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Tag: usaid

Democrats Demand Investigation Of Bigoted Appointees At USAID

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Democratic senators have called for the Trump administration to investigate anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim statements made by recent appointees to the U.S. Agency for International Development, urging the organization to do more as its leaders grapple with internal strife over their approach to issues of racism and inclusion.

The letter by seven senators made oblique reference to nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations calling for racial justice, saying that it is “important that employees hear from their leadership at the USAID an unequivocal commitment to addressing institutional prejudices."

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USAID Hires Anti-Gay Critic Of ‘Liberal Democracy’

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

A new Trump appointee to the United States' foreign aid agency has a history of online posts denouncing liberal democracy and has said that the country is in the clutches of a “homo-empire" that pushes a “tyrannical LGBT agenda."

In one post, Merritt Corrigan, who recently took up a position as deputy White House liaison at the U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote: “Liberal democracy is little more than a front for the war being waged against us by those who fundamentally despise not only our way of life, but life itself."

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Ultra-Stingy: Ivanka Touts $1 Plan To Advance Global Women’s ‘Prosperity’

The Trump administration’s much-hyped initiative to help 50 million women in the developing world has allocated only $1 toward each woman.

Ivanka Trump is the public face of the “Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative,” announced to much fanfare during the same week as the State of the Union address.

But so far, the initiative has only had $50 million allocated to it from the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“That’s just a dollar a year each!” said Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

The funds are extremely small in comparison to efforts by previous administrations.

In 2016, President Barack Obama’s administration submitted a budget requesting $1.34 billion in foreign aid that would support gender equality and efforts to reduce gender-based violence. Some $40 million of that was set aside for Let Girls Learn, the initiative launched by Michelle Obama to help girls in the developing world get a quality education.

A year later, the Trump administration ended the program.

Just last year, philanthropist Melinda Gates announced a $170 million plan to increase the economic power of women around the world. That’s more than three times as much as the commitment from the entire U.S. government.

Yet, despite the comparatively paltry sum of his offering, Trump clearly wanted praise for the program.

During his State of the Union address, Trump congratulated himself for launching “the first ever Government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.”

“Trump is committed to women’s economic empowerment,” claimed a White House press release. The document said the $1 per woman effort would advance “women’s full and free participation in the global economy.”

As Trump signed a memorandum establishing the initiative, Ivanka wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed that laughably claimed the fund would help “boost global economic output by an additional $12 trillion by 2025.”

The public relations maneuver is right in line with an administration that has attacked women around the world at every turn.

He reinstated the anti-choice global gag rule, then later expanded it — banning the United States from funding certain reproductive health initiatives around the world.

Opposition to abortion also led Trump to cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which is responsible for family planning, including ending deaths from childbirth, across 150 countries.

Trump hurt women and families when he ended the Syrian refugee program and imposed a ban on Muslim travel to the U.S. Additionally, he put in place policies at the U.S.-Mexico border that separated children from their families.

Trump is reviled by women, and this initiative is part of a gambit to improve his standing with them before the election. But even then, with Ivanka leading the charge, Trump hobbled the program and made it into an obvious joke.

There is no real commitment here, just smoke and mirrors for another con in progress.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Analysts Debate Proper Role Of U.S. Democracy Programs In Cuba

By Juan O. Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald

MIAMI — The U.S. government has a right to finance pro-democracy programs in Cuba but must ensure they are not so aggressive that they wind up hurting dissidents and strengthening the hand of Havana hardliners, analysts and political figures said this week.

“U.S. policy has long been to bring about or hasten a democratic transition in Cuba,” said Carl Meacham, former senior staffer on Latin America for the Republican side of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This is consistent with that policy.”

Meacham was reacting to a Monday report by The Associated Press that a U.S. Agency for International Development program sent young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Peru to recruit young Cubans to anti-government activism … under the guise of civic programs from 2009 to 2011.

USAID said the program, which was run by Washington-based Creative Associates International working under a grant from the agency, was designed to “empower (Cuban) citizens to tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory,’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.”

But the AP report poured fresh fuel on the long-running debate over the U.S. government’s Cuba programs. USAID says they are designed to promote democracy on the island but the Cuban government views them as attempts to topple its communist system.

Phil Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in suburban Washington, D.C., and a proponent of easing U.S. sanctions on Havana, said USAID efforts such as the Creative Associates program can increase Cuban government suspicions.

“This kind of activity can hurt people who are trying to do good work in Cuba, put them under suspicion that they are working on a political program — to say nothing of the possible damage to USAID itself around the world,” Peters said.

But Mauricio Claver-Carone, an anti-Castro activist in Washington, D.C., defended such programs. “The United States should never apologize for helping the victims of brutal dictatorships throughout the world. To the contrary, it’s emblematic of our nation’s finest moments,” he wrote.

“All countries do this,” Meacham said of the Creative Associates International program.

Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer said the U.S. government is right to help opposition and civil society activists because the Cuban government controls every aspect of their lives, denies them the right to speak freely, and even fires them from their jobs.

Opposing the government “would be impossible without the help of friendly democratic nations and Cubans abroad” who pay for items such as printers, cellphones, and taxis to meetings, said Ferrer, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union.

Said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL): “The fact that USAID is using measures to promote democracy in Cuba is no secret. We must continue to pressure the Castro regime and support the Cuban people, who are oppressed on a daily basis.”

In a statement Monday, USAID said that the U.S. Congress “funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society … The work is not secret; it is not covert, nor is it undercover.”

The AP reported that the young travelers to Cuba worked undercover and often posed as tourists.

In its statement, USAID said The Associated Press included a paragraph in its report that correctly described the program but “then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs … This is wrong.”

But some analysts cautioned that Cuba democracy programs run the risk of becoming too aggressive, counterproductive, and might even further complicate the already fractious debate on how to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.

The latest report could strengthen hardliners in Havana who oppose economic reforms, and others in the United States who support sanctions on Cuba, said Meacham, now Americas program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Teo Babun, executive director of EchoCuba, a Miami nonprofit that has received U.S. government dollars in the past to assist churches in Cuba, said the USAID program, as described, was too “aggressive” for his taste.

“It is clear that USAID supports democracy-building programs,” he said. “But it is wrong to engage with or to try to introduce programs that are so aggressive against the (Cuban) government. We cannot be supportive of that.”

Babun added, however, that he hadn’t ever encountered a USAID Cuba program that was as aggressive as that described in the AP report. “Not in one instance did we see this type of program,” he said.

In April, the AP sparked another aid controversy with a report on a previously unknown USAID program — a Twitter-like social media platform for Cubans known as ZunZuneo.

Photo via WikiCommons

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U.S. Explores A Wi-Fi Network For Cuba, But Denies It’s Operational

By Juan O. Tamayo, The Miami Herald

A program financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop the technology for a Wi-Fi network in Cuba has not been deployed on the island and is under review, a USAID spokesman said Monday.

USAID approved the grant to the Open Technology Institute (OTI) in Washington in 2012 as part of the agency’s efforts to promote Internet freedom, democracy and civil society in Cuba, said Matt Herrick, a spokesman for the agency.

The network, known as Commotion, “is not operational in Cuba” and no one has traveled to the country for the program, Herrick said. Cuban authorities have imprisoned USAID subcontractor Alan P. Gross since 2009 for a somewhat similar program.

OTI’s grant “is now under review. We are looking into it, to see if it’s consistent with the (OTI) proposal and achieves expected outcomes,” said the spokesman, declining to provide further details. The grant is due to expire Sept. 30, 2015.

The USAID grant to OTI was made public in 2012, but came under a new spotlight after The New York Times reported Sunday on a similar Commotion system in Tunisia, financed by the State Department, and mentioned the Cuba program.

USAID drew a lot of fire from critics of its Cuba programs after The Associated Press reported earlier this month that it secretly financed a Twitter-like system for Cubans. The agency said the system was not secret but had to be “discreet” because of Cuba’s “non-permissive environment.”

In contrast to Cuba, which has branded the USAID programs as thinly veiled efforts toward “regime change,” the Tunisia program was launched in December with the approval of authorities in the town of Sayada.

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence for delivering satellite phones to Cuban Jews so they could have uncensored access to the Internet. While Wi-Fi signals are easy intercept and pinpoint, satellite phone signals are more difficult to locate.

OTI is required to develop the technology for a Cuba version of Commotion — basically a way to link several Wi-Fi routers into a “mesh” that can bypass government controls — but has not tried to deploy it on the island, according to knowledgeable sources.

The Wi-Fi program “is part of the U.S. government’s long-standing commitment to facilitate open communications among the Cuban people and with the outside world,” Herrick said.

The Times report said the Sayada network was started by Tunisian academics and computer geeks who took part in the 2011 uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. It described his government as “deeply invested in digital surveillance.”

The State Department provided $2.8 million to U.S. “hackers, community activists and software geeks to develop the system as a way for dissidents abroad to communicate more freely and securely,” the newspaper reported.

Sayada’s mesh is not connected to the Internet but covers big areas of the town of 14,000 people and gives users access to a server containing 2,500 books, Wikipedia in French and Arabic and an application for secure chatting and file sharing, it added.

“It is clear that the United States sees Sayada as a test of the concept before it is deployed in more contested zones,” The Times said, noting the USAID grants for the OTI and Twitter-like Zunzuneo programs for Cuba.

One odd aspect of the USAID grant is that OTI is a part of the New America Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that has another part, the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, which strongly favors warming relations with Cuba’s communist government.

“I’m not involved in any USAID grants — and I frankly don’t want to be,” Initiative director Anya Landau French wrote in a blog post in 2012 in which she made it clear she opposed OTI’s decision to apply for and accept the USAID grant.

“I think I’m pretty clearly on record in my belief that USAID’s programs in Cuba have largely failed in their objectives and are in fact often counterproductive to anyone associated with them,” she added.

The New American Foundation describes itself as a nonpartisan organization investing “in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.”

OTI founder Sascha Meinrath did not reply to requests for an interview, but the group’s Web page said it is dedicated to promoting “affordable, universal and ubiquitous communications networks.”

Photo via Flickr; flippinyank

U.S. Denies Covert Twitter-Style Cuba Operation

Washington (AFP) — The United States on Thursday denied it used its overseas aid agency to mount a covert operation on social media to incite unrest against Cuba’s communist leaders.

But the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) did say it had created a Twitter-style application on which Cubans, subject to strict curbs on expression, were able to “talk freely among themselves” consistent with universal rights and freedoms.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the program was a “development assistance” scheme designed to allow Cubans facing government restrictions on information access to civil society and was not a secret.

He said the program, first reported by the Associated Press, was conducted within U.S. law, and had not been a secret since it was debated in Congress.

“When you have a program like that in a non permissive environment, i.e. a place like Cuba, you are discreet (in) how you implement it so you protect the practitioners,” he said.

“But that does not make it covert. USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency. Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong.”

USAID spokesman Matt Herrick said in a statement that USAID was proud to work in Cuba to “promote human rights and universal freedoms” and to help information flow to its people, alongside its humanitarian operations.

The project was known as “Zunzueneo” after the term for a Cuban hummingbird and was a platform for Cubans to “speak freely among themselves,” said Herrick.

He said the application was built to build interest and engage Cubans using sports scores, weather, and trivia.

Questions were raised about the program after the initial AP report suggested that political content was to be introduced at a later stage to encourage Cubans to mount “flash mobs” and demonstrate against the communist government.

Despite the U.S. denials, fears are likely to be expressed that the use of USAID in the program could politicize an agency which often relies on the goodwill of foreign governments to carry out humanitarian work.

Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he had not been briefed on the program, which he called “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

“If you are going to do a covert program like this for regime change, assuming it ever makes any sense, it’s not something that should be done through USAID.”

“They do a lot of great things around the world … this is not one of them,” Leahy told MSNBC.

The agency says openly on its website that its core mission in Cuba includes promoting the freedom of expression.

It says its program provides basic news and information about issues relevant to Cubans from “inside Cuba and around the world.”

It uses books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets “with an increasing emphasis on promoting the use of social media.”

Carney said that Congress had appropriated funds to promote democracy in Cuba in an open fashion and that the program had been vetted by the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog body.

The confrontation between the United States and Cuba is one of the world’s last Cold War-era disputes and Washington has maintained an embargo on the communist country since 1962.

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