Sunday, September 18, 2022

Democracy Programs: Depends on Whose Ox is Gored

 An unresolved and deep conflict between the US and Cuba is the expenditure of at least $20 million dollars per year for democracy programs in Cuba, largely through grants from USAID.   They were documented by The Cuba Money Project.  It no longer exists but many of the ground breaking posts can be found here

It is illegal for US candidates to accept  donations from people who are not US citizens.  The controversy of Russian influence still dominates debate about the first Trump campaign.  Yet very few American politicians question the legitimacy of covert interference in Cuba's social and political life.  USAID is accepted and plays a positive role in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because its programs are public and negotiated between the governments.   The fundamental difference is that the US, despite many disagreements about human rights and democratic practice in all three former enemies does not aspire to regime change.

The following interview with a Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, article about Russian political interference worldwide and discussion of US opposition to China's government funded Confucius Institutes illustrate the inherent hypocrisy in our democracy programs.  My solution is at the end.

   --John McAuliff

Cuba slams US funding to “promote democracy” as illegal

By Dave Sherwood


HAVANA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Cuba slammed U.S. funding for "democracy promotion" programs as interventionist and illegal, aimed at toppling the government just as the island nation faces its worst economic crisis in decades, the country's Vice Foreign Minister said on Friday.

The Biden Administration in July announced a call for applications to award up to $6.25 million to nongovernmental organizations and individuals as part of a decades-long program authorized by U.S. law to "promote peaceful, nonviolent democratic change in Cuba."

Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told Reuters in Havana that the programs - which over several decades have spent upwards of $200 million on Cuba-related projects - in fact leverage foreign funding to foment unrest on the island.

"In any nation, this is illegal," he said, noting the United States has legislation against people who act as foreign government agents.

"That is precisely what the United States is trying to promote in Cuba today," he said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) call for applications warned of the challenges and risks of working in Cuba, and said recipients "will not serve as an agent or act under the direction of USAID."

De Cossio's allegations come as the island nation suffers its worst economic crisis in decades, with widespread blackouts and hours-long lines for such basic supplies as food, fuel and medicine.

Cuba has long blamed the U.S. Cold War-era embargo and financing of dissidents for its economic and social woes, but De Cossio said the most recent U.S. funding for pro-democracy groups was specifically crafted to topple the communist-run government.

"They (the U.S) are depressing the standard of living of the population and at the same time pouring millions of US taxpayer dollars into urging people to act against the {Cuban} government," De Cossio told Reuters.

The United States called for applications from groups that would provide humanitarian assistance for persecuted individuals and for those "empowering Cubans through access to information."

The deputy foreign minister's statements on Friday follow the first high-level talks between the two countries in four years, at the time characterized as constructive by the long-time foes.

Relations have nonetheless remained tense, with the United States and human rights groups accusing Cuba of stifling free speech and wrongly imprisoning protesters following widespread anti-government rallies on the island last July 11. Cuba has denied those allegations.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Josie Kao



Russia Secretly Gave $300 Million to Political Parties and Officials Worldwide, U.S. Says


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By Edward Wong

  • Sept. 13, 2022

WASHINGTON — Russia has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, and plans to transfer hundreds of millions more, with the goal of exerting political influence and swaying elections, according to a State Department summary of a recent U.S. intelligence review.

Russia has probably given even more that has gone undetected, the document said.

“The Kremlin and its proxies have transferred these funds in an effort to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favor,” the document said. It added, “The United States will use official liaison channels with targeted countries to share still classified information about Russian activities targeting their political environments.”

The State Department document was sent as a cable to American embassies around the world on Monday to summarize talking points for U.S. diplomats in conversations with foreign officials.


Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, confirmed at a news conference on Tuesday that the findings on Russia were the result of work by U.S. intelligence agencies. He added that Russian election meddling was “an assault on sovereignty,” similar to Russia’s war on Ukraine. “In order to fight this, in many ways we have to put a spotlight on it,” he said.

The State Department cable and release of some of the intelligence findings amount to an initial effort by the Biden administration to use intelligence material to expose the scope of Russian interference in global political processes and elections, and to rally other nations to help combat it.

U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump, the Republican candidate who defeated Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Its methods included the use of cyberoperations to spread online disinformation. U.S. intelligence officials also found that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia authorized a campaign to try to hurt the candidacy of Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he ran for office against Mr. Trump in 2020.

The new document says that a range of Russian agencies and individuals carry out the global operations, including the Federal Security Service and other security agencies, as well as business figures.

The document named two men, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Aleksandr Babakov, both close associates of Mr. Putin, as involved in the influence or interference campaigns. In April, the Justice Department charged Mr. Babakov, who is also a Russian lawmaker, and two other Russian citizens with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and conspiring to commit visa fraud while running an “international foreign influence and disinformation network to advance the interests of Russia.”

The Russians pay in cash, cryptocurrency, electronic funds transfers and lavish gifts, the document said. They move the money through a wide range of institutions to shield the origins of the financing, a practice called using cutouts. Those institutions include foundations, think tanks, organized crime groups, political consultancies, shell companies and Russian state-owned enterprises.

The money is also given secretly through Russian Embassy accounts and resources, the document said.

In one Asian country, the Russian ambassador gave millions of dollars in cash to a presidential candidate, the document said. U.S. agencies have also found that Russia has used false contracts and shell companies in several European countries in recent years to give money to political parties.

“Some of Russia’s covert political financing methods are especially prevalent in certain parts of the world,” the document said. It added, “Russia has relied on state-owned enterprises and large firms to move funds covertly across a number of regions including Central America, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and on think tanks and foundations that are especially active across Europe.”

As of last year, the document said, a Russian business figure was trying to use pro-Russian think tanks in Europe to support far-right nationalist parties. The document warned that in the coming months, Russia might use its “covert influence tool kit,” including secret political financing, across broad swaths of the globe to try to undermine the American-led sanctions on Russia and to “maintain its influence in these regions amid its ongoing war in Ukraine.”

Although U.S. intelligence agencies have been studying Russian global election interference and influence for years, the intelligence review was ordered by senior administration officials this summer, U.S. officials said. Some of the findings were recently declassified so they could be shared widely. The review did not examine Russian interference in U.S. elections, which intelligence agencies had been scrutinizing in other inquiries, a U.S. official said.

Officials say one aim of the U.S. campaign to reveal details about Russian political interference and influence is to strengthen democratic resilience around the world, a pillar of President Biden’s foreign policy. Administration officials are focused on ensuring that nations that took part in last year’s Summit for Democracy, which Mr. Biden held in Washington, can buttress their democratic systems. The administration plans to convene a second summit soon.

The State Department summary listed measures that the United States and partner nations could take to mitigate Russia’s political interference campaigns, including imposing economic sanctions and travel bans on known “financial enablers” and “influence actors.”


The department also recommended that countries coordinate intelligence sharing, improve foreign investment screening, strengthen investigative capabilities into foreign financing of political parties and campaigns, and enforce and expand foreign agent registration rules.

It said governments should also expel Russian intelligence officers found to be taking part in related covert financing operations.

The State Department said in the summary that it was urging governments to guard against covert political financing “not just by Russia, but also by China and other countries imitating this behavior.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.



Controversy in the US About Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes

The Confucius Institute (CI) program, which began establishing centers for Chinese language instruction in 2004, has been the subject of criticisms, concerns, and controversies during its international expansion.

Many such concerns stem from the CI's relationship to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities, giving rise to criticisms about undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, surveillance of Chinese students abroad, and attempts to advance the Chinese government's political agendas on controversial issues such as Taiwan, and human rights in China and Tibet.[1][2] Additional concerns have arisen over the institutes' financial and academic viability, teaching quality, and relations with Chinese partner universities…..

 In August 2020, the United States Department of State designated the headquarters of the Confucius Institutes in the U.S. as a "foreign mission" of China.[158][159][160]

As of 2022, all of the Confucius Institutes located on SUNY campuses were closed because federal research funding was jeopardized. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is the act that could restrict federal research funding to universities that host Confucius Institutes.[161]

Confucius Institutes are used as a form of "soft power" by the Chinese government in which it spends approximately $10 billion a year on CIs and related programs to exercise these initiatives.[10] Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping in 2013 stated that the intentions are to "give a good Chinese narrative".[11] Being affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, CIs have received increasing skepticism over its censorship of content taught, such as topics related to individual freedoms and democracy, TaiwanTibet and Xinjiang…..

 In the short time-frame of their rapid expansion, the institutes have been the subject of much controversy. Criticisms of the institutes have included administrative concerns about finance, academic viability, legal issues, and relations with the Chinese partner university, as well as broader concerns about improper influence over teaching and research, industrial and military espionage,[56][57] surveillance of Chinese abroad, and undermining Taiwanese influence.[58] There has also been organized opposition to the establishment of a Confucius Institute at University of Melbourne,[59] University of Manitoba,[60] Stockholm University,[61][62] University of Chicago[63] and many others. More significantly, some universities that hosted Confucius Institutes decided to terminate their contracts. These include Japan's Osaka Sangyo University in 2010;[64] Canada's McMaster University and Universit√© de Sherbrooke,[65][66] and France's University of Lyon in 2013;[35] the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University, and the Toronto District School Board in 2014,[67][68][69] the German Stuttgart Media University and University of Hohenheim in 2015,[70][71] and Vrije Universiteit Brussel and University of Kansas in 2019…..

  A U.S. law passed in 2019 that prohibits universities hosting Confucius Institutes from receiving funding for Chinese language studies from the Department of Defense led to more closures of Confucius Institutes. Unable to obtain a waiver from the Department of Defense, Indiana University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Rhode IslandSan Francisco State University, the University of OregonWestern Kentucky UniversityArizona State University, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and San Diego State University closed their programs in 2019.[105][106][107][108] In 2020, the University of Maryland also announced the closure of its Confucius Institute, the oldest one in the U.S.[109]


Message to Samantha Power from John McAuliff

To: Samantha Power 
Subject: USAID democracy programs

Dear Ms. Power,

I hope you have seen this story from Reuters about USAID democracy programs in Cuba.  Deputy Foreign Minister de Cossio who was interviewed is a serious and balanced person.  His point about the US attitude on the receiving end can be seen in the concern about Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes on US campuses.

It would be a far more effective contribution to democracy in Cuba if the embargo were ended and the natural influences of unrestricted tourism, investment, cultural exchanges and trade were allowed to play out.

Hard-liners in both countries would lose leverage on their respective governments, including the Cubans who characterized President Obama's initiatives as a Trojan Horse.  Regrettably Trump's maximum pressure policies confirmed their suspicion.- and the Biden Administration has done far too little to undo the damage.

I could make a proposal to USAID, perhaps in partnership with an organization like the Institute of International Education, to set up a broad two way exchange of academics, business, lawyers, professionals, athletes, artists, etc.  One commonality between our two countries is the array of associations and conferences that provide a natural point of entry.

The critical factor is that the design of the program and the choice of participants must be the joint responsibility of representatives of both countries.   Inevitably for the first few years, Cuban participants will be carefully vetted for reliability.  However my expectation is that as trust is developed, the parameters will widen.  Cuban attendance in the annual congress of the Latin American Studies Association is a useful example.


John McAuliff

P.S.  Our petition to you regarding aid to Matanzas is growing slowly but steadily