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    USAID requests proposals for Cuba programs

    Posted on Wednesday, 06.15.11

    USAID requests proposals for Cuba programs

    Money for another set of programs to promote democracy in Cuba is still
    hung up.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development is pushing ahead with Cuba
    programs worth $21 million, although another $20 million remains blocked
    after oddly mixed signals by aides to Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

    Staffers on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Kerry,
    lifted his "hold" on the money Friday but put it back on ice Monday,
    said several U.S. government officials.

    "Something smells bad," Investor's Business Daily wrote in an editorial
    that quoted unidentified Capitol Hill sources as pointing a finger at a
    "rogue" committee staffer "with pro-Cuba sympathies."

    USAID's public notices Monday requesting proposals on how to spend $21
    million were merely a procedural step for future multi-year programs,
    said the U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity.

    Projects listed

    The three notices listed $9 million for civil society entities such as
    cooperatives and church groups; $6 million to expand Cubans' access to
    information; and $6 million to increase free among Cubans
    aged 12 to 14.

    The $21 million has not been approved by Congress. The $20 million being
    blocked by Kerry is part of $40 million for Cuba democracy programs
    already approved by the full Congress in 2008.

    Cuba has made it to cooperate with the programs and sentenced
    USAID subcontractor Alan to 15 years in for delivering
    communications equipment paid for by the U.S. government to Jewish
    groups on the island.

    Kerry put a "hold" on the money in April, arguing the programs were
    wasteful and provocative.

    But he seemed ready to give in last week. His committee staffers
    notified the State Department — which includes USAID — on Friday that
    the hold was being lifted, but then on Monday it returned, several U.S.
    officials told El Nuevo Herald.

    Committee spokesman Frederick Jones, asked twice on Monday about reports
    that the Kerry hold had been lifted, replied only that "the status
    remains the same."

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has a second hold on the Cuba money because
    of questions about the programs, but those are widely expect to be
    resolved this week.

    The Tuesday editorial in Investor's Business Daily, a national business
    journal, said Kerry is "inexplicably" holding up the $20 million.

    The Kerry committee note to the State Department putting the hold on the
    money asked for the names of all contractors and subcontractors involved
    in the Cuba programs. The State Department reply did not provide the
    names, amid complaints they might be leaked to .

    Kerry goals

    The editorial added that the Cuban programs hold goes against the
    interests of Kerry, widely reported to be interested in serving as the
    next secretary of state.

    Kerry's nomination would have to be confirmed by the Foreign Affairs

    But if he leaves the Senate, he is likely to be succeeded as chairman by
    New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat who strongly
    favors the Cuba democracy programs.

    Kerry's hold also runs counter to an Obama administration "liberation
    technology" campaign to help dissidents in repressive countries use
    secretive and mobile phone technologies to sidestep government

    The campaign involves an "Internet in a suitcase" and "stealth wireless
    networks" to allow dissidents in countries such as Iran, Syria and Libya
    to communicate with each other and abroad, according to a New York Times
    report published Sunday.