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    Freedom House gives back Cuba funds

    Posted on Friday, 06.10.11

    House gives back Cuba funds

    The democracy-advocacy organization says receiving USAID funds for Cuba
    programs is conditioned on providing too much risky information that
    could be leaked to .

    Complaining that the U.S. Agency for International Development is asking
    for risky information about how its Cuba democracy funds are spent, the
    Freedom House advocacy group has surrendered a $1.7 million grant from

    Information about the identities and plans of the people involved
    in its Cuba programs could be leaked to Havana, said Daniel Calingaert,
    deputy director of programs at Freedom House.

    "We take very seriously the need to be accountable for these programs,"
    Calingaert said. But the USAID requests for information are "not just
    onerous. They really raise the risk of what we do, especially in the age
    of Wikileaks."

    The U.S. programs are designed to support peaceful civil society
    activities in the communist-ruled island, but Cuba has branded them as
    subversive and made it to deliver or accept the U.S. assistance,
    requiring what USAID calls "discretion."

    USAID subcontractor Alan P. is serving a 15-year sentence
    in Havana on charges he violated the country's sovereignty by delivering
    at least one satellite telephone to expand the access of Cuba's
    tiny Jewish community.

    Controls over the funds have been tightened in the past two years, after
    Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., stepped
    up complaints that the Cuba programs were ineffective and all but
    designed to provoke Cuban .

    Last month, Kerry asked for a detailed list of recipients of USAID and
    State Department funds for the Cuba programs. He did not get the
    information, amid concerns that the information would fall into the
    hands of the Cuban intelligence services.

    Freedom House said it is going ahead with its two current grants from
    the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, and Labor,
    totaling $1.3 million, to carry out some polling in Cuba and work in the
    field of youth culture.

    But it is surrendering the $1,699,394 it was to receive for the last
    year of a three-year, $5-million USAID program, Calingaert said Thursday
    in a phone interview from Freedom House headquarters in Washington.

    The program was designed to work primarily in the field of human rights
    documentation, showing activists how to move beyond simple alerts to
    abuses to gathering evidence and organizing case files, as well as to
    support digital platforms such as blogging or Twitter, Freedom House noted.

    USAID's official description of the program in a document issued this
    year referred vaguely to focusing the funds on "increasing access to
    information to Cuban civil society groups through new media initiatives
    that include technical assistance and training."

    The problem with the $1.7 million installment, Freedom House said, is
    that USAID added a requirement for the prior vetting and approval of
    every contractor and subcontractor involved in the Cuba program.

    "That means everyone we send to Cuba" to deliver the USAID assistance,"
    said Calingaert, "and that prevents us from running an effective program."

    Freedom House said it spent four month negotiating with USAID on how it
    could meet the new requirements without endangering its Cuba operations,
    but in the end decided it was best to simply give up the money.

    "I defer to Freedom House as to the reasons why they chose" to forgo the
    money, said Mark Lopes, USAID's deputy assistant administrator for Latin
    America and the Caribbean. "We apply the same rules to every partner,
    these are not new rules, and we are committed to transparency and
    accountability in all of our programs."

    One other recipient of USAID's Cuba funds is believed to have agreed to
    provide the required information in writing, while two others are
    providing only verbal reports, according to people involved in the
    programs. They asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    In a statement issued Friday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., blasted
    Kerry for his continued blockage of USAID and State Department efforts
    to spend another $20 million for the Cuban programs — money approved by
    the full Congress in 2008.

    Kerry has offered to lift his "hold" if the amount is cut by $5 million
    — including the $1.7 million that would have gone to Freedom House.
    State and USAID officials have not replied to the offer.

    Created in 1941 with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt to counter the
    spread of Nazism, Freedom House is one of the oldest U.S. democracy
    advocacy groups. After World War II it began working to spread democracy
    as the best way to fight communism.

    After the Cold War ended, it worked to expand freedom in countries ruled
    by dictatorships, according to its Web page, and in 1995, its office in
    Hungary began sending to Cuba "books, and experts on
    democratic transitions."

    It now has offices in Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia, Jordan,
    Mexico, and several countries in Central Asia, and worked closely with
    groups in Ukraine and Serbia "that were responsible for peaceful
    democratic revolutions," the page added.