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News > Cuba

Creative Associates International: The Face of Regime Change

  • Creative Associates International: the private regime change group financed by USAID.

    Creative Associates International: the private regime change group financed by USAID. | Photo: Twitter @harineth

Published 19 August 2021

In today's world, the U.S. government not only uses overtly violent methods (wars, invasions, coups, training of domestic death squads, etc.) to achieve regime change. It also uses so-called "soft power" techniques - leadership training, education, economic coercion, etc. - to maintain hegemonic control over the world. And Creative Associates International is a crucial part of that system.

You probably haven't heard of them, but Creative Associates International (CAI) is one of the largest and most powerful non-governmental organizations operating anywhere in the world. A pillar of U.S. soft power, the group has been an architect in the privatization of the Iraqi education system, designed messaging applications aimed at overthrowing the Cuban government, served as a front group for the infamous Blackwater mercenary force (now renamed Academi), and liaised with Contra death squads in Nicaragua.


The US Seeks to Manipulate Cubans through the Internet

As such, it has functioned "both as an instrument of foreign policy and as a manifestation of a larger imperial project," in the words of Professor Kenneth Saltman of the University of Illinois, Chicago.

An ordinary person coming to the Creative Associates website, adorned as it is with images of smiling African children, Asian children being taught to read, and happy Latino farmers harvesting their fields, would probably conclude that the outfit is some sort of progressive charity working tirelessly to empower vulnerable people around the world.

In today's world, the U.S. government not only uses overtly violent methods (wars, invasions, coups, training of domestic death squads, etc.) to achieve regime change. It also uses so-called "soft power" techniques - leadership training, education, economic coercion, etc. - to maintain hegemonic control over the world. And Creative Associates International is a crucial part of that system.

The company was founded in 1979 by M. Charito Kruvant, the scion of a wealthy Bolivian landowning family who fled the country after the progressive revolution in 1952. Today, it has grown into a massive for-profit giant working in at least 85 countries with a full-time staff of about a thousand employees (and countless contractors).

And while technically a private institution, the vast majority of its funding comes directly from Washington. Over the past 20 years, the government has awarded Creative Associates $1,998,138,515 in contracts, according to Tracey Eaton, a journalist who has studied the company's activities in Cuba. Of this, USAID has provided more than $1.8 billion.

The organization's global advisory board stresses that this is not exactly a progressive arts charity, as its name and branding often imply. Of the seven members of its board, six are senior U.S. officials. These include Barack Obama's undersecretary of state for South and Central Asia, a four-star general, and the former undersecretary of state for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

"Creative Associates is among the top U.S. government contractors charged with trying to help engineer political transitions. The company is part of that lucrative enterprise dubbed the "democracy industrial complex," Eaton told Mintpress.

For years, Creative Associates International worked closely with the CIA and other government agencies, operating and overseeing a complex set of projects aimed at Cuba, all with a specific goal: the overthrow of the communist government (or "socio-political change taking place in Cuba," as it prefers to describe its mission in its own documents).

Creative Associates' most infamous project was perhaps the creation of a Twitter-like application called Zunzuneo. Zunzuneo first operated as a very useful communication tool but, slowly, its creators injected it with regime change messages, with the plan to eventually direct all users to attend demonstrations and foment a Caribbean-colored revolution.

The app's user base grew rapidly, attracting 55 000 people in 2012, a huge number for a poor country with little internet access. The U.S. government attempted to hide its own role in the app's creation, secretly trying to convince Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to invest in the company as a figurehead.

It is unclear what the outcome of these negotiations was. However, the Zunzuneo project was abruptly abandoned, leaving Cubans wondering why their service provider suddenly stopped working. Only two years later, through an Associated Press investigation, did the truth come out.

However, that was far from the last nefarious project in which Creative Associates was intimately involved. Between 2009 and 2014, it was responsible for recruiting agents of regime change on the island. Creative Associates brought young activists from all over Latin America to Cuba under the guise of a fake HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, which internal memos describe as the "perfect excuse" to transport its people in and out of the country.

Creative Associates has also attempted to use the Cuban hip-hop community as a vehicle to push for regime change in the Caribbean nation. In 2009, it sent Serbian music promoter and color revolution expert Rajko Bozic to the island, where he tried to identify and bribe rappers to join his project.

Bozic found a handful of artists willing to participate in the project and immediately began aggressively promoting them and getting their music played on Western radio stations. He also bribed big Latin music stars to allow the rappers to open their concerts, which gave them more credibility and exposure. Zunzuneo helped in this effort, sending users links to this exciting new music that the whole island was apparently excited about.

While Creative Associates' role in this was exposed, the overall tactic of using rappers for regime change is clearly still active. Grant publications from USAID and its sister organization, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), show that both groups are using hip hop as a vehicle to achieve their goals. For example, one project in recent NED publications, entitled "Empowering Cuban Hip-Hop Artists as Leaders in Society," states that its goal is to "promote citizen participation and social change" and "raise awareness of the role of hip-hop artists in strengthening democracy in the region." Of course, for the United States, "democracy" in Cuba is synonymous with "regime change."

In July of this year, Cuban rappers led a failed insurrection. The face of the movement was Cuban expatriate Yotuel, an artist who works openly with the U.S. government and whose song "Patria y Vida" was promoted immediately after its release by U.S. politicians and senior officials in Washington. The song is constantly alluded to in U.S. reports as a success story among "democracy promotion" activities.

It is unclear whether Creative Associates was directly involved in the July protests in Cuba. They appear to be relatively embarrassed by the press they have received; in fact, there is no mention of any Cuban activity, historical or current, on the company's website.

Predictably, in Venezuela Creative Associates also supports U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Its senior advisor, Jeff Fischer, called on Nicolás Maduro's "regime" to agree to an election organized by the OAS, a Washington-based group that played a key role in the overthrow of leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2019. In his recommendations, Fischer suggested that an "international" force would have to be airlifted in to provide security for any election and that the process should be designed by outsiders and not subject to Venezuelan law.

Creative Associates International essentially acts as a semi-privatized government in many countries, overseeing education and health systems, security services, and local management. It also provides a wide range of clandestine services: espionage, intelligence, and regime change operations. Once the sole domain of the CIA and other three-letter agencies, this type of work is now largely done by the private sector.

As National Endowment for Democracy co-founder Allen Weinstein told The Washington Post, "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA." The utility of this is manifold. First, outsourcing nation-building work to U.S.-based third parties allows Washington to maintain control over a country without a formal occupation. In other nations, it trains a whole class of people to see the world in a way that favors U.S. corporate and state interests. In addition, there are many opportunities to earn huge (and private) profits from these projects. Outsourcing dirty activities to private companies also allow the U.S. government to distance itself from any scandal. Perhaps most importantly, however, there is no public oversight of the private companies.

As Hoh explained, "You can hide things using these private companies. Private companies are not governed by Freedom of Information Act requests. If you're working in Nicaragua with USAID, in theory, all your work should be available to U.S. citizens through the Freedom of Information Act and other mechanisms. But if you're a private company, you don't have that to any degree. So there's a lot you can do with these private companies that the government can't do, particularly with respect to plausible deniability."

Ultimately, Creative Associates International has become an important part of the U.S. military industrial-think tank complex. Although technically a private company, the fact that virtually all of its funding comes from Washington and that its board is filled with senior U.S. officials demonstrates that the organization is an integral part of Washington's global strategy.

However, the veneer of privatization helps it avoid the public scrutiny that a government department would receive. While mercenary armies like Blackwater have at least been the subject of investigation, making the company's name infamous around the world, Creative Associates International has gone virtually unnoticed, exactly as the organization's board wants it to be.

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