Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

These Are a Few of My Favorite [AP] Words

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If there are two things that inspire me it’s a ramped up, over-the-top, scurrilous AP story about democracy promotion and a Broadway musical–especially a Rodgers and Hammerstein production.  So, here is my adaptation of the classic Sound of Music,  “My Favorite Things,” based on the recent series of articles published by AP on USAID’s democracy program in Cuba.  The non-bracketed, italicized parts are sung to the music of “My Favorite Things.” 

Calling USAID agents,
when they’re just bureacrats.

[As in the Zun Zuneo story, where it refers to “agents of the US government, working in deep secrecy..”   USAID officers are not agents.  They may be poorly dressed, overly earnest bureaucrats. But agents?  No one describes them that way–except AP.]

Saying a source,
“slipped” someone numbers.

[As in the Zun Zuneo story which says that a key contact “slipped the phone numbers to a Cuban engineer” in London.  Slipped?   It’s a nice verb, but is there really evidence that the numbers were slipped, spy-like, to contact, say, on a park bench?  The story doesn’t say that, but damn it sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Shame it didn’t involve polonium and tea.  Though who knows?  Maybe it did.  Let’s just say so, anyway.]

Referring to Gross,
on a top “secret mission.”
These are a few of my favorite words!
When deadline calls,
when the editor barks,
when I’m feeling down,
I simply pull out,
some of my favorite words,
and then I don’t feel so…bad.

[This again from the Zun Zuneo story.  Secret, though, to whom?  The Cuban government?  Yes, of course.  If you’re going to work with human rights activists or dissidents, you can’t just announce what you’re doing when you get there.  Remember: this is a government that doesn’t even let the International Red Cross into the country officially.  The International Red Cross!!  Admittedly, above, the “top” part I inserted; I needed it to keep it in the stanza; but I figure if AP can play fast and loose with language, I can too.]

Using “intelligence”,
when information is fine,
[Again the Zun Zuneo story where it says that  “Mobile Accord also sought intelligence from engineers…”  Intelligence?  Opinion or advice is more likely–though less inflammatory, I guess.]  
Saying “deployed,”
when sent would  be better.

[As in the first sentence of the August 4 AP story which says that the U.S. agency “deployed” Latin American youth to “work undercover” when they hadn’t been trained in the dangers of “clandestine operations.”   You deploy the military; I’m not sure you deploy activists to an island by sending them there. But wow, that sounds great, doesn’t it?  They’ve definitely deployed a great verb.  I bet it was those “agent” ideas to do that.]

Using “assignment”,
and “guise” and “recruitment.”
[In the August story, the authors claim that Costa Rican and Venezuelan activists had an “assignment” to “recruit” Cubans for “anti-government activism” under the “guise of civic programs” with “security codes.”  Unfortunately, all the quotes above are mine, not APs, indicating that this inflammatory language was not in the actual documents they FOIA’d, leading one to conclude that they must have come from the AP reporters‘ fevered creative writing.  Sweet!]
Referring to activists,
by calling them “operatives.”

[OK, this really doesn’t fit in the beat of the song.  Too many syllables.  But the point’s still the same, if not particularly musical.  Several times the August 4 article describes the people USAID sent to Cuba who were working for NGOs as “operatives” for no apparent reason–though at one point it says they “posed as tourists” (please see my last blog post on that.)]

“Bankrolling” and “mission,”
two words that sound nasty.
These are a few of my favorite words!
When deadline calls,
when the editor barks,
when I’m feeling down,
I simply pull out,
some of my favorite words,
and then I don’t feel so…bad.
[In the August 4 report, there are also other sloppily used terms like “bankrolling” (why not funding, except for the fact that bankrolling sounds illicit?), “blowing their mission” or the description that the HIV workshops were “supposed to offer straightforward sex education.”  [emphasis mine] or that the workshops were a “recruiting ground”  for “ginning up opposition” or “stirring unrest.”   Democracy programs the world over work with community groups to help them gain civic tools and experience; that doesn’t make them subversive, just useful.]
Saying a trip report
sounds like “intelligence.”

[Report.  In the original AP report, it went at the end of this but I couldn’t fit it in the stanza. The August 4 story claims that a group’s trip report filed with the contractors after they returned read like an “intelligence report.”  Arguably, any trip report that is telling a donor what the situation is like in country–whether political or cultural–could be interpreted as sounding like an intelligence report.  Unfortunately, there are no quotes from the report in the AP story that demonstrate the sinister, top secret intelligence gathered on the trip–except a reference, non-quoted, on the dormitories.  But as we all know, college dormitories are the soft underbelly of any potential government-overturning rebellion.  I remember my freshman year I “shave creamed” my RA’s room; imagine what that potential could do to the famously hirsute Castro brothers!  I bet those USAID “agents” are.  I bet they’re “slipping” or “deploying” their “operatives” that “intelligence” right now.]

Gratuitously referring
to Panama as a haven.
[This one comes again in the August 4 report, which in mentioning that the USAID project set up an account in Panama to pay Venezuelan activists who travelled to Cuba, then just randomly says that Panama is a haven for anonymous banking.  It’s also, by the way, a centrally located country with a lot of US banks–something Venezuela doesn’t have.  What isn’t explained is if the bank account they set up to pay the travelers was actually anonymous….because that would be a story.   No matter.  Just leave it out there.  Just in case.]
Saying that “mule,”
is a term from the narcos.

[Yes, AP, I believe that word may in fact be in a USAID document.  Mules is a Cuban-American/Cuban term for people who take remittances, food, equipment to relatives and contacts on the island–it doesn’t come in this context, as you claim, from “drug smugglers.”  But I guess by claiming it’s a drug smuggling term it conjures up more sinister connotations and images, of operatives slipping through the border guards with goods wrapped in prophylactics inserted into unmentionable orifices.  Love it!]

Quoting from Granma,
as if it were legit.
[Bizarrely, in its August story, AP uses as a credible source the Cuban government propaganda rag Granma.   In the story, the AP claims as evidence that there is already a vigorous debate over government failures, that letters to the “Communist Party newspaper Granma complain regularly about unfilled potholes, uncollected garbage and Cuba’s impenetrable bureaucracy.”    Really?  Not even Cubans on the island take Granma seriously, including government officials.  Would AP have used Pinochet’s mouthpiece El Mercurio or the Soviet Union’s Pravda as a credible example of the active level of civil discourse in those countries?  BTW: keep an eye out for AP’s full-length book on the Cold War, Everything I Know about the Soviet Union, I Learned from Pravda.]
[FINAL STANZA, sung while swinging sweet faced children around a gazebo in a storm as a teenage, quaky voiced, Cuban agent–who will later expose you–chimes in.]
Mission, operative,
agent, Granma,
These are a few of my favorite words.
When deadline calls,
when the editor barks,
when I’m feeling down,
I simply pull out,
some of my favorite words,
and then I don’t feel so…bad.

[So, with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein and all Sound of Music fans out there (and yes there is a fan page for them), these are a few of my favorite words.  The use of these clearly loaded terms seem intended to give the AP stories a cloak-and-dagger, tone. Does the AP really feel that this colorful language is an objective use of language, for an objective story?   There are stories to be written here. But there also seems to be an overt attempt to skew it by the not-so-subtle use of loaded words.  Anyway, thank you, AP, for being my muse–with all due respect to Rodgers and Hammerstein.]


Christopher Sabatini is the former editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and former senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas. His Twitter account is @ChrisSabatini

Tags: Associated Press, Cuba
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