US reviewing democracy work in hostile countries

2014-11-11 10:11


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - The US State Department said on Monday it was reviewing some of its secretive democracy-promotion programs in hostile countries after The Associated Press reported that the nation's global development agency may effectively end risky undercover work in those environments.

The proposed changes follow an AP investigation this year into work by the US Agency for International Development, which established a Twitter-like service in Cuba and secretly sought to recruit a new generation of dissidents there while hiding ties to the US government.

 The agency's proposed changes could move some of that work under America's diplomatic apparatus.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki declined to elaborate on the plan on Monday, saying it was "premature" because of ongoing deliberations.

 "We continue to believe we need to find creative ways to promote positive change in Cuba, but beyond that, we're still assessing what any change or what any impact would be," she said.

High-risk democracy efforts

USAID's proposed policy closely mirrors a Senate bill this summer, which would prohibit the agency from spending money on democracy programmes in countries that reject the agency's assistance and where USAID would have to go to "excessive lengths to protect programme beneficiaries and participants".

In turn, some of USAID's high-risk democracy efforts would likely be moved under the State Department, according to government officials familiar with discussions about the policy who were not authorized to talk about the matter publicly. Other programs could shift to the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit group that receives money from the US government.

The changes would prevent USAID from running programs such as the "Cuban Twitter" project, known as ZunZuneo. In that operation, the AP found USAID and its contractor concealed their involvement, setting up a front company, routing money through Cayman Islands bank transactions and fashioning elaborate cover stories.

The subterfuge put at risk USAID's cooperation with foreign governments to deliver aid to the world's poor. Last month, it pledged more than $140m to fight Ebola in West Africa.

In a statement, USAID said it would continue to carry out democracy initiatives in "politically restrictive environments" and aim to be transparent. But it said the new rules would balance safety and security risks, which would align with the proposed legislation.

Political change

But the Obama administration on Monday would not answer questions on how it could continue any democracy-promotion work in Cuba when such efforts are illegal there and would likely require secrecy to be effective. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said earlier this year that ZunZuneo was not a covert program, although he said "parts of it were done discreetly" to protect the people involved.

Government officials told the AP that USAID acknowledged changing its democracy-promotion policy after being questioned by Senators Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Jeff Flake, a Republican, who wrote the agency following the AP's report in April.

Both ZunZuneo and a second program to recruit Cuban dissidents were run by Creative Associates International, a Washington DC contractor. They were part of a larger, multimillion-dollar effort by USAID to bring about democratic reforms in politically volatile countries. But the officials said they were told USAID had concluded some democracy programs in hostile countries were not successful.

The AP reported that ZunZuneo evaded Cuba's Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service for political purposes that drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware it was backed by the US government. US officials said it ended in late 2012 because funding ran out.

In August, the AP found USAID secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba to provoke political change, using the cover of health and civic initiatives. That program sent Latin youth — often posing as tourists — around the island to scout for people they could turn into political activists. Cuban authorities had questioned some of the travelers' true motives.

The agency's inspector general confirmed this summer it was examining the ZunZuneo programme.

Read more on:    usaid  |  us

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.