Cuba Document Archive | Democracy Programs


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U.S. law authorizes aid for nonviolent democratic change in Cuba. The Department of State and USAID have awarded grants to support such change.

U.S. willing to change pro-democracy programs in Cuba

By Lesley Wroughton (Reuters, May 19, 2015)

In May 2015, a senior State Department official indicated the United States’ willingness to change pro-democracy programs which it organizes in Cuba and which are condemned by Havana. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the democracy programs "have changed over time, and they will continue to change over time to reflect a reality, whether that reality is on the ground in Cuba or in the United States."

Link to full text via Reuters

US co-opted Cuba's hip-hop scene to spark change

By Desmond Butler, Michael Weissenstein, Laura Wides-Munoz and Andrea Rodriguez (Associated Press, December 11, 2014)

This article reveals how USAID gained access to Cuba's underground hip-hop movement and recruited some unsuspecting rappers with the goal of inciting a youth movement against the government. The authors evaluate the operation as "amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful."

Link to full article via Associated Press



Gillum, Butler and Orsi question the credibility of the Obama Administration’s claims that ZunZuneo (USAID’s secret “Cuban Twitter” that evaded Cuba’s Internet restrictions through a text-messaging service) was not meant to foment unrest on the island, but instead to “support access to information and to allow people to communicate with each other.” They cover a session during which U.S. lawmakers interrogated USAID administrator Rajiv Shah about the program’s risks, political nature and lack of transparency. The authors assert that documents they obtained about the project were overtly political and satirized Cuban authorities, including the Castro brothers.

Link to the full text via AP: The Big Story



In this blog post, USAID spokesperson Herrick dismisses allegations made about the Twitter-like social media platform, ZunZuneo, that USAID had previously implemented in Cuba, claiming that an April 3rd Associated Press article “contained significant inaccuracies and false conclusions” about ZunZuneo and also about USAID’s democracy and governance work in Cuba. He counters eight specific claims made by the article’s authors, maintaining that the program was not “covert,” but “discreet,” nor meant to “trigger unrest” but to foment user-generated content, etc.

Link to the full text via USAID Blog



This article reveals that, in 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development created a Cuban version of Twitter (dubbed ZunZuneo) with the goal of evading Cuban internet restrictions and undermining the communist government. Built with secret shell companies and financed through foreign banks in order to conceal the U.S. government's role, the project lasted for more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers, who were unaware of the project’s origins or objectives. A lack of funding led to the shutdown of the project in 2012.

Link to the full text via AP: The Big Story

CUBA DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE: USAID’s Program Is Improved, but State Could Better Monitor Its Implementing Partners

GAO Report, January 2013

For this report, GAO identified current assistance, implementing partners, subpartners, and beneficiaries; reviewed USAID’s and State’s efforts to implement the program in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations and to address program risks; and examined USAID’s and State’s monitoring of the use of program funds.

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Kerry, Leahy, Menendez Questions and Answers on the effectiveness of democracy programs worldwide

(February 2012)

Senators Kerry, Leahy, and Menendez answer eight questions regarding the USAID Cuba Program in Cuba, stressing metrics, strengths and weaknesses, impact, numbers of people assisted, the extent of the program, effectiveness, legal risks, and requirements.

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USAID Contractor Work in Cuba Detailed

By Desmond Butler (Associated Press, February 2012)

This article from the Associated Press clarifies many of the misconceptions about Alan Gross and explains his role in Cuba as a development contractor. It offers alternative perspectives on Gross’ work, which provided illegal technological infrastructure that allowed for uncensored use of the Internet. Chronologically listing the events leading up to his arrest, this article clearly summarizes Alan Gross’ work and the details of his imprisonment.

Link to full text via the Associated Press

Enemy Campaigns and The Politics of Confrontation with Counterrevolutionary Groups

Transcript of a presentation by Eduardo Fontes Suárez, Political Section of the Ministry of the Interior, Cuba (June 2010)

A Cuban counterintelligence specialist details Cuba’s changing relationship with technologies and increasing access to technology to civilians. It also considers the American government’s role in bringing the Internet to Cuba to potentially accelerate the transition to democracy. Finally, he discusses Alan Gross’s role in bringing subversive technologies to Cuba, the dangers that these might pose to youth and other citizens, and what the Cuban government is doing to combat those efforts.

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DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE: U.S. Agencies Take Steps to Coordinate International Programs but Lack Information on Some U.S.-funded Activities

GAO Report, September 2009

In 2006, GAO found weaknesses in program oversight that increased the risk of grantees’ using grant funds improperly and failing to comply with U.S. laws. In 2008, misuse of grant funds at organizations with the program’s two largest grants was detected.

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Foreign Assistance: Continued Efforts Needed to Strengthen USAID's Oversight of U.S. Democracy Assistance for Cuba

GAO Report, November 2008

In this report, GAO was asked to examine actions that USAID has taken since 2006, or plans to take, to improve its award and oversight of the Cuba Program’s grants; and actions that USAID has taken in response to the recently detected misuses of grant funds.

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Explanation to the Hill Regarding the USAID Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program

(Meeting Notes, August 2008)

This document records the proceedings of a meeting on the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program. The main objectives of the program are to empower pro-democracy, pro-human rights groups and those looking for alternative visions for the island. The program seeks to expand the reach of the program's ideas and activities, to build and fortify networks and citizen's capacity to act, and to increase the flow of communication to and around the island.

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FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: U.S. Democracy Assistance for Cuba Needs Better Management and Oversight

GAO Report, November 2006

This report examines agency roles in implementing this aid and selection of grantees; types of aid, recipients, and methods of delivery reported in 2005; oversight of grantees; and data about the impact of this aid.

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Evaluation of the USAID Cuba Program

(PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2000)

USAID hired PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in February 2000 to conduct an evaluation of the USAID Cuba Program. The evaluation team finds USAID's administration of the Cuba Program to be satisfactory and effective, particularly in recognition of the fact that it takes place in such a difficult political context and is subjected to constant crosscutting pressures. The Program would benefit from an increase in staff at USAID headquarters and in Havana, the adoption of a research agenda to guide planning and to inform Program activities, expanded information sharing and cooperation among grantees, and improved measurement of Program performance.

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Congressional Budget Justifications for the USAID Cuba Program, FY 2011 through FY 2016 are available below:

Fiscal Year 2011

Fiscal Year 2012

Fiscal Year 2013

Fiscal Year 2014

Fiscal Year 2015

Fiscal Year 2016

Cuba Programs: Our Work


USAID focuses on increasing the ability of Cubans to participate in civic affairs and improve human rights conditions on the island. By reaching out to the dissident community and beyond and engaging citizens to enhance local leadership skills, strengthen organizational capacity, facilitate outreach strategies, and support greater access to information and communication, the USAID program contributes to the development of independent civil society groups that can ultimately make significant contributions at the local and national levels. The United States Congress appropriated $55 million for Cuba programs between fiscal years 2009-2011; USAID managed nearly $31 million of this amount.

Link to full text via USAID