Thursday, May 2, 2013

Into the Cuckoo's Nest

My Schizophrenic Brain
If Washington's policies toward Havana were a person, the poor soul would likely be confused, maybe even schizophrenic.
U.S. officials try to starve Cuba into submission with economic sanctions for more than five decades.
Then they undermine sanctions by allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely to the island, dumping fistfuls of cash on the island.
Regime-change programs - democracy programs, whatever you call them - are another peculiar feature of the U.S. approach.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has spent more than $200 million on these programs since 1996. They are explicitly designed to influence internal affairs in Cuba and boost freedom. And no matter how noble the cause might be, the programs are at odds with development work in most parts of the world.

The programs also operate under increasing secrecy at a time when governments and NGOs move toward greater transparency. See, for instance:
  • Publish What You Fund, a global campaign for aid transparency
  • aidinfo, which promotes development aid accountability, and
  • Avco openaid, designed to show people how development funds are being spent around the world.
Even the U.S. government has gotten into the  act - the push toward greater transparency - with its Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which tracks foreign aid, and its so-called Greenbook, a historical record of U.S. aid to the rest of the world.
USAID's has also released new datasets and technological tools meant to boost transparency (See April 30 announcement).
But Uncle Sam's initiatives have done little to reduce the secrecy surrounding USAID's Cuba programs, which remain unlike development programs in most of the world.
Take the case of the United Kingdom. The foreign secretary there dispenses development aid only if he is convinced that the money "is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty."
It's not just a pledge - it's written into the law. See International Development Act 2002.
In sharp contrast, a key U.S. government goal in Cuba is to increase poverty, not reduce it. Author
Keith Bolender. Photo: Juventúd Rebelde
Keith Bolender writes in his 2012 book "Cuba Under Siege":
...There is ample evidence to suggest that America is enacting collective punishment on the people of Cuba with the intent of precipitating the overthrow of the socialist experiment..."
Douglas Dillon, under secretary of state during the Kennedy administration, helped set the tone in 1960 when he said it was Washington's duty to cause "rising discomfort among hungry Cubans."
The strategy continued in the 1970s, according to "Cuba Under Siege," which quotes a CIA officer as saying:
We wanted to keep bread out of the stores so the people would go hungry.
Efforts to suffocate Cuba continue today. Yet while trying to squeeze the Cuban economy, American officials also allow Cuban-Americans to send more than $1 billion in remittances to their families every year. It's a sensible humanitarian gesture, but it erodes the impact of the sanctions that U.S. officials so carefully enforce.
Time passes and these contradictory measures remain in place, ever more ingrained, part of an institutionalized machinery that has cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
In February 2012, Desmond Butler of the Associated Press focused on one piece of that machinery - a USAID program that sent American Alan Gross to Cuba to set up a satellite Internet network. Butler's article began:
Piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags, American aid contractor Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.
Tom Paulson. Photo: Infinity Box
Tom Paulson, a former reporter at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, wrote that the AP story added to an "ongoing discussion within the federal government about 're-inventing foreign aid.'"
Paulson runs a website called Humanosphere, which analyzes the latest news in global health, development and poverty. He was struck by the AP's claim that Gross was smuggling satellite telephone cards that aren't available to the public and are “provided most frequently to the Defense Department and the CIA.”
Paulson said U.S. officials said Gross "was just carrying out the normal mission of USAID." He wrote:
Huh? This is the normal mission of USAID?
This is certainly normal for the CIA, or those other branches of government legitimately set up to undermine authoritarian regimes around the world....
But is it wise, and in our long-term interest, to be enlisting USAID in this cause as well?
Should the agency that was set up primarily to bring food to the starving, medical supplies to the injured or otherwise engage in America’s humanitarian causes overseas also be doing covert political work against hostile foreign governments?
Is there a need to more clearly delineate foreign aid from foreign policy?
Some countries have objected to USAID's intrusions. Russia kicked out the agency in September 2012.
On Wednesday, President Evo Morales announced that his government would expel USAID from Bolivia.
Juan Ramón Quintana
USAID had operated in Bolivia since 1964. Juan Ramón Quintana, minister of the presidency, said today that the agency did not reduce poverty in the country. Instead, it directly interfered in Bolivian affairs from 1985 to 2005 and sought to maintain "political control" over Bolivia, Quintana said.
"No one said anything" because ruling political parties benefitted from the "rain of dollars," he said.
We have done rigorous research and what Bolivia should know is that the United States has not destined money for distribution to the poor, but rather to preserve its strategic interests outside its borders.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that Bolivia's accusations were "baseless." He said the agency's goal was not political meddling, but "to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians."
Patrick Ventrell
Whatever the case, Bolivia's move was not a surprise.
In June 2012, Bolivia along with Cuba, Ecuador, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Nicaragua and Venezuela signed a document calling for the expulsion of USAID from their borders.
The document stated:
...USAID, through its different organizations and disguises, acts in an illegal manner with impunity, without possessing a legal framework to support this action, and illegally finances the media, political leaders and non-governmental organizations, among others.
Despite that glaring diplomatic red flag, "Bolivia's decision to expel USAID came as a shock to the United States, as no one in Evo Morales' government had complained about the U.S. development agency's activities," Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.
Mark Lopes
Mark Lopes, deputy assistant administrator for USAID's Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean, told AFP that the agency had heard grumblings about USAID from the Bolivian government, but "we always found cooperative partners and government officials within all levels of government."
Either the AFP story is inaccurate or Lopes is incredibly disingenuous. Bolivian officials had signed a document calling for the expulsion of USAID. That is not a mild complaint or a "grumbling." That is a message telling USAID to start packing its bags.
On the issue of transparency, Lopes told AFP:
This idea that we're not transparent, not telling who we're funding, is simply false.
State Department cable outlining USAID strategy in Venezuela in 2006.

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

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