Josefina Vidal, Director General of the U.S. division at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
U.S. Summer Leadership Program provokes backlash from Cuban government
HAVANA (AP) – A few months after President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March, a group of teenagers left the island for a month-long visit to the United States funded by the U.S. State Department.
The 16- to 18-year-olds spent 10 days learning about community service, followed by two-week homestays with families in Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Oregon and Missouri. There, the Cuban teens volunteered at food banks and recycling centers and read books to young children, according to the Washington-based NGO that organized the activities.
Now, four months before Obama leaves office, the Summer Leadership Program for Cuban Youth has provoked a full-blown backlash from the Cuban government, which has organized a nationwide series of campus protests over the past week denouncing the program as a tool of American subversion in language hearkening back to the height of the Cold War.
“University students condemn new Yankee manipulation,” declared a headline in red ink above the lead story in Thursday’s edition of Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper. Cuba said it complained about the program at a meeting in Washington on Friday with the U.S. diplomats negotiating normalization with Cuba.
“We insisted once again that the financing of programs aimed at provoking internal change in Cuba needs to be eliminated, which would be an essential step toward normalizing bilateral relations,” Cuba’s director-general of U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said in a video posted as part of a question-and-answer session on Twitter.
For most of the last half-century, the U.S tried to push Fidel Castro’s government toward collapse or fuel its overthrow in an anti-Communist uprising. The Obama administration abandoned that goal in favor of slowly encouraging Cubans to develop lives independent of a single-party system that, despite limited reforms, controls most aspects of life on the island, from theater programming to the distribution of agricultural supplies. The Obama goal of gradual change is supported by millions of dollars in funding for non-governmental organizations that attempt to work directly with Cubans in programs similar to U.S.-funded efforts around the world.
Cuba rejects the idea of any foreign government, above all the United States, working with Cubans independently of the government and the more than 2,000 state-run organizations that it describes as Cuba’s genuine civil society. Virtually any organization operating without state approval is viewed as illegal and potentially subversive, particularly if it receives foreign aid.
Cuba says such suspicions gained credibility with the publication of reports by The Associated Press in 2014 revealing that the U.S. Agency for International Development funded clandestine programs to undermine the Cuban government, including the creation of a “Cuban Twitter” social network, the dispatch of Latin American youth to recruit activists, and attempts to coopt Cuban rappers as unknowing agents of democratic change.
Feature continues here: Freedom is Subversive
Editor’s Note: Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal was among 16 Cuban spy-diplomats expelled from the US in May 2003.