Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fighting over money, politics and the fate of Cuba

The Cuban flag

Today's Miami Herald says Miami Republican Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart have yanked their endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart offered scant details, telling the Herald that Crist had "left us no alternative and he knows why."
The Herald, where I worked as a reporter many years ago, suggests that perhaps the Diaz-Balart brothers split from Crist because the governor declined to give a county judgeship to Frank Allman, who had gotten "enthusiastic support" from Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
A Washington source told me that's not the main reason for the rift. He said:
The Herald got the story wrong.
Now I can't say I know for sure what's going on here, but my D.C. source says the governor's falling out with the two Cuban-American congressmen is about not just politics, but money, specifically, access to millions of dollars in pro-democracy funds for Cuba.
The Diaz-Balart brothers want to maintain some degree of control over how federal Cuba funds are distributed. My source called it "political payoff" money - money that the lawmakers help secure for like-minded supporters who run pro-democracy programs.
The problem is, a Crist ally now wants some control over that money, too.
George LeMieux is Crist's former campaign manager and chief of staff. The Florida governor chose LeMieux to fill Mel Martinez' Senate seat in August 2009. And, as some analysts see it, he's now he's doing what he can to bolster Crist's reputation as a friend of the Cuba democracy cause. LeMieux can do that by helping steer federal money to Crist supporters. And Crist needs all the help he can get. His Republican rivals include Cuban-American Marco Rubio, who speaks forcefully about the need for change in Cuba.
So do I have any evidence for this money theory? No. But I do know that LeMieux has a keen interest in pro-democracy funds destined for Cuba. His recent spat with the State Department underscored that point.

George LeMieux. Photo credit: official LeMieux Web site

LeMieux had put a senatorial "hold" on Barack Obama's nomination of Tom Shannon to be ambassador to Brazil. On Dec. 17, LeMieux dropped the hold after the State Department gave him several assurances. Among them: Every non-governmental group applying for federal funds to do pro-democracy work in Cuba "will receive equal and fair treatment in the screening process."
That's according to this memo, which Phil Peters posted on the Cuban Triangle. The memo, from Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela, tells LeMieux:
As we discussed and subject to privacy restrictions, we will keep you apprised in a timely manner and on an ongoing basis of the results of the deliberations related to the FY 2009 screening process and consult closely with you on the nature and objectives of U.S. democracy programs in Cuba.
LeMieux also defended Radio and TV Marti's $34 million budget, despite the agency's lackluster results. And on Dec. 12, he applauded the U.S. government's pro-democracy programs, saying:
Now more than ever, we need to maintain critical democracy funding in the midst of this crackdown by the Cuban regime. Democratic assistance grants play an important role in furthering the cause of freedom for the Cuban people and the regime's reaction clearly shows our efforts are working.
Links:
OpenSecrets.org - total amount of money raised and spent for 2010 Florida Senate race

2 comments:

El Yuma said...

Tracey,

You and I both need to get out of the house more often! While Cubanofiles may forgive us for not "keeping 'em honest" with so many of these great, detailed posts, our wives, families, and friends may not!

Seriously, great spade work on this and your previous posts from the last two weeks.

Have some eggnog on me!

Tracey Eaton said...

Ted,
You're right! I've got to get out of the house. This blogging can get out of hand. Have a great Christmas!
Tracey