These fledgling independent CSGs will be eligible for training assistance and will be encouraged to support additional development activities in order to gradually expand the pool of effective CSGs that can act as catalysts for independent community development activities. The program will attempt to build upon the successes of prior USG projects that have supported independent community development activities in Cuba. If CSGs or individuals that worked on past programs are available, successful applicants may decide to work with or hire these same groups or individuals to assist with implementation of the present program.

Cuban technical assistance organizations and personnel will be used to train local CSGs if there are enough qualified organizations and individuals to cover the areas where the project will work. If sufficient expertise is not accessible in Cuba, implementers may recruit community and organizational development experts from other Latin American countries to provide the community development and civil society strengthening expertise that will be needed to improve the organizational, administrative and related capabilities of local CSGs and help them develop into effective catalysts for independent community development.

The Implementation Approach

There is no required approach for prospective implementers to follow as they prepare an application for the Community Engagement Program. USAID encourages applicants to develop innovative approaches for working in Cuba, and utilize their own expertise, experience and contacts to develop proposals that will support the program’s overall objective.

Proposed implementation approaches will provide insight into the applicant’s familiarity with Cuba’s social and political environment and the applicant’s prior experience with democratic development and self-help projects. The LAC/Cuban Affairs Office anticipates a variety of approaches in the applications that will be submitted. Innovation and flexibility are particularly appropriate in the case of Cuba where one must operate in a closed and challenging political environment.

USAID also recognizes that the way in which resources (small grants, technical assistance, commodities, training, etc.) are provided to independent CSGs is expected to vary depending upon the needs of each specific project/activity, the capabilities of the local CSG, the capabilities of the assisted community and the preferred modality of each grantee.

The project(s) that each community chooses to implement will provide members and leaders of the group with an opportunity to use the training they have received and work together to achieve a desired project objective. Each applicant should explain how they plan to work with independent individuals, CSGs, groups or communities to identify, select, implement and evaluate projects/activities that will contribute to the overall objective and which promote the use of participatory democracy methodologies and principles. In order to gain a fuller understanding of the implementation approach that will be used, applicants should briefly explain how they plan to carry out the following activities:

  • CSG selection: Does the applicant have a methodology in mind that will be used to assess the CSG’s leadership, managerial, organizational, planning, and financial management capabilities? How does the applicant plan to identify and select the CSGs that will be the project’s primary contact with communities or groups that will be assisted?
  • Community Selection: How will applicants identify the communities where they plan to work? Which factors will be emphasized in determining a community’s suitability for project assistance and the likelihood of success?
  • Training Plans: What types of training does the applicant expect to provide for CSG personnel and for the leaders and members of the communities or groups that will be assisted?
  • Confidence Building Activities: How do applicants plan to establish trust with the leaders and members of groups they plan to assist? How long does the applicant expect that it will take to establish trust with these groups? Will training or other activities be used to maintain or strengthen the groups’ trust during the life of the project?
  • Tools or Methodologies: What tools or methodologies will the applicant use to identify problems and issues, select development projects for each community, establish trust, or carry out implementation activities with assisted groups or communities? Will the tools or methodologies need to be reviewed or field tested before the implementing CSGs are trained in their use? How long does the applicant expect it will take for the implementing CSGs to become comfortable with these tools and methodologies and be able to use them effectively in selected communities?

Common Features of Successful Small Grant Projects

USAID experience with local development projects suggests that successful community engagement grant programs often include many of the following features:

  • Members of the assisted community are provided ample opportunities to participate in the identification of problems as well as the selection and design of subprojects;
  • Sub-projects include a grantee contribution that may be provided in labor, land, materials, and/or cash;
  • The budget for the first sub-project in an assisted community includes all of the technical, material, legal, labor and other support that will be needed and shows clearly what the community will contribute as well as what the USG will contribute.
  • Leadership skills are strengthened through a combination of training and mentoring that is focused on each individual future leader;
  • A stronger organizational structure is achieved through a combination of mentoring and training sessions that are focused on the group.

Small projects are preferred when a group begins to work in a new community, because they allow the community to build organizational and administrative experience, structures and confidence through achievement of small victories.

Sub-projects are selected that are important for the entire community, can be planned and constructed quickly and that have a tangible, visible benefit;

Sub-projects are selected that respond to a common felt need and have potential to be catalytic in both design and impact;

Sub-projects may begin with only a few people, but are quickly expanded to include additional people in order to mobilize community support;

Sub-projects are selected that have a non-partisan purpose and are carried out by non-partisan groups.

People in assisted communities begin to play active roles in decisions that affect their lives, because they have been empowered and their perceptions have changed. They have begun to believe that their actions can make a difference.

Expected Outcomes

  • Communities, neighborhoods or other assisted groups will complete self-help projects without government assistance;
  • Leadership skills of CSO and community groups will be enhanced through successful completion of small self-help projects.
  • Community confidence and social capital will increase as communities are trained in the use of self-help methodologies and begin to use their skills to complete small projects;
  • Communities will select and implement larger projects and take on larger challenges as their confidence and capabilities are increased by small victories.
  • Community understanding of democratic principles and procedures will be increased as people are trained and given opportunities to practice the concepts they have learned during implementation of self-help projects.
  • Communities which are initially passive observers of self-help and democratic development activities will be impressed by the accomplishments of communities that receive project assistance and will eventually become active implementers of independent self-help activities.
  • Participating CSGs will become stronger, better organized, and more capable of assisting communities that wish to learn more about democratic principles, practices and participatory development.


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 travels to Havana regularly. In 2010 and again in 2011, Eaton received a Pulitzer Center grant to support his reporting in Cuba. He has been investigating U.S.-financed pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

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5 Responses

  1. dawn says:

    Why don’t we just give the money to the Cuban government (or a contractor chosen by them) to overhaul their communications infrastructure and allow them to connect to the fiber optics cable running by the island etc. instead? Makes no sense…unless the objective is to only provide enhanced communications to people who have particular point of view, or at least profess to have in order to get the goodies . I’d say that is a piss poor way of spending my taxes…

  2. admin says:

    It’s not much money in the grand scheme of things, but it is controversial… It will be great when Cuba has more and better Internet connections.

  3. Cuba: No se cuestiona que en Cuba tienen que producirse cambios que redunden en beneficio de su pueblo, de una mejor calidad de vida para este y de que su juventud no tengan que desertar, emigrar o arriesgar sus vidas en el mar en aras de un sueño que no pueden alcanzar en su propio país.
    USA: El Senador Kerry tiene ante si una ardua tarea a pesar de que es harto conocido que decenas de millones de dólares gastados en apoyo a la disidencia, en trasmisiones de Radio/TV Martí hacia la isla que no han valido de nada para derrocar, modificar o cambiar al gobierno cubano.
    Miami: En esta ciudad es ampliamente conocido por la diáspora cubanoamericana radicada en el Sur de la Florida, que los millones de dólares que la USAID dispone por el Programa Cuba, para financiar a la disidencia dentro de Cuba, son utilizados con dos propósitos principales: 1) “ Como “walfare federal” para los principales lideres anticastristas -la mayoría de los fondos se quedan en Miami por regulaciones de la Ley Helmes-Burton- y son utilizados para pagar elevados sueldos, lujosos autos, oficinas, contratar a familiares y amigos; pagar favores políticos; financiar programas radiales en medios de comunicación hispanos -670AM, 710AM, 1020AM- dirigidos por los elementos más radicales del llamado “exilio histórico; para promocionar sus figuras y organizaciones proyectándolas para una Cuba PostCastro; para realizar lujosos periplos internacionales. 2) Para “tratar de cambiar al gobierno castrista”; “pagar actividades publicas contra el régimen de La Habana”; “mantener y sostener grupos que respondan a los lineamientos de las organizaciones más radicales”; “financiar protestas y actos de desobediencia civil”; “pagar telefonía celular y creación de blogs”. Ahora las organizaciones anticastristas que reciben fondos federales, y las que aspiran a recibirlos, orientan, y en algunos casos exigen, a disidentes y opositores dentro de la isla exigen que las actividades sean “tomando las calles” y no dentro de las viviendas, pero que hay que tener evidencias, si es en tiempo real mejor, obtenidas a través de: fotos, videos, comunicaciones enviadas a las redes sociales de Facebook, Twitter); enviar (subir) videos a YouTube y a programas televisivos como los de “Maria Elvira Live” y “A Mano Limpia”. Hay que señalar que existen organizaciones serias, como el Grupo de Apoyo a la Disidencia (GAD), entre ellas que enviaba toneladas de medicina y alimentos a Cuba.
    La mayoría de los líderes de las organizaciones anticastrista, públicamente, coinciden en que hay que exigir a nuestros Legisladores cubanoamericanos que “asegurar la entrega de los fondos, que sin ella no hay disidencia ni oposición, y que tampoco haya cuestionamiento por parte de Oficina de Fiscalización del Congreso (GAO) para no poner en alerta a la inteligencia de Castrista”

  1. June 14, 2011

    […] Development will award the money. The application deadline is July 18. See details at the Cuba Money Project. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_localize = { Share: "Compartir", Save: "Guardar", […]

  2. June 13, 2013

    […] Thanks to Mr. Eaton’s watchful eye, readers know that the U.S. government still considers them low-hanging fruit.  He previously reported that $6 million of a $21 million round of U.S. government grants “aimed at expanding use of social media in Cuba” was earmarked for children as young as 12. […]

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