Monday, February 3, 2014

Aid to dissidents: A token gesture?

Oscar Haza
Journalist Oscar Haza invited me to join his radio program this morning. His show is "Ahora con Oscar Haza" and is broadcast from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on WCMQ-FM (92.3 FM) in Hialeah, Fla.
Haza wanted to talk about a post I wrote Saturday, Democracy aid: Two radically different approaches. Among the points I tried to make during this morning's program:

  • The Agency for International told me in 2010 that the "vast majority" of democracy funds "is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba." I told Haza that I doubt the majority of the money reaches Cuba. My guess is that no more than 15 percent of it reaches the island. U.S. democracy aid to Cuba amounts to "migas," I said - breadcrumbs.
  • The money is crucial for those who receive it, but I don't think we can expect that giving $50 or $100 or $200 per month to hundreds or even a few thousand dissidents is going to trigger democratic change.
  • I recalled the words of former political prisoner Luis Enrique Ferrer, who told me: "The day we can give $10 or $15 million to those who are fighting inside Cuba, who often have torn up shoes and pants... I assure you that things would be different."
  • A few years ago I calculated that our massive federal government spends only $5.60 on democracy programs in Cuba for every $1 million that it spends. I know some say we should stay out of Cuba's business. I am not getting into that debate here. My question is whether the programs are effective. My guess is that U.S. democracy money - as important and as desperately needed as it is for dissidents in Cuba - amounts to a largely symbolic gesture, particularly when so much of it goes for salaries, office expenses, travel, conferences and overhead outside the island. 
On Saturday, I outlined the expenses of two South Florida organizations: Grupo de Apoyo para la Democracia and the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.
I told Haza that I get the impression the Grupo de Apoyo is an old-school organization. It doesn’t even have a website, as far as I can tell. It concentrates its efforts on getting aid to democracy activists in Cuba.
In 2012, the group sent 74,000 pounds of food and supplies to the families of political prisoners and other people in Cuba. The group should be applauded for devoting such a large share of its resources to people in Cuba.
The Foundation for Human Rights takes another approach. It runs, for instance, a program called Somos un Solo Pueblo in collaboration with Miami Dade College. That program brings Cuban students to Miami to study.
The foundation has a sophisticated website touting its causes. It raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the community. It has deep ties to Cuban-Americans in South Florida. I'm certainly not casting stones at the work it does. It merely has different strategy than Grupo de Apoyo.
In any case, I told Haza that I suspected that South Florida groups did a better job, generally, in channeling resources to dissidents in Cuba than some of big NGOs in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area. I pointed out that it wasn't a Miami NGO that sent contractor Alan Gross on that fateful, expensive and disastrous mission in 2009.
How many other such missions have there been that we've never heard about? The public has no way of knowing what many taxpayer-financed NGOs are doing in Cuba. The U.S. government releases few details in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. And publicly available tax records - Form 990s - reveal little or nothing about the NGOs' Cuba programs.
So much for open government.


Mambi_Watch said...

Big congrats Tracy! Ninoska Perez Castellon on Radio Mambi did almost an entire show this afternoon based on your recent post. She invited Frank Calzon and Orlando Gutierrez Boronat (both directors of their respective free Cuba group) to talk about the findings of your article. Both guests used the findings to counter-attack the CANF for its 2008 report that criticized Calzon's and Gutierrez's groups as ineffective.

Calzon challenged CANF leaders to an open discussion on the radio about funds, to give the public an impression that their groups are transparent, and I suppose to bury the hatchet.

Tracey Eaton said...

Thanks for sharing that. I had no idea. It will be interesting to see if an open discussion on the radio occurs. More discussion about these things would be healthy, I think.