The Costa Rican government will investigate undercover US programmes operated from the Central American country and using its citizens in a ploy to destabilise the government in Cuba, Costa Rica’s director of intelligence and security has said.
Mariano Figueres told the Associated Press news agency on Friday that the new administration, which took office May 8, has found no records or information from their predecessors about the US Agency for International Development project, which starting in 2009 sent young Venezuelans, Costa Ricans and Peruvians to Cuba in hopes of stirring opposition to the island’s communist government.
Figueres said Costa Rica’s only information came from an August 4 Associated Press article, which said USAID and a contractor, Creative Associates International, used the cover of health and civic programmes, some operating out of Costa Rica, in hopes of provoking political change in Cuba.
“If we can confirm all this, of course we’re not going to agree that our national territory be used to attack a friendly government, regardless of what ideological side you’re on,” said Figueres.
“It’s a matter of sovereignty and respect … and we’re very alarmed that they used Costa Rican citizens and put them at risk.”
Figueres said that Costa Rica has yet to ask the US about the programme and that any findings would be relayed through the Foreign Ministry.
The AP found the programme continued even as US officials privately told contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest there of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology.
The travellers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and travelled around Cuba scouting for people they could turn into political activists.
In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called “the perfect excuse” for the programme’s political goals – a gambit that could undermine the United States’ push to improve health globally.
But the efforts in Cuba were fraught with incompetence and risk, the AP investigation found.
Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travellers.
The young workers nearly blew their mission to “identify potential social-change actors”. One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced participants if they were caught.
In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the programme in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.
The Obama administration has defended its use of an HIV-prevention workshop for its Cuban democracy-promotion efforts, but disputed that the project was a front for political purposes.