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In March, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, placed a hold on a $20 million appropriation for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The money is for democracy promotion schemes in Cuba. Kerry’s purpose was to hold the funds hostage until the State Department responded to a series of questions he had about waste, mismanagement and the general ineffectiveness of the program to actually bring about democracy in Cuba.
USAID grantees in Cuba are soft-power agents engaged in covert subversion. Soft power, as described by its leading academic proponent Joseph E. Nye, Jr., is “getting others to want what you want.” His ideas, however, fell short of assisted regime change.
Here is an example of how USAID money can help Cuba:
Step 1. Give USAID money to grantees like Freedom House to help Cubans document human rights abuses.
Step 2. Send reports of abuses to international human rights organizations.
Step 3. The US Interests Section in Havana reports the discovery of abuses, cites human rights organization, sends information to the State Department.
Step 4. Alarmed, the State Department cites Interests Section, issues scathing report on human rights violations in Cuba.
Step 5. Congress and the Republic of Miami, in righteous indignation, demand more sanctions against Cuba.
Result: USAID money pays handsomely on its initial investment. Now, why would Sen. Kerry not think these programs are cost effective?
Regime-change in a box
In 2009, Alan Gross went to Cuba on USAID money with equipment to set up Broadband Global Area Networks (BGANs), briefcase-size satellite systems for Internet and cellphone communication networks outside of Cuban government control. The cover story was that he was delivering the equipment to the Cuban Jewish community. They never heard of him even though this was his sixth trip.
The New York Times reported that the United States has deployed this “shadow” communications system in Middle Eastern countries to help dissidents plan anti-government movements.
Kerry said that the Cuban programs in general and the BGAN program in particular only irk Cuban authorities and put taxpayers’ money into the hands of Cuban intelligence, which routinely penetrates the “civil society” organizations and dissident groups the money is supposed to support.
Recent covert attempts to flip Cuban officials, hand out communications gear and satellite antennas disguised as surfboards have been failures amply catalogued in a series of expos?s broadcast on Cuban television.
Even as the US government and media gamely maintain that Gross, currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba, was running an innocent phones-for-Jews program, the State Department doesn’t want to identify USAID contractors for fear they might be arrested like Gross was.
However, there is little likelihood of being arrested for taking cell phones or other real gifts to Cuba. And Miami Cubans can easily purchase cell phone minutes for users in Cuba from the state telephone company Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA). This can be done via the Internet from anywhere in the world using various foreign commercial service.
If the Obama administration was so keen on having Cubans communicate by cell phone, USAID could have used these services openly, cheaply and legally.
Trouble with the cover story
Anti-Castro fanatics accuse Kerry of aiding Cuban communism, revealing a touching belief that these programs actually work. To Kerry’s assertion that internet-in-a-box exploits landed Gross in prison, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) responded that Kerry was giving his approval to the Cuban government’s “iron-fisted tactics” against “defenders of democracy.”
Wait a minute Sen. Menendez. You’re forgetting the cover story about phones for Jews. Are you saying the Jewish community is a dissident organization?
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) turned on Kerry with particular fury, but if she had listened more carefully she might have seen that the two are not far apart. Kerry is not opposed to overthrowing the Cuban government. He is not against subversion. He has always reassured Miami’s Cuban voters that he supports the blockade against Cuba.
Besides, Kerry threw away highfalutin principles by offering to release all but $5 million of the funds.
The argument over the funding is valid only if we accept at face value the stated USAID goals of bringing democracy, freedom and justice to the Cuban people. Evidently, Kerry and Ros-Lehtinen think or pretend that these are the actual goals.
If we go along with the pretense, we have to conclude that the hapless Gross failed to realize that he could have gone to the Internet and loaded up Jewish cell phones with massive quantities of USAID money from the comfort of his home, avoiding prison and the much greater pretend failure of actually depriving them of telephone contact with Jews around the world; so, no more USAID money for him.
Soft power succeeds by failing
Setting aside the pretense, with Gross in prison his pretend failure is transformed into success because Obama and the lesser fanatics can say he was imprisoned for helping Jews exercise their freedom of speech.
Even better, Miami and Washington can argue that Cuba used Gross as an excuse to reject Obama’s generous peace gestures. Far from failing, Gross forces Cuba to take the blame for US aggression. Liz Harper of the US Institute of Peace summed it up nicely writing that the Gross affair “?at best delayed advancements initially sought by the Obama administration.”
And of course, had Gross set up clandestine communication networks all over Havana and had the dissidents used them to plan demonstrations, pass around diatribes against the Cuban government and so on, there would likely be another victory for USAID when Cuban intelligence eventually shuts them down (“clamping down on free speech”) and arrests are made (“iron-fisted tactics” against “defenders of democracy”).
Even after it was widely reported that Gross delivered nothing to the Cuban Jewish community and that his luggage contained equipment to undermine the Cuban government, The Miami Herald stuck to the script. Gross was imprisoned, wrote the Herald, “for delivering communications equipment paid for by the U.S. government to Jewish groups on the island.”
If the Cubans were to sabotage every US gesture of friendship, that means they welcome US aggression and subversion. “The Cuban regime increasingly needs an external threat to blame for the country’s problems,” said an unnamed Pentagon official.
Moral: If a lemon gets arrested, make lemonade out of him.
No democracy promotion money for U.S.
For a few million in US taxpayer dollars, Cuba gets programs for “community improvement activities, identifying and addressing community needs,” expanded access “to uncensored information to help Cubans communicate amongst themselves and with the outside world.”
In the empathy-grant category, the State Department is currently seeking proposals to help the disabled, orphans and homosexuals achieve a better life in Cuba.
But while the United States delivers BGANs to Cubans, there is no government program to free its own people from government surveillance; there is no shadow network. Indeed, social media and internet systems in the United States are thoroughly penetrated by intelligence agencies. The FBI now has the capability to plant permanent spyware on personal computers. It can find out who you are with a Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier. It can access communications devices directly through internet service providers and cell towers, which is described as a “comprehensive wiretap system.”
If you worry that electoral democracy in the United States is slipping away, go to Cuba where USAID contractors are dedicated to “finding the legal impediments to democratic elections and suggesting the actions that would be necessary to remove these impediments.”
Concerned about the decline of education in the United States? The State Department has a program in Cuba to train “hundreds of students and young adults in critical thinking,” to help them become self-sufficient and to act “independent of government.”
Lockheed Martin: We fix roofs, audit your taxes
Lest it seem from all this spending for other peoples’ needs that US citizens are not getting a fair share of their own tax money, consider the benefits at soft power at home.
For several years, hard-power weapons makers have won Pentagon contracts to deliver soft-power abroad. The Wall Street Journal reported that Robert Stevens, Lockheed Martin’s CEO, wants the company “to become a central player in the U.S. campaign to use economic and political means to align countries with American strategic interests.”
Lockheed-Martin, the Pentagon’s largest weapons contractor, has diversified its portfolio buying companies involved in public relations, surveillance, auditing, and information systems. Many of these contracts have been in support of ongoing military actions in the Middle East and Africa. At the other end of the scale, one of its subsidiaries trained Liberian lawyers and repaired Monrovia’s court house roof.
Some of the same weapons manufacturers have lately been taking market positions in broad swaths of American life. Sandra I. Erwin, writing in the National Defense Magazine, explained that defense contractors were concerned about possible budget cuts and began looking to State Department and other non-defense budgets to diversify their portfolios.
Lockheed Martin has a $33 million contract with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for Webpage and e-services design, auditing and various taxpayer services. It also has a $1.2 billion contract with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for such services as “screener training and checkpoint reconfiguration.
William D. Hartung of the New America Foundation writes that Lockheed Martin has contracts to watch you, audit you, troll for information on you, scan your iris and pat you down at airports; all in a day’s work at the IRS, FBI, CIA, the Post Office, National Security Administration (NSA), the Census Bureau and the TSA.
“As a result, Lockheed Martin is now involved in nearly every interaction you have with the government,” said Hartung. “Paying your taxes? Lockheed Martin is all over it. The company is even creating a system that provides comprehensive data on every contact taxpayers have with the IRS from phone calls to face-to-face meetings.”
The State Department maintains that it underwrites social programs in Cuba to make Cubans independent of oppressive government.
Meanwhile, other government departments are farming out some of their duties to weapons producers who are dependent on government contracts but independent of voter oversight.
This is enough to make a reasonable person conclude that in Cuba, the people need to be made independent of their government while in the United States the government needs to be made independent of its people.
Robert Sandels writes on Cuba for Cuba-L Direct and CounterPunch.
Thanks to Nelson Valdes for pointing to ETECSA’s cell phone pre-payment service.