A Private-Sector Cuban Company, Paid $31,530 by the U.S. Government, Is Accused of Being a Front for the Cuban Regime

US Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar requests the termination of the contract with a company that fired an employee for writing “Down with the dictatorship”

Disley Alfonso y Mayvic Delgado, fundadoras de MadWoman / MadWoman Agency

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 May 2024 — The United States Embassy in Havana found itself embroiled in a controversy after paying a privately owned Cuban communications firm $31,530 (almost 11 million pesos at the current unofficial exchange rate) to develop information campaigns. The news was reported by website ADN Cuba, which claims that the company, MadWoman Agency, not only has ties to the Cuban regime but also fired one of its employees for posting anti-government slogans on social media.

ADN Cuba gained access to documents showing ties between the embassy and the company, which indicate that the work involved a total of thirteen separate projects. “Six were for migration-related messaging/campaigns, five for designs for strategic programs (Black History Month 2023 and 2024, Pride Month 2023, a musical exchange with local university students, and a film diplomacy program), one promoting bilingualism, and one Ukraine-related campaign in 2023.”

In February, a Cuban-American Republican congresswoman, María Elvira Salazar, sent a letter to U.S. president Joe Biden urging him to cancel the embassy’s contract with MadWoman and cease all communication with the company by April 1. Salazar also reminded the president of reports that, in September 2023, the company fired one of its employees, Álvaro Hernandez, for posting “down with the dictatorship” on his X (formerly Twitter) account.

María Elvira Salazar sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to cancel the embassy’s contract with MadWoman

“This company, MadWoman, is clearly a front for the regime,” wrote Salazar. “It is completely unacceptable for our embassy to be working with a ’company’ that fires people for criticizing the Cuban dictatorship.”

In a written reply to Salazar this week, the White House Office of Legislative Affairs defended the embassy’s ties to MadWoman and stated that the company denies having fired any of its employees for political or ideological reasons, adding that Hernandez had left the company of of own accord. “[MadWoman Agency] assured the State Department that it ‘did not fire the employee in question and has not penalized any employees for their personal opinions,’” the reply states.

The White House letter also claimed that the company is a private entity that has no ties to the Cuban government. ADN Cuba reports — based on a “document from the State Department itself that had been prepared for the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee” — that the U.S. Embassy in Havana still has active contracts with the company.

MadWoman is a private-sector company that formally registered as MD Creativa S.R.L. in 2023. It came under scrutiny after Hernandez’ dismissal. The employee and his partner, another former employee, later left Cuba to seek asylum in the United States. Hernandez told ADN Cuba that, after his post appeared, the company directors demanded an explanation. “When I got to the meeting, they showed me my post X and asked me, ’What is this?’ That’s what I think,” he says he replied.

He claims that one of the owners, Disley Hernandez, told him the the agency was closely affiliated with the Cuban government. “They gave me several reasons why they had to indefinitely relieve me of my duties at the agency since they were a government company and couldn’t have employees making comments like this,” he said.

Hernandez’ partner, Alberto Góngora, also spoke to ADN Cuba about employee pay at MadWoman

Hernandez’ partner, Alberto Góngora, also spoke to ADN Cuba about employee pay at MadWoman. He says the company paid him 1,000 pesos ($2.87) for developing the embassy’s Black History Month campaign.

ADN Cuba also reported that, according to a MadWoman employee manual, the company requires contract staff, consultants and employees to “refrain from making posts or sharing content that may be at odds with established national policies.” Hernandez mentioned similar policies in a separate interview with “Diario de Cuba.”

The Cuban government legalized medium and small private-sector companies (MSMEs) like MadWoman in 2021. Since then, they have come under widespread public criticism from the public and prominent members of the Cuban exile community, among them Rep. Salazar, who see them as falling into a gray zone in terms of U.S. policy towards Cuba.

14ymedia has, on several occasions, reported on links between Cuban government officials and the owners of some private businesses, who many have likened to frontmen. Such is the case with Diplomarket, a mysterious supermarket that resembles the American retail conglomerate Costco and opened last October in Havana. As for ownership, the only thing known about the company is that it is registered under the name of a Cuban businessman, Frank Cuspinera Medina.

Other businesses known for their ties to the regime are shoemaking MSMEs in Camajuaní, a town in Villa Clara province that is also home to a pig farm to which Miguel Díaz-Canel makes frequent, hours-long visits.


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