Case Study: NED programs focus on long-term effort to open up Cuba

NED programs focus on long-term effort to open up Cuba

Despite the challenges of and barriers to working within a closed, totalitarian system, over the past seven years NED has developed a program that supports a wide variety of independent social actors inside of Cuba, from human rights activists to independent farmers. This long-term approach demonstrates the NED philosophy that the gradual development of independent initiatives will subsequently lead to the breakdown of authoritarian rule and peaceful political change.

NED’s work in Cuba began primarily with support for dissidents and human rights activists on the island. Within the last four years a broad spectrum of new civil society groups have begun to spring up quietly across the island. From independent neighborhood associations demanding drinkable water and clean streets to independent farmers pooling their meager private holdings into larger cooperatives to produce for the market, these groups represent a growing movement of Cubans who are coming together to resolve their problems through personal means.

These private actions are a subtle, but powerful, reminder of the everyday failings of Cuba’s regime. They also represent a growing recognition by Cuban citizens that the answer to their needs lies in their own initiative and in their emancipation from a totalitarian state that, until recently, has legitimized itself as the sole answer to Cuban ills. These new groups have become the central focus of NED’s program in Cuba.

The Endowment works with a number of groups that support the work of independent journalists and other media within Cuba. CubaNet, a website ( that provides up-to-date information on what is happening in the country, is a nonpartisan NGO based in Miami that aims to foster free press and promote an independent civil society in Cuba. Providing humanitarian and material assistance to independent groups and journalists on the island, CubaNet enables its network of free-lance reporters and independent press agencies to continue covering events on the island and the work of activists in Cuba. This also helps to raise the awareness of and gain further support from the international community.

Encuentro de la cultura cubana (Meeting of Cuban Culture), a journal that is published in Spain by Cuban dissidents, also works to promote dialogue on Cuban culture and the free flow of information. It is circulated internationally and inside of Cuba among dissidents, intellectuals, academics, and artists. The NED-supported Committee for the Support of Independent Farmers’ Cooperatives in Cuba provides technical, organizational, and material assistance to help build a movement of independent farmers’ unions. Other NED grantees that are working to promote independent initiatives include the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, the Center for a Free Cuba, and the Information Bureau of the Human Rights Movement in Cuba.

NED focuses this type of long-term support in a number of other non-democratic societies as well. For example, the Endowment continues to provide funding to the Burmese pro-democracy movement both inside the country and among ethnic minorities and exiled pro-democracy groups in Thailand. In 1999, NED supported the first-ever “International Conference on North Korean Human Rights & Refugees.” The conference brought together numerous NGO representatives from South Korea, Japan, France, and the United States to discuss human rights in North Korea and how the international community can support peaceful change there. NED hopes continued support for programs in places like China, Burma, and North Korea will lead to breakthroughs such as those witnessed in Nigeria and Indonesia in 1999.