San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

UPDATE: Human rights group founder says AP misrepresented work in Cuba for USAID

Update Aug. 6, 10:52 a.m.: 

Paul Colford, director of media relations for The Associated Press, sent The Tico Times an email with the following response to the Aug. 6 story about Fernando Murillo’s repudiation of the news agency’s  story “US sent Latin youth undercover in anti-Cuba ploy“:

Mr. Murillo, secretly funded by the U.S. government, knew full well he was engaging in activity that was intended to help bring social and political change to Cuba. The evidence is clear.

In addition to AP’s published story, please see the attached: Mr. Murillo is listed on an internal security protocol whose focus was to keep his activities on the island secret, including code language for how to communicate with contractors if he or his workers landed in trouble.

Colford highlighted a specific passage of a security protocol advising Murillo to “continue acting like just another tourist, play the fool and pretend you don’t know why you’re being questioned,” if he were stopped by Cuban authorities.

See supporting documents from the AP’s reporting here.

Original post continues here:

A Costa Rican human rights organization founder accused The Associated Press of “misrepresenting” his group’s humanitarian work in Cuba for the United States Agency for International Development and claimed that an AP reporter “extorted” interviews from his staff and broke his agreement with a source, in a statement Monday.

Fernando Murillo, founder of the Fundación Operación GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), accused reporter Alberto Arce and his editor, Trish Wilson, of twisting his organization’s humanitarian work in Cuba to fit a predetermined narrative about USAID’s “clandestine” plot to use young volunteers – including some from Costa Rica – to recruit pro-democracy activists and to destabilize the Castro regime. At the heart of the exposé, “US sent Latin youth undercover in anti-Cuba ploy,” was the alleged use of an FundaOGI HIV-prevention workshop to identify prospective provocateurs.

Murillo said that Wilson told him in a telephone call that their interest in the article was to “hurt the United States.”

“[The AP] manipulated information in order to make it look like FundaOGI had instructions to set up cultural and artistic activities in an undercover way for destabilizing ends, which is totally false,” Murillo wrote in a statement published on the foundation’s website Monday.

The AP’s report Monday was the second in a series about Washington, D.C.-based Creative Associates International’s work in Cuba, including the ZunZuneo micro-blog, funded by USAID and reportedly operated out of Costa Rica.

The FundaOFI founder said he sent an email on Aug. 3 to Wilson stating that their activities in Cuba took place in a government school and were observed by other culture groups, including the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC) and local authorities.

He said that the quote attributed to a FundaOGI report calling the HIV-prevention workshops a “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists was taken out of context.

Murillo countered that the decision to dovetail discussion of human rights with a focus on youth issues and HIV-AIDS was made because human rights remain a “sensitive” topic on the island, despite the regime’s professed support for universal rights. Murillo said that human rights discussed as part of the workshop – including freedom of expression, equality and assembly, among others – were based on the Ibero-American Youth Rights Convention to which the Cuban government is a signatory.

“To suggest that these acts are destabilizing is nothing more than a subjective interpretation of the AP and is not substantiated by the facts or the documents,” Murillo said.

Murillo denied that FundaOGI volunteers carried money to pro-democracy Cuban groups and said that the group’s work was not undercover.

During a press briefing in Washington, D.C. on Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki took issue with the news agency’s description of the program as secret and refused to entertain comparisons between USAID’s pro-democracy work in Cuba and CIA use of health clinics in Pakistan as a front for covert operations there.

Murillo also accused the AP of publishing his photo without his permission, despite assurances that nothing would run without his say-so. The Heredia-based human rights group leader acknowledged that he confirmed facts with both Arce and Wilson but alleged that the AP disregarded other information he provided and ran a version of the story that best suited their preconceived narrative.


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