USAID cut out of Cuba programs
Posted on Wednesday, 02.12.14
USAID cut out of Cuba programs
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been left out
of the $17.5 million appropriated for Cuba democracy programs this
fiscal year, amid complaints over partisan political fighting and agency
mishandling of the programs.
Instead, the funds will go to the State Department’s Bureaus of
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and Western Hemisphere Affairs
(WHA) as well as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a
non-profit in Washington.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations committee,
said Congress approved cutting USAID out of Cuba funds for the fiscal
year that ends Sept. 30 “because there was agreement that USAID frankly
needed to get its act together on the Cuba program.”
USAID’s pipeline has $60 million to $70 million in unspent funds for
Cuba programs, Diaz-Balart said. He added that it has spent Cuba-tagged
money on other programs and granted $3.4 million to a group with little
experience, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.
The Miami Republican has long been critical of the grant to the Miami
non-profit, founded and still closely linked to the leadership of the
Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which backs President Barack
USAID spokesperson Karl Duckworth said that a report last year by the
Government Accountability Office highlighted the agency’s improved
management and oversight of the Cuba programs and contained no
recommendations for further changes.
The agency “is proud of the recent reforms recognized by the GAO that
isolate the grant selection process from political influence, ensure
fair and transparent competition for resources, and focus program impact
on the island,” Duckworth said in an email to el Nuevo Herald.
CANF President Jose “Pepe” Hernandez said if there’s any truth to
reports Diaz-Balart was a key force behind the decision to leave USAID
out of the money, “then Mario has done a great favor to the Cuban
regime.” Diaz-Balart noted that both the House and Senate approved the
Hernandez added that cutting USAID out of the $17.5 million throws away
the agency’s 18 years of experience with Cuba programs launched in 1996
to support civil-society and dissident groups on the communist-ruled island.
The Obama administration also did not object strongly to cutting the
agency out of the programs because of its own complaints about USAID’s
handling of the Cuba programs and the imprisonment of USAID
subcontractor Alan Gross in Havana, the sources added.
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to cut spending on the programs when
he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, arguing they are
useless and unnecessarily risky. Gross is serving a 15-year prison
sentence for delivering communications equipment to Cuban Jews.
In a stunning security lapse, USAID last year used an unencrypted line
to send U.S. diplomats in Havana documents on proposals for assisting
Cuban dissidents. Cuban laws make it illegal to cooperate with U.S.
The omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 says USAID is to
get none of the $17.5 million set aside for Cuba programs. NED is to get
no less than $7.5 million and DRL and WHA are to get no more than $10
million, it adds.
The sum is $2.5 million less than the previous fiscal year’s
appropriation, wrote Tracey Eaton, a Florida journalist who was the
first to report on the agency’s exclusion on his website, Along the Malecon.
Four USAID grants totaling $13.1 million over three years will expire on
Sept. 31. They went to the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, the
Pan-American Development Foundation, International Relief and
Development, and the National Democratic Institute.
Another three programs totaling $10.3 million have grants that will run
until Sept. 31, 2015. They are run by the New American Foundation,
International Republican Institute, and Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia,
a Miami non-profit run by exiles.
Diaz-Balart said he hopes USAID can improve its record on Cuba and
perhaps get new money for the next fiscal year.
The Cuba programs have long been surrounded by complaints of waste and
political cronyism, but a report last year by the GAO gave USAID a good
grade but noted the State Department must improve the handling of its
DRL is charged with promoting rights around the globe, including
religious freedom and labor rights. WHA handles relations with South and
Central America and the Caribbean. NED, which already receives funds for
Cuba programs, is a non-partisan non-profit founded in 1983 to assist
democratic institutions abroad, including political parties, unions, and
independent news media.
Source: USAID cut out of Cuba programs – Americas – MiamiHerald.com –