U.S. contracts Latin American youth
for subversion in Cuba
new investigation by Associated Press (AP)
exposes new USAID program to manipulate Cuban youth
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
secretly sent young Latin Americans to Cuba in an
attempt to incite opposition and destroy the
Revolution, according to an investigation conducted
by the U.S. press agency Associated Press,
the same agency which exposed the ZunZuneo project,
based on the use of new mobile phone technology to
promote destabilization in Cuba.
report signed by journalists Desmond Butler, Jack
Gillum, Alberto Arce and Andrea Rodríguez, stated
that beginning in October 2009, a project directed
by USAID sent young Venezuelans, Costa Ricans and
Peruvians to Cuba with the goal of inciting a
rebellion on the island.
revealed, “The travelers worked undercover, often
posing as tourists, and traveled around the island
scouting for people they could turn into political
project employed covert methods commonly used by
U.S. intelligence services, such as secret lines of
communication, fronts and lies; encryption of
information; security measures; promoting exchanges
with overseas agents; seeking intelligence
information on Cuban society; psychological
preparation of emissaries in the case of possible
detection by Cuban State Security; use of codes in
communications, among others. Nonetheless the
journalists assert that the project was plagued with
“incompetence and risks.”
covert, illegal operation contracted people from the
region, even after the arrest and sentencing of U.S.
contractor Alan Gross, imprisoned for committing
acts in violation of the independence and
territorial integrity of the Cuban state.
Young Cubans who were in contact with the
“travelers,” such as university student Héctor
Baranda, who became friends with a group of
visitors, were shocked to hear about the AP
report and those working for USAID.
Costa Rican Fernando Murillo was one of the young
Latin Americans who worked on the project. “Their
assignment was to recruit young Cubans to
anti-government activism,” stated AP. The
mission consisted of organizing “programs disguised
as civic activities, including a workshop on health
was instructed to check in every 48 hours and was
provided with a set of security codes.”
have a headache," for instance, meant the Costa
Rican thought the Cubans were watching him.”
USAID hired the firm Creative Associates
International which also participated in the
creation of the ZunZuneo program.
According to documents obtained by AP and
interviews conducted in six countries, “USAID's
young operatives posed as tourists, visited college
campuses and used a ruse that could undermine
USAID's credibility in critical health work around
the world: An HIV-prevention workshop,” which was
described as the “perfect excuse” for the program’s
investigation revealed that the “operation often
teetered on disaster… There was no safety net for
the inexperienced travelers, who were doing work
that was explicitly illegal in Cuba.”
According to emails obtained by AP, after
Gross was arrested, USAID informed its operatives,
privately, that they should consider suspending
their scheduled plans to travel to Cuba.
However, in April 2010, Fernando Murillo was sent to
Havana. He was contracted by Creative Associates to
“turn Cuba's apathetic young people into effective
Santa Clara, Murillo met a cultural group that
called itself “Revolution,” a modest outfit of
artists devoted to electronic music and video.
the idea was to hold a series of seminars to recruit
new “volunteers,” Murillo needed a theme that would
both draw in potential recruits and still be
sanctioned by the state.
initiated a HIV workshop, which in November 2010
attracted 60 young people. The workshop was supposed
to offer participants straightforward sex education
to prevent contracting the virus. But the ulterior
motive, documents obtained by AP show, was to use
the workshop as a recruiting ground for young people
by showing them how to organize themselves.
he was contacted in San Jose, Costa Rica, Murillo
said he could not speak about the details of his
Cuba trips because he had signed a nondisclosure
agreement. He said he wasn't trying to do anything
beyond teach, “I never said to a Cuban that he had
to do something against the government,” he said.
However, in the six page report which Fernando
Murillo sent to Creative Associates, he emphasized
that the workshop was “the perfect excuse for the
treatment of the underlying theme.”
Elsewhere in the report Murillo revealed another
objective, “to generate a network of volunteers for
Manuel Barbosa, a founder of artistic group
Revolution, said in a recent interview in Santa
Clara, that the Costa Ricans never told him that
they were working for USAID.
report also stated that “Staging a workshop as a
front to subvert a foreign government risked casting
suspicion on USAID's legitimate public health
mission, including a more than three billion dollar
annual HIV program that the agency says has helped
some 50 million people in nearly 100 countries.”
While Murillo and the Costa Rican travelers focused
on the HIV workshop and other programs, teams of
Venezuelans and Peruvians were deployed to Cuba's
college campuses. Their mission, documents and
interviews show, was to “recruit university students
with the long-term goal of turning them against
late 2009, Creative Associates contracted Venezuelan
lawyer Zaimar Castillo, then 22, who ran an
organization called Renova. His organization visited
student residences on campus at the University of
Santa Clara and took weekend trips to meet the
families of students. A separate team of young
Peruvians also targeted the university in Santa
described the students and their facilities in great
detail, noting complaints and fairness issues that
might be exploited. Potential recruits were listed
by name, and then profiled, their leadership
qualities assessed in a spreadsheet.
Nonetheless, the Cuban students, in recent
interviews with the AP, said they were
astonished to discover that the foreigners were
acting on behalf of USAID.
September 3, 2010, Irving Perez, a manager at
Creative Associates' office in San Jose, called a
meeting via Skype to announce a change in strategy.
“Our program will no longer rely on trips to the
island, at least not as the backbone of the
operation,” Perez told the travelers.
Instead of traveling to Cuba, they would try to help
certain Cuban “star contacts” get exit visas to
train in a third country.
recognized the failure of the subversion project.
August 4, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
declined to comment, when questioned about the
can not comment on the report (published in the U.S.
press) as there are several inaccurate points. I
invite you to go directly to USAID.”
statement made by USAID spokesperson Matt Herrick
asserts that USAID denies secrecy of their programs
in Cuba, commenting, “The United States Congress
finances pro-democracy programs in Cuba to increase
Cubans’ access to more information and the
strengthening of civil society.” Herrick added that
all programs carried out in Cuba are available to
the public via the webpage foreignassistance.gov.
“This work is not a secret, it is not covert and it
is not illegal.”
However, just as in the case of the ZunZuneo
project, the characteristics of this new subversive
program place it in the category of unconventional
war methods, which have been used increasingly over
recent years. This form of warfare seeks to achieve
goals of domination and regime change in countries
the U.S. considers opposed to its interests, without
direct involvement of traditional forces on the
ground, which results in relatively lower costs for
the aggressor country, but not for the victim.
participation of “unqualified” personnel in
traditional intelligence operations is codified in
the U.S. Special Forces’ TC-1801 training circular.
According to the circular, unconventional warfare
involves a “multi-agency” effort by the United
States. The entire project operatively reflects this
doctrine, in which USAID plays an important role.
federal agency obtains multimillion dollar funds
from U.S. tax payers for supposed humanitarian work
around the world, but has been exposed to be a front
for intelligence operations.
Excerpts from document obtained by AP
Contact must be anonymous by Gmail, SMS, or
telephone, with a simple message saying the traveler
is having a good time. Communication by any means
must be short and to the point.
sensitive information needs to be reported (security
issues, key programmatic events) the message must be
encoded and should never mention names, places,
numbers, etc. If need be, the free, easy-to-use
service Hushmail Express will be used.
language like the following needs to be used, please
interpret according to the phrases:
have a headache”
suspect we are being monitored and will temporarily
abstain from carrying out the objectives of the
trip, unless otherwise instructed.
got drunk and had to go to the hospital. I’m OK now
and will take it easy for the rest of the trip”
We were detained and interrogated; we will not
continue with the objectives of the trip and
continue as tourists for the rest of the trip.
too ill to stay here, will return home early. See
We have been expelled and are leaving immediately.
Will get in touch with you as soon as we are in a