USAID grantee worker under arrest in Cuba
Posted: 15 December 2009 09:04 PM   [ Ignore ]
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* POLITICO
  * Laura Rozen
  * USAID subcontractor detained trying to leave Cuba

New information has come to light on the case of a USAID subcontractor who was detained in Cuba on December 5.

Congressional sources tell POLITICO that the unidentified American was detained while he was at Havana airport preparing to leave the country.

They say he had been fairly openly distributing cell phones and technological equipment like thumb drives to Cubans, and had not tried to hide his activities. The American was working as a subcontractor to a third party under a USAID contract to Bethesda, MD-based development outfit DAI.

Congressional sources say the American is being held in a high security prison, not a common prison, and that Cuban authorities have confirmed elements of a foreign agent case to bring against him based on confirmation from various US authorities of his status as a USAID subcontractor.

Congressional sources say they are being led to believe that the arrest should be interpreted as a hardening of the Cuban government’s position and an effort to get Obama’s attention. They also said the economic situation is getting worse in Cuba and the government is expected to announce a harsher economic plan in the coming days.

Cuban and US officials are due to hold meetings in February on migration issues, and Cuba may also want to broaden the discussion.

On Friday last week, the Obama administration notified Congress that the USAID subcontractor had been detained by Cuban authorities a week earlier. The news quickly broke and on Saturday, the president of DAI James Boomgard issued a statement saying the detained individual was a subcontractor to a third party, who he would not identify.

The USAID program for which the series of contracts and subcontracts was issued is called the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Program. It “is expressly designed to hasten Cuba’s peaceful transition to a democratic society,” according to a task order for the program issued by USAID in May 2008.

”Component I—managed off-island until further notice—will consist of an estimated $12 million for the Grants under Contract mechanism as well as have the capacity to respond if USAID is asked to bolster its assistance to consolidate Cuba’s anticipated market and ’democratic transition,’” it continues. “Illustrative program areas include breaking the information blockade with technological outreach through phone banks, satellite internet and cell phones.”

While the task order, said to be in Cuban hands and not itself classified, discusses various low level security clearance and classified facility requirements to perform it, there doesn’t appear to be anything all that mysterious about the program to distribute cell phones and thumb drives to Cubans. US officials said it is not illegal to have cell phones in the country.  More sensitive would be any distribution and contact lists for the program.

Some in and out of the US government questioned the wisdom of programs that seem to ask development contractors to play quasi-covert democracy boosters, performed by staff who enter Cuba on tourist visas.

“Among the concerns [with some of these Bush-era Cuba USAID programs] is the ... penchant for giving their otherwise-transparent activities an aura of clandestinity, as if they were doing covert action or something,” one veteran Latin America hand said on condition of anonymity. “They’re not trained for covert action; their programs aren’t crafted with the backup deniability and mitigation that covert action requires; and the result is much more provocative than necessary.”

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Posted: 27 October 2010 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Interesting that the Alan Gross case doesn’t have a higher profile here at the Havana Journal.  But then, U.S. destabilization efforts don’t tend to land anywhere near the front page here, do they?

LA ALBORADA
Washington, DC Cuban American Alliance Education Fund http://www.cubamer.org
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why exactly did the Cuban Jewish community need Alan Gross?
La Alborada - October 26

From reading the news in the US, one would think that, when it comes to information technology (IT), Cuba is a vast wasteland. One would also think that Cuban Jews are disconnected from the virtual world, and that it took a contracted and surreptitious US agent to help them download Jewish songs from Internet and to contact Jews abroad. One would not think that Gross could have been setting up, unknown to the Cuban government, a separate satellite transmission channel, or carrying out other activities that could be perceived as creating a secret communications channel to the US in support of USAID strategies.

A quick search on Internet leads to a site, The Jews of Cuba, that offers an overview of the Jewish communities in several cities of the island. We do not know how long that site has been up, but it lists several links and e-mail addresses. Additional information can be found on sites apparently based in the U.S., the Cuba-America Jewish Mission, and Jewish Solidarity.

There is yet another website with a more modern look to it, La comunidad hebrea de Cuba, or the Cuban Jewish Community, with pages in both Spanish and English. The site lists a copyright of 2003.

It reads: “Welcome to the Cuban Jewish Community Website. This website was designed and produced at the Technological Training Center of the Havana Jewish Community.” A link to the “Work Team” shows the names and pictures of the team members, including Pablo Verbitsky, IT Engineer; William Miller, Telecommunications Engineer; Yosvany Carmenate, IT Engineer; and Houwer Friman, Designer.

Cuba does provide high-level instruction in IT. It is not a surprise to find Cuban Jews among the qualified graduates. Was Alan Gross necessary to design and set up the site? Indeed, the site lists other human resources and collaborators. Its home page notes that it is supported by World ORT. That organization can be found with a simple web search.

Its work is summarized as follows: “Welcome to the online home of World ORT, the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organisation. This year, through our network of schools, colleges, training centres and programmes in Israel, Russia, Argentina and many other countries worldwide, we will benefit more than 200,000 people—young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish.”

A link to “Latin America” notes that ORT is supporting Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Cuba, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru and Panama.

The site earlier noted, for the Jewish Community of Cuba, names some other organizations that assist the community. These are, in addition to ORT: B’Nai Brith and the Cuban Jewish Relief Project; the Canadian Jewish Congress; the Joint Distribution Committee; and the United Jewish Committee. It notes that ORT has maintained a tech training program in Havana since 2000.

It does not appear that the Jewish community of Cuba, as relatively small as it is, lacks capable IT workers or contacts with organizations outside Cuba. It maintains websites that are not secret and obviously known to the Cuban government, including one that lists its supporters abroad.

Why was it necessary for USAID to contract DAI and in turn Alan Gross, under a “democracy building” program, to enter Cuba repeatedly without declaring his purposes?

It could be said that, no matter how capable the IT staff available within Cuba is, they still need better hardware and software. That is the case for Cubans in general, who face US laws that prohibit Cuba’s access to any IT produced in the US or by US companies. And it is true that Cuba’s access to Internet itself is also limited by the US. Gross’ activities could have been a way around the blockade that his own governmental employer imposes on all Cubans. Maybe the Cuban Jews needed special attention, in USAID’s view.

But why go the secret-agent route, when there are established international organizations that have been working with the Jewish community of Cuba for years? What exactly was Gross doing, and why was he doing it?

A clear and truthful statement from USAID, instead of the media fog that it and DAI have generated, would help to answer the question.

Source: CAAEF 27 October 2010

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Posted: 27 October 2010 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’ve been an outspoken critic of USAID all along. I also think that Cuba should charge Alan Gross if they have evidence against him.

He has been held for 11 months with no charges or trial.

I’m sure this has more to do with Fidel than Raul. Fidel wants Alan Gross for leverage with US Cuba relations or to sabotage efforts if the US relaxes too much of the Embargo.

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