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    No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal

    No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
    mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

    USAID programs in Cuba, which have been highly controversial in recent
    years, aren’t funded under the Trump administration’s proposed State
    Department budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

    “As we work to streamline efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness
    of U.S. taxpayer dollars, we acknowledge that we have to prioritize and
    make some tough choices,” said a USAID spokesperson. “Focusing our
    efforts will allow us to advance our most important policy goals of
    protecting America and creating American jobs.”

    There are no economic support funds for Cuba in the State Department’s
    2018 budget proposal, which was released Tuesday. Such funding, which is
    appropriated by Congress and provided to USAID by the State Department,
    reached $20 million in fiscal year 2016 under the Obama administration.

    Aid to Venezuela and Ecuador also has been cut completely and funding
    for Nicaragua was whittled from $10 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to
    $200,000 in the proposed budget. All are leftist governments.

    The Trump administration proposed slashing the overall State Department
    and USAID budget by around 30 percent to $37.6 billion. In his letter to
    Congress justifying the 400-page budget proposal, Secretary of State Rex
    Tillerson said the budget addresses “the importance of defending our
    national security interests” but also acknowledges that “U.S. diplomacy
    engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective.”

    The proposed budget cuts are expected to face a tough slog through Congress.

    “The White House is obligated to provide Congress its budget request but
    Congress ultimately has the power of the purse,” said South Florida
    Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “This budget is very troubling when
    it comes to democracy funding for countries in Latin America. It is
    imperative for the United States to continue to support civil society
    and human rights activists in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.”

    Ros-Lehtinen said she would work with her “colleagues in Congress in a
    bipartisan manner to ensure that we rectify this problem.”

    Assistance to Cuba is governed by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the 1992
    Cuban Democracy Act, which among other things, authorizes donations of
    food to non-governmental organizations or individuals as well as other
    assistance to individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent,
    democratic change in Cuba.

    Cuba has always said the USAID programs aren’t welcomed.

    Cuba programs that USAID advertised last year included $6 million in
    grants offered over a three-year period to organizations to “provide
    humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and
    politically marginalized individuals and groups in Cuba,” and a $754,000
    program to bring Cuban young people to the United States for internships.

    Among USAID programs for Cuba that have caught flak in recent years were
    a failed effort to co-opt the Cuban hip-hop scene to spark a youth
    movement that would speak out against the government, a program to
    create a secret Twitter-like network called ZunZuneo and an event billed
    as an HIV prevention workshop that brought young Latin Americans posing
    as tourists to Cuba with a mission of scouting for “potential
    social-change actors.”

    The Associated Press, which first disclosed these projects in 2014, said
    the goal of ZunZuneo was first to create a program for Cubans to speak
    freely among themselves and then funnel political content that could
    create political unrest.

    USAID said ZunZuneo’s goal was to connect Cubans so eventually they
    could engage on topics of their choice and that only tech news, sports
    scores and trivia were sent out on ZunZuneo. But a report by the Office
    of Inspector General found some early messages, which mocked Cuban
    leaders, contained political satire.

    ZunZuneo was starting up just as USAID subcontractor Alan Gross was
    arrested in Havana in December 2009 for distributing satellite equipment
    in Cuba to link with the internet. Gross was sentenced to 15 years by a
    Cuban court that ruled his intent was to undermine the government, but
    he was released after serving five years Dec. 17, 2014. It was the day
    the United States and Cuba announced a rapprochement after more than a
    half century of hostilities.

    There are few direct references to Cuba in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

    But under Migration and Refugee Assistance programs in the Western
    Hemisphere, which are budgeted for $51.3 million, is this reference: “In
    Cuba, resources enable the State Department to support the Migrant
    Operations Center at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay. Under 306 Executive
    Order 13276, the State Department is responsible for the care of
    migrants interdicted at sea, determined to be in need of protection,
    while they await third country resettlement.”

    Amid all the cutting, the budget proposes a $40,00 increase to $2.41
    million for the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC). This
    quasi-judicial agency within the Department of Justice adjudicates
    claims of U.S. nationals against foreign governments. The proposal says
    the agency’s budget would go for the continued evaluation of claims, to
    maintain the decisions and records of past claims programs and to
    modernize such records by creating and updating databases.

    While the FCSC deals with outstanding claims around the world, it is the
    repository of 5,913 certified claims against Cuba valued at more than
    $1.9 billion. In today’s dollars with interest added, those claims for
    sugar mills, ranches, utilities, corporate holdings and personal
    property would be worth around $8 billion.

    However, Cuba claims the United States owes it billions in reparations
    for economic damages caused by the U.S. embargo and for human damages
    for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the bombing of a Cubana airliner and other
    deadly U.S.-supported incursions on Cuban soil.

    The two sides met to discuss the claims during the Obama administration
    but at this point they have said little more than they hope their claims
    can be resolved in a “mutually satisfactory manner.”

    FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI

    Source: No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump’s FY 2018 budget | Miami Herald

    www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article152299727.html