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    USAID cut out of Cuba programs

    Posted on Wednesday, 02.12.14

    USAID cut out of Cuba programs
    BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
    JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

    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
    Obama.

    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
    change.

    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.
    democracy programs.

    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
    own programs.

    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 –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/12/3930627/usaid-cut-out-of-cuba-programs.html