Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lawmaker: $15 million for Cuba programs not enough

Lawmaker: More aid needed for democracy activists in Cuba from Tracey Eaton on Vimeo.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., is protesting planned cuts to USAID's budget for democracy programs in Cuba.
Cuban dissidents are "risking their lives, yet we are cutting their support," the lawmaker said.
In the Senate, Florida Republican Marco Rubio has similar complaints, calling the budget reduction "a terrible idea." (See "USAID may slash Cuba program").
During an April 25 budget hearing, Ros-Lehtinen told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah that the budget cut was "not prudent."
Here is their exchange:
Ros-Lehtinen: In addition, Dr. Shah, I continue to be concerned over the administration’s attempts to cut much needed democracy programs to the Cuban people.

Forty pro-democracy activists remain on hunger strikes in Cuba to call attention to the dozens of Cubans who are being detained by Castro’s state security forces.
These brave heros are risking their lives yet we are cutting their support, which is not prudent, especially at a time when the crackdown by Castro’s thugs is actually on the rise on the island. 
Shah: And on Cuba, again, the goals there are support for civil society and democracy with some small humanitarian efforts. And we have worked closely with our partners. We believe the administration’s budget of $15 million reflects an appropriate investment that they have the capacity to implement.
We recognize and take some faith in the fact that GAO reviewed our approach to implementing this program and very strongly commented on the effective reforms we’ve put in place, to have a clear and compelling implementation strategy for this effort.
Shah's message: GAO signed off on USAID's Cuba programs and there's nothing else to debate.
Yet the GAO report was limited to "management and financial accounting as opposed to measuring impact and effectiveness in Cuba," Cuba analyst Phil Peters wrote.
GAO only examined a few basic points:
  • Is USAID following U.S. law?
  • Is the agency minimizing risk to participants?
  • Are official monitoring use of the money?
GAO's conclusion: USAID is doing just fine. (See "No Godiva chocolates: Sweet news for USAID").
It's unclear whether any U.S. officials are asking if there are any alternatives to USAID's largely covert democracy programs.
For the record, I don't oppose U.S. government efforts to boost democracy in Cuba. But I have questions about U.S. government tactics, and believe that a more thorough investigation of USAID's programs is warranted.
GAO investigators examined only 10 of the 111 awards give to USAID and the State Department from Oct. 1, 2005, through 2012.

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.


BLT said...

You say: "For the record, I don't oppose U.S. government efforts to boost democracy in Cuba."

Exactly what would you like us to do to further democracy in Cuba? Teach them how to run elections like we are trying to do to Venezuala? Instruct them how to get involved in neighbouring countries' politics in what they consider their "own backyard?" Teach them how private enterprise can influence legislation in an advanced democracy? Let's boost our own first.

Tracey Eaton said...

There are plenty of diplomats and experts who could figure out alternatives to covert democracy promotion. I don't claim to have a solution to the more than 50-year-old U.S.-Cuba mess.
But I would look for alternatives to economic sanctions and then move toward normalization of relations. I would try to influence Cuba through engagement, not imposition. I would try talking.
We have normal relations with China, Vietnam and other countries with political systems that aren't like our own, and we have programs to promote democracy in those countries. I'd push to reach that point.

BLT said...

But what if they're happy with fixing their own system and don't want our help?

Tracey Eaton said...

Then we let them do their own thing.