An Associated Press investigation has learned that the United States employed young Latin Americans on covert missions to Cuba to foster anti-government activism.
AP says that for at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees humanitarian aid around the world, arranged for almost a dozen travelers from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to visit Cuba and identify potential targets who could bolster opposition against the communist government of Raul Castro.
Under the first administration of President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's tenure, travelers visited college campuses, making friends and in one case using the pretext of an HIV prevention workshop to identify potential political activists.
AP says some were paid as little as $5.41 an hour - below the U.S. federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
But there is no indication, according to AP, that the Latin America travelers operation advanced the pro-democracy movement on the island.
USAID responded to the AP report Monday by saying it "remains committed to balancing the realities of working in closed societies ... with our commitment to transparency, and we continuously balance our commitment to transparency with the need for discretion in repressive environments."
The travelers operation was tied to Washington-based USAID contractor Creative Associates International, which also came under AP scrutiny with an April investigation into the creation of a Cuban social media platform similar to Twitter.
ZunZuneo, as the failed U.S. government-sponsored platform was called, also was designed to encourage political dissidence.
The Latin American travelers were sent to Cuba even after the 2009 arrest of Alan Gross, an American contractor who has served five years of a 15-year sentence in a prison on the island.
Gross, now 65, was working covertly in Cuba to set up Internet access on behalf of the U.S. government.
Gross' attorney said Monday his client's physical and emotional health continue to deteriorate in prison.