U.S. plan to stir dissent in Cuba proved risky

In April, The Associated Press revealed that the U.S. Agency for International Development had overseen the creation of a secret “Cuban Twitter” program to stir political dissent on the island and bypass Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet. But that program was part of a larger operation.

A new story by the AP reveals the agency secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using health and civic programs to provoke political change. The operation began just as American contractor Alan Gross was sent to jail in December 2009 while working for another USAID-sponsored project.

The traveler’s program posed significant risk for its young recruits as well as for USAID itself. Its effectiveness is unclear.

Here are five things to know:

1.”THE PERFECT EXCUSE”: The young spies from Costa Rica created an HIV-prevention workshop that they called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists, a ruse that could undermine USAID’s credibility in critical health work around the world.

2.THEIR EFFORTS WERE FRAUGHT WITH INCOMPETENCE AND RISK. Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers, and there was no safety net for the young Latin Americans, who were doing work that was explicitly illegal in Cuba.

3.VENEZUELANS AND PERUVIANS WERE DEPLOYED TO CUBA’S COLLEGE CAMPUSES. The objective was to recruit university students with the long-term goal of turning them against their government. Potential recruits were listed by name, and then profiled, their leadership qualities assessed in a spreadsheet.

4.WHETHER ANY OF THE POLITICAL OBJECTIVES WERE EVER REALIZED IS UNCLEAR. In fact, their Cuban contacts in recent interviews with the AP said they were astonished to discover that their foreign friends were acting on behalf of the U.S. government.

5.THE CONTRACTOR, CREATIVE ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL, CHANGED ITS STRATEGY. In September 2010, Creative Associates shifted from sending outsiders into Cuba to develop dissidents among college students to getting exit visas for the new leaders and training them off the island. Other beneficiaries in Cuba would receive cash payments to run the recruitment efforts.

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