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    USAID program aims to help `marginalized groups’ in Cuba

    Posted on Wednesday, 08.04.10
    U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

    USAID program aims to help `marginalized groups’ in Cuba

    USAID is seeking proposals for a new aid program to Cuba that would promote grass-roots economic development. BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
    jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

    A new U.S. aid program is offering $3 million to promote grass-roots economic development in Cuba — an apparent attempt at a more indirect approach to encouraging change on the island.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development said in a document that the program is aimed at “marginalized groups,” such as those living in rural areas, ethnic and religious minorities, orphans and vulnerable children, rural women and people with disabilities.

    In another document, USAID added that the program also could benefit groups of private farmers and privately run bed-and-breakfasts, as well as the barbershops, beauty salons and taxi businesses recently handed over to some of their employees by the government.

    The new program coincides with efforts by the Raúl government to expand private economic activity in order to increase productivity, trim the overloaded state payroll and ease Cuba’s economic crisis.

    USAID in the past has funded a few small and very low-profile efforts to foster economic development on the island, veterans of the agency’s pro-democracy efforts in Cuba said.

    It’s not clear how the new program compares with the previous ones, but a USAID statement e-mailed to El Nuevo Herald said it “is limited to groups that are particularly marginalized and will help empower them to participate in civil society.”

    Cuba has sometimes regarded USAID programs on the island as “subversive” and jailed dissidents who received some of the U.S. aid as Washington “mercenaries.”

    POOL SAVINGS

    A USAID letter describing the new program said it is designed to aid “self-employment and entrepreneurial activities” and explore the possibility of establishing small-scale lending arrangements known as microfinancing. Cubans who benefit from the program could later pool their savings under the microfinancing agreement, and USAID grantees could match those funds, according to the letter.

    Jose Cardenas, who headed USAID’s Cuba programs during the later years of the George W. Bush administration, said the programs he managed were designed to be “catalytic — to stoke or accelerate positive change.” He described the Obama administration approach as “laying the groundwork for more gradual, evolutionary change.”

    The USAID letter included a caution: “Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of the USAID Program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID grant funding.”

    IN JAIL

    Alan P. , an agency subcontractor who delivered satellite communications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community, has been jailed without charges in since Dec. 3.

    USAID’s official description of the program was contained in a letter known as Request for Applications, seeking proposals by private firms or non-government groups that want to run the $3 million, 36-month program. The RFA was dated June 18 and set a July 19 deadline for applications. There was no indication when USAID would make its selection.

    In a speech Sunday to Cuba’s legislature, Castro announced the government would soon allow an expansion of self-employment in jobs such as plumbers and wedding photographers and ease restrictions that limit employees of those businesses to family members.

    The government also has approved a step-by-step process for cutting down state payrolls, he announced. He had previously estimated the number of state workers in unnecessary jobs at more than one million.

    Castro’s government also has loaned 2.5 million acres of fallow state lands to private farmers, in hopes of trimming imports that now account for 60 to 80 per cent of the island’s consumption.

    PRODUCTION CREDITS

    The state media in Cuba has published several stories on the need to provide production credits to the new farmers.

    The $3 million is part of $15 million for USAID’s so-called Cuba Democracy programs that became available in June, after Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., lifted the “hold” he had put on the money until he obtained more information on how it was to be spent.

    Kerry has argued that while he favors U.S. aid to civil society groups in Cuba, some of the more aggressive parts of past USAID programs were inefficient and sometimes even counter-productive.

    Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute in suburban Washington, said he welcomed the program’s goal of promoting small-scale economic development.

    Its aim differs from the George W. Bush administration’s “assumption that it’s in the U.S. interest to hold down the Cuban ,” said Peters, who first published the RFA on his , The Cuba Triangle.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/04/1760060/usaid-program-aims-to-help-marginalized.html