HAVANA TIMES — “It was with mixed emotions that I informed President Barack Obama and Secretary Kerry that I will step down as Administrator in mid-February 2015,” USAID Chief Rajiv Shah announced, realizing that his country’s politics is now heading in a different direction than his agency is.
It was the least Mr. Shah could do after President Obama announced a policy that is diametrically opposed to what the agency he directed had been implementing for years. Not many people are going to miss him: he disappointed some with his lack of ethics and others with his downright clumsiness.
USAID operations in Cuba were like spoiled apples that made everything around them rot. They turned the opposition into “mercenaries” on the empire’s payroll and government critics into the “naïve” who fell into enemy traps, giving credence to those who maintained that opening up to the world weakened the nation.
This was so evident that two US senators, Patrick Leahy and Jeff Flake, called the tactics employed by the US Agency for International Development aimed at destabilizing the Cuban government “irresponsible and stupid.”
Full Internet access has been a topic of debate in Cuba for quite some time. While some believe it must be a right granted all citizens, a minority alert us to how the “enemy” can use the Internet to undermine people’s consciences.
USAID’s clumsy maneuvers set in motion those grinders which would limit and control Internet access. Plans to set up networks that would bring about the collapse of the government became the chief argument wielded by the fringe group that opposes such contact with the outside world.
USAID did nothing because of a love for art
As though smelling a clearance sale, the US agency also set out to buy the souls of Cuban musicians, without first finding out whether they were on sale or not. They played even dirtier than the devil, who at least always gives people the option of saying “no.”
USAID officials created complicated mechanisms to hide the strings that moved their puppets. Confident they would never be unmasked, they hired a US company that employs Serbian promoters to set up a ghost company in Panama.
For a simple agency devoted to development, USAID uses a fair number of mechanisms similar to those of the intelligence services. Its European counterparts, for instance, do not work in a clandestine fashion and always secure the permission of the governments that benefit from their aid.
USAID never asked for anyone’s permission to “help”, not even those who would ultimately receive their funds. This way, they financed hundreds of Cuban musicians without them knowing they were part of a covert operation, or that the money was coming from the United States.
The most noteworthy case was that of the Cuban rap band Los Aldeanos, whose innocence was ratified by Cuba’s Vice-Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas. Rojas regarded the duo as a “victim” of the United States’ covert operations, stressing that the singers should be less “naïve” in the future.
Ironically, Los Aldeanos didn’t need to be “bought” in order to be critical of the government. For years, they questioned Cuban reality without mincing their words, something which made their message heard among certain sectors of Cuba’s youth.
What USAID did was contaminate them with their money. Even though they didn’t know where it was coming from, that shadow will invariably cause people to doubt their integrity and the honesty of their criticisms, reducing the impact of their messages.
Acknowledging the work of USAID
The most conservative of Cuban politicians should thank USAID for confirming that they pay dissidents millions of dollars, prompting doubts about the intentions of the more critical artists and for ruining the case of those who demand greater access to the Internet.
They should also recognize how kind the agency was to send US citizen Alan Gross to smuggle communications equipment into the island. Thanks to that, the country was able to trade prisoners, benefiting three Cuban agents who were serving sentences in the United States.
President Barack Obama acknowledged these strategies had failed and he wasn’t wrong. USAID officials had become “sorcerer apprentices” whose spells only served to turn everyone they touched into frogs.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.