Has President Obama Lost Control of Cuba Policy? (part 1)

Mark Lopes USAID

Mark Lopes, Sen. Menendez ally at USAID


While we wait for President Raul Castro to set an example by releasing Alan Gross for humanitarian reasons, it is worth considering whether President Obama is still capable of the reset of US-Cuba relations that was put on hold while Gross was imprisoned.

Review the Wikileaks publication of a diplomatic cable from Havana to recall the optimistic atmosphere that prevailed on both sides during Bisa Williams’ visit prior to Alan’s arrest.  

Can that atmosphere be restored when the bureaucracy of USAID, backed by closely linked Cuban American hard liners in Congress, seems determined to create further provocation, leading to additional arrests and prosecutions? Under pressure, Senators Kerry and Leahy lifted their hold on $21,000,000 for “democracy” funding, sending good money after bad despite the ostensible preoccupation in Washington to end wasteful government expenditures.. 

USAID’s planned programs almost sound innocent, except that they are designed to carry out the regime change agenda of the Helms Burton law and are part and parcel of fifty years of  unremitting economic warfare, as reported by Tracey Eaton in his invaluable Cuba Money Project blog

  • $6 million for programs aimed at increasing free expression among youth ages 12 to 24.
  • $6 million to expand Internet use and increase access to information.
  • $9 million to support neighborhood groups, cooperatives, sports clubs, church groups and other civil society organizations.

Imagine how Americans would feel if an overtly hostile country undertook similar unauthorized projects in our country despite explicit US laws to the contrary.  Wouldn't we be morally outraged at targeting children as young as 12?

The key person driving USAID's Cuba work is Mark Lopes, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Latin America Caribbean Bureau.  His official biography reveals his closeness to the hard line Senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez:

He was formerly the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor/Staff Director for the Chairman of the International Development and Foreign Assistance subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The ascribed title is a little misleading.  Because Senate sub-committees do not have their own personnel, Lopes was not a Foreign Relations Committee staff member but actually a PRM, the personal representative of a member, Sen. Menendez.

Lopez sought to paint lipstick on a pig, telling the Miami Herald in May:

"The core of the USAID Cuba program remains in providing humanitarian support, building civil society and democratic space, facilitating the information flow in, out, and within the island…These programs are comparable to what we and other donors do to support democracy and human rights in repressive societies all over the world."

Is the Cuba program really comparable to programs undertaken by USAID in China or Saudi Arabia?  Or does he mean only to societies from which the US withholds diplomatic recognition? Is it even the same as with Burma or Iran? In Cuba the US strategy since the Bush Administration has been to recruit and create an opposition, not to support a real existing political or social force.  Then our policy is guided by the echo chamber of US funded political viewpoints. The process has been uniquely corrupted by the dominance in US politics of the agenda of exiles that use the US government to advance their sectarian self-interests and fantasies of counter-revolution.  The closest analogy is the way Iraqi exiles disastrously shaped the policy of the Bush Administration, to their own and Iran's ends.

The norm of other democratic countries that send aid to Cuba, as well as of USAID around the world, is to vet any assistance to a population with its government. That is what it means to respect national sovereignty.  The descriptive language of programs in various countries may be similar on the surface, but the fundamental reality is not when they implement a US public goal of overturning an existing socio-economic system.  

Rather than providers of publicly defensible assistance designed to strengthen positive tendencies in a society, USAID becomes a nest for amateur covert action endangering both its contractors and its beneficiaries.  Projects are funded not to solve problems but to foster domestic conflict.

Organizations considering people-to-people programs with Cuba report that USAID has offered to fund them. Such a reckless action will compromise the whole effort, enhancing Cuban suspicion of licensed travelers and putting participants at risk who may unknowingly be the beneficiaries of US funds.

How could President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton reprise Bush policy by appointing a partisan operative to a sensitive aid position?  Are they prepared to replace or neutralize Lopes when Gross is free?

Otherwise they cannot be serious about improving US-Cuba relations.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development



Links and Resources

While the US dithers, other countries are moving to take advantage of opportunities to invest in Cuba’s new economy.  Here is a Canadian example of a golf resort with a particularly interesting source of capital (and some lovely photos).


From the Guardian “Time to Get Closer to Cuba” (click on the "key areas" link to see the text of the agreement)

Last month Cuba and the United Kingdom signed a formal declaration to strengthen bilateral co-operation. The agreement champions "closer dialogue and economic, scientific, technical, educational, cultural and sporting links between the two countries" and highlights key areas for collaboration including environmental issues, biotechnology, trade and investment, regional security, child protection and disaster preparedness.