USAID focuses on increasing the ability of Cubans to participate in civic affairs and improve human rights conditions on the island. By reaching out to the dissident community and beyond and engaging citizens to enhance local leadership skills, strengthen organizational capacity, facilitate outreach strategies, and support greater access to information and communication, the USAID program contributes to the development of independent civil society groups that can ultimately make significant contributions at the local and national levels.
The United States Congress appropriated $55 million for Cuba programs between fiscal years 2009-2011; USAID managed nearly $31 million of this amount, while the Department of State managed the remainder. Also, $20 million has been appropriated for fiscal year 2012.
Specifically, USAID works in the following areas:
Humanitarian Support to Political Prisoners and their Families: Cuba is a totalitarian state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control. Criticism of national leaders or the political system can lead to imprisonment. Members of the security forces harass and physically assault human rights and pro-democracy advocates, dissidents, detainees, and prisoners. The Cuban Government does not allow independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights groups and continues to refuse access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations (U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011).
USAID provides on-going humanitarian support to political prisoners and their families, which are often systematically marginalized by the security forces and unable to work. Since the program’s inception, USAID has provided nutritional food items, vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and toiletries to hundreds of Cuban families, all of which provide an invaluable lifeline and improve their physical and psychological well-being.
Human Rights and Democracy Promotion: The Cuban Government routinely denies its citizens freedom of association and does not recognize independent associations. The Cuban Constitution prohibits any political organization that is not officially recognized. As a result, grassroots community efforts which operate in a democratic manner are extremely limited (U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011).
USAID supports independent civic, social, and development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities. These efforts provide an opportunity for citizens to work together in a manner independent from the state. USAID also provides trainings on documenting human rights abuses according to international standards and raises awareness of such abuses within Cuba and around the world.
Facilitating the Free Flow of Information: The Cuban Government owns and the Communist Party controls all print and broadcast media outlets. News and information programming is nearly uniform across all outlets, and the law prohibits distribution of printed material from foreign sources considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines are generally unavailable, and distribution of material with political content, interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is not allowed and can result in harassment and even detention. The Cuban Government controls nearly all internet access, with the exception of extremely limited facilities, where foreigners and citizens are allowed to buy Internet access cards for use at hotel business centers, where the price of Internet access is beyond the means of most citizens. Authorities review the browsing history of authorized users, review and censor e-mail, employ Internet search filters, and block access to Web sites considered objectionable (U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011).
USAID provides basic news and information about issues relevant to Cubans from inside Cuba and around the world. USAID programs disseminate books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets to broad segments of the population but with an increasing emphasis on promoting the use of social media. USAID also distributes laptops to facilitate the sharing of information from USB drives, CDs, and DVDs. Laptops are also used to document human rights abuses and allow people to express themselves in writing in a manner that is more easily broadcast inside and outside Cuba. USAID has helped train hundreds of journalists over the last decade whose work has appeared in major international news outlets.
Current USAID program partners are:
Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia
$3 million from September 2012 to September 2015
International Republican Institute
$3 million from September 2012 to September 2015
New America Foundation
$4.3 million from September 2012 to September 2015
Last updated: July 10, 2015