International News

U.S. Secretly Sent Latin American Youth To Cuba To Stir Up a Revolution

Dwight Eisenhower still holds the record for the most hamfisted attempts to oust Fidel Castro, thanks to alleged plots like the CIA's exploding cigar caper. But Barack Obama is giving Ike a run for his money. First came the "Cuban Twitter" fiasco, when news leaked that the US Agency for International Development had secretly started a Havana-based Twitter copycat in the hopes it might inspire an Arab Spring-esque rebellion.

Now this morning the AP reports on another USAID scheme: The agency secretly sent teams of young Latin Americans to the island posing as tourists with the goal of sparking revolution.

See also: U.S. Secretly Created a 'Cuban Twitter' to Try to Incite an Anti-Castro Uprising

The program, which started in October 2009, recruited youth from Venezuela, Peru and Costa Rica to pose as travelers to the island. Once there, their real job was to meet Cubans whom they could turn into secret political activists working against the Castro regime.

The young USAID contractors were given code words to use if things went sour -- "My sister is ill" meant they had to cut their trip short, for instance -- but this plot was hardly the stuff of James Bond.

The "travelers" got less than half an hour of training on how to evade Cuban security forces while on the island, the AP reports, even though the first missions started weeks after U.S. contractor Alan Gross was arrested while doing his own work for USAID in Cuba.

Others were given reassuring messages like this before heading to Havana: "Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them."

Thanks, USAID!

The program, needless to say, did not whip up a fury of revolution in Cuba and much like the "Cuban Twitter" embarrassment, mostly serves to undermine more legitimate attempts to spark reform in Cuba.

Not that you'll get Miami's own Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to criticize the attempt. "We must continue to pressure the Castro regime and support the Cuban people, who are oppressed on a daily basis," she tells the AP.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink