US Funded Contest in Cuba Aborted

Tracey Eaton  (

Digital recorder, headphones and a microphone.
Digital recorder, headphones and a microphone.

HAVANA TIMES — When Jeff Kline visited Cuba offering to train young people to produce radio programs, a 25-year-old Havana woman signed up.

Kline was from another country and another generation, but the woman said the American quickly gained her trust. He was easygoing. He had longish hair and a “hippie appearance,” she said.

Kline told her he was running an international contest for young people. Those producing the best radio programs would receive “netbooks, digital recorders, radio production equipment and other equipment to produce independent programs.”

The woman and other participants produced their radio segments, but the contest was abruptly terminated and no one ever received prizes or explained what went wrong. The woman said:  “I feel used. They tried to manipulate me.”

She didn’t know it at the time, but the U.S. government was behind the contest, called El Barrio en Directo, or The Neighborhood Live. Its organizers left Cuba after American development worker Alan Gross was arrested in December 2009.

Like Gross, Kline was a private contractor.

In May, I wrote that Kline once traveled to Cuba to test cell phones and other wireless devices for a contractor that was working for the State Department. (See “The Other Alan Gross“).
Earlier, in February, I wrote about a Cuba project Kline is doing for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. (See “The incredible disappearing $450,000 contract”).

The woman, now 30, said Kline never mentioned any U.S. government connections. Organizers gave her recording equipment, explained the contest rules and instructions and she said she didn’t think there was anything else to it.

Jeff Kline
Jeff Kline

“I was 25 years old. I was very young. Super young.”

The woman recalled that Kline talked about one of Cuba’s most famous democracy activists.

“He asked me if I knew who Yoani Sanchez was. I told him I didn’t know her.”

Kline was incredulous.

He said, “You don’t know who Yoani Sanchez is?”

After that conversation, the woman said organizers gave her a book by Sanchez so she could learn more about the Cuban blogger.

Looking back, she believes Kline was “feeling out” participants, trying to discover whether they had “anti-government tendencies.”

El Barrio en Directo
Around that time, Kline, 68, and some of his colleagues also brought into Cuba some $50,000 worth of communications gear, including at least one satellite phone, said another source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cuban authorities confiscated some of the gear and briefly detained one of the employees, identified by two sources as Paul Castro.

The Havana woman said she met Castro, who touted the radio contest as a program for young people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In reality, Cuba was the program’s only target, said a source who is familiar with Kline’s work on the island and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A now-defunct website called Progreso Internacional described the theme of the radio contest as “Basic solutions to problems of our community in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The site is no longer active, but archived versions contain instructions on the contest and other information.

Still, questions about Kline’s work remain. How much did the radio contest cost U.S. taxpayers? Did it help the pro-democracy cause in Cuba? Was the radio contest a cover for other activities? Was Kline more interested in testing communication gear than training potential dissidents? Or were both tasks important?

Whatever the case, the Havana woman said she feels betrayed. She said she produced a radio program “for nothing” and organizers have never apologized or explained what happened. She said:

“I sent them emails. They never responded. What they sell you is a lie.”

11 thoughts on “US Funded Contest in Cuba Aborted

  • Moses, you know better. Gross admitted that his equipment included items that were illegal to bring into Cuba and the evidence shows he included electronics that you can not buy legally or illegally at Radio Shack. Chips that allow phones to be untraceable that are supplied to the CIA and US State Department are only available to US intelligence and government agencies. The facts of the Gross case show that he and his goals were far from innocent. “Passed muster with Cuban Customs” nonsense. When they had proof of what he smuggled in, they acted. You just can’t admit Gross was a inept US government agent. Paid a huge sum through a contractor. Anyone wanting to know the facts has only to stop listening to your propaganda and do a little on line research.

  • Moses, I just came across your response, and once again in your onesided effort to support the US

  • Your comment implies that Castro tyranny is a RESULT of US intervention. But the historical record says otherwise. The Castros shut down independent media, stole private property and outlawed free speech BEFORE the first acts of US intervention. Fidel Castro cancelled open elections as a result of internal political dynamics having nothing to do with the then tiny resistance community that was exiled in Miami. It is clear that the Castros have used the US as justification for their tyranny and based on your comment, you believe them. But you know quite well, that even without the embargo in place, the Castros would continue to outlaw free speech and deny basic human rights. In fact, with US tourism dollars and US trade fattening Castros’ pockets, lifting the embargo without ensuring a more democratic system is in place in Cuba would only intensify the totalitarian efforts of the regime to repress the Cuban people.

  • Moses, everyone could ask the same of you…what are you so afraid of? You mentioned earlier… “Why should Cuba be any different?” I’ll answer that for you…because they can, and because they must remain resolute in their continued quest to be free of US manipulation. Because they are…due to the constant threats by the US government to destabilize their government and their nation. And because Cuba always will be different until the US recognizes Cuba, respects it’s government, and it’s right to exist. Only then will Cuba’s government relax it’s policies intended to maintain order in the face of such adversity. Cuba will change eventually, but it will always be on their terms.

  • You’re missing the point. The goal may be to destabilize or even overthrow the regime but if the means is simply by changing public opinion through free speech, it should be legal. If the Communist Party in the US chose to register voters, hold rallies, put up a candidate for election through legal campaigning, as much as I wouldn’t like it, there is nothing I could do about it. It is ONLY radio transmissions. No one is advocating violence. As I asked earlier, what are you so afraid of?

  • Come off it. This is nothing to do with FREE SPEECH or paranoia. I’m not saying that any Cubans should be imprisoned and as far as I’m aware none has. That doesn’t alter the fact of the intention to manipulate opinion and organise flash mobs on the part of USAID. They don’t even deny it.

  • Speculation. The fact is that even with radio transmissions, so what? Have you listened to some of these nuts on Satellite radio here in the US? It’s called FREE SPEECH. Why are communists so paranoid and thin-skinned?

  • It’s not the equipment itself which is the problem, but the intentions behind it. In the same way handing out sweets to kids in a pantomime is one thing and handing them out as part of paedophile ring is a totally different thing. If you look on the internet you will see that USAID is a US government agency with very close links to the CIA. And there is plenty of evidence that they were profiling with the intention of creating flash mobs and riots in Cuba amongst other types of opposition (that much is established fact due to recent leaks). There is also the possibility that individuals were profiled with the intention of seeing who would be willing to commit terrorist or biological warfare on behalf of the US. Maybe not under this administration but certainly that type of thing happened under Bush.

    Like I’ve said before – if Obama cares about the lack of technology, why doesn’t he make a financial or equipment donation to Pastors for Peace. Nobody would object to that.

  • Projects like the one described above may be clueless, hamfisted and misguided, but they do no harm at all to Cuba.

  • Radio transmissions would “do great harm to Cuba”. Are you kidding? Like the cell phones and laptops carried in by Alan Gross, the equipment that Kline was carrying is sold at Radio Shack. How do you look at yourself in the mirror after writing this stuff? Basic radio equipment that obviously passed muster with Cuban customs. Access to the internet and freedom of expression in radio programming are both tools of democracy and freedom elsewhere in the world. Why should Cuba be any different?

  • If Quiñones reads this article, I would like to assure her that most Americans have nothing to do with the phony and secret government programs she was scammed by. She should know that Kline was not a private contractor, he was an extremely overpaid US government agent sent to do great harm to Cuba. He might claim he was doing it for democracy and freedom, but his behavior shows that would be a total lie. There are endless ways to do good for others, whether in the US or Cuba and if someone is truly motivated by compassion and really wants full democracy and freedom, then the would have nothing to do with agencies such as USAID, etc.

    I hope Quiñones doesn’t give up on her dream. Look for ways to learn from and share the lessons you have learned from this painful experience. You were the good guy, don’t let them make you cynical.

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