Friday, January 22, 2016

USAID announces $6 million in Cuba grants

The U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday announced that it is offering $6 million in grants over a three-year period to organizations that will "provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and politically marginalized individuals and groups in Cuba."
Grant amounts will range from $500,000 to $2 million. The application deadline is Feb. 25.
In the grant notice, USAID warns against sending American citizens to Cuba.
Special thought and consideration should be given to the selection of consultants and other personnel who may be required to travel to the island. To the extent possible, travel by American citizens should be avoided. It is preferable for these personnel to speak Spanish fluently, possess solid understanding of the cultural context, and have prior experience on the island, in order to maximize their effectiveness in this unique operating environment.
The agency also says that grant recipients will be going to Cuba at their own risk and may not hold USAID responsible for what might happen to them. The notice states:
The U.S. government cannot ensure the safety and security of Recipient assets and personnel, particularly as relates to individuals traveling to Cuba under USAID funding, or project staff based in Cuba. Implementation of USAID programs in Cuba requires Recipient awareness of political sensitivities and assumption of risks associated with hostile actions of the Cuban government.
The Recipient will not serve as an agent or act under the direction of USAID and will be responsible for the efficient and effective administration of its own programs with sound business judgment, including any precautions inherent therein. ...the Recipient shall not hold USAID liable for injury, death, detainment, incarceration, kidnapping, property loss, damages, or expenses incidental to those liabilities, suffered by, or attributable to the acts, omissions or negligence of, the Recipient, its agents, or its employees implementing programs in Cuba under this NFO.
The grant program is called “Humanitarian Assistance to Cuba." The program description says:
By supporting civil society and promoting the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people, the President and the U.S. aim to empower the Cuban people to decide their own destiny.
USAID says the program is justified because "the Cuban government currently is detaining dozens of political prisoners for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression."
The grant notice says that by the end of 2015, there had been at least 8,616 political arrests in Cuba. Without getting into the merits or potential pitfalls of USAID's program, I think it's worth pointing out that many of those arrested for political reasons are taking part in programs funded by the U.S. government or U.S. government-financed organizations. I am not arguing for or against such programs or saying there are no human rights violations in Cuba, but I find it interesting that existing U.S. government programs are used to help justify and fuel the need for new programs.
Additional details about the program are below:

On July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba formally re-established diplomatic relations and re-opened embassies in each other’s respective countries. The establishment of diplomatic relations allows the U.S. to discuss matters of mutual concern that would advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, disaster response, environmental protection, and support for human rights. By supporting civil society and promoting the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people, the President and the U.S. aim to empower the Cuban people to decide their own destiny.

However, Cuba is an authoritarian state that limits civil and political rights. Current Cuban law prevents the right to assemble, restricts freedom of expression and labor rights, and enforces a state monopoly over mass media. The day-to-day life of Cubans is hampered by the dual currency system, housing and food shortages, and a lack of sufficient transportation.
In Cuba, repression against human rights leaders continues to intensify despite renewed diplomatic relations with the U.S. It is estimated that the Cuban government currently is detaining dozens of political prisoners for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. Those arrested are subjected to lengthy prison terms and to prison conditions that are harsh and sometimes life threatening. Prisoners are placed in overcrowded prisons that are at great distances from family members, and are beaten or placed in solitary confinement for voicing their concerns. Imprisonment is only one of the many tactics the Cuban government uses to restrict fundamental freedoms, such as expression, association, peaceful assembly, and movement. Former political prisoners who remain in Cuba are heavily scrutinized and intimidated by the Cuban government for their current political activism and are experiencing material difficulties.
In addition to the current and former political prisoners, thousands of other Cuban citizens are arbitrarily detained, threatened, harassed, beaten and arrested for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights. During the month of November 2015 alone, there were 1,447 political arrests, which represents one of the highest number of monthly arrests in recent history. By the end of 2015, there were a total of 8,616 political arrests. These numbers represent only those cases that have been reported and documented. Many others remain unreported. The effect of such practices creates a climate of fear in Cuban society and suppresses freedom of expression.
These repression tactics are applied to family members of human rights actors as well. They are denied the right to earn a livelihood, access to basic social services, entry into universities, and experience emotional hardship and alienation, as well as other forms of discrimination and abuse due to family members’ association with political dissent.
U.S. assistance programs focus on providing humanitarian assistance to victims of repression, strengthening civil society, facilitating the free flow of information to, from, and within the island, and helping Cubans to create space for dialogue about democratic practices. To encourage civic participation in Cuba, U.S. assistance focuses on strengthening independent Cuban civil society groups, including professional associations and labor groups. Efforts are aimed at increasing the capacity for community involvement in, and networks among, civil society groups. In the interest of advancing human rights, the United States provides humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and other victims of repression. In the human rights area, the assistance programs also raise awareness of human rights and supports Cubans to document and report human rights violations.

Under this award and subject to the availability of funds, USAID intends to provide $6 million in total USAID funding over a three year period. USAID anticipates multiple awards ranging from $500,000 to $2 million each for up to a three-year period of performance. Organizations may submit only one application, and each organization is eligible for only one cooperative agreement.

The primary goal of this program is to provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and politically marginalized individuals and groups in Cuba. The program is designed to alleviate the hardships suffered by people who, because of their political beliefs or efforts to exercise their fundamental freedoms, have lost some or all of their ability to support themselves or their families, including being imprisoned or discriminated against.

USAID seeks creative and innovative new approaches in the design and delivery of humanitarian assistance activities. Applicants should outline how the beneficiaries will be selected and prioritized, with precedence given to political prisoners and their families. Proposals should clearly explain the process and source for supply procurement and delivery throughout the island. Applicants should also describe the types of supplies that are the most appropriate and the rationale for this choice, given the demand and urgent need of the targeted beneficiaries throughout the island. Items and commodities used shall be approved and purchased in accordance with ADS 312, Eligibility of Commodities, and specifically, ADS 312.3.1, USAID Commodity Eligibility Listing. Applicants should outline how they will maximize resources while maintaining high quality materials and efficient distribution of supplies. Assuming appropriate disbursement and monitoring mechanisms are established, the use of cash grants is a possible option for delivering assistance to meet the needs of targeted beneficiaries, subject to USAID review and approval. Applicants should also clearly describe the methods, mechanisms, and systems to be used for the distribution of supplies, as well as a process that will provide confirmation of final receipt to the targeted beneficiaries. Applicants should clearly explain how their local partners and local networks have the expertise, geographic familiarity and experience to carry out assistance activities. Applicants should also demonstrate how relationships will be built with the beneficiaries, and how the proposed program will coordinate to prevent duplication and ensure complementarities with other U.S. Government programs.
Given that the economic conditions are more difficult outside of Havana, Applicants are encouraged to focus on the provision of supplies to outlying provinces and provide details as to how supplies will be distributed among the provinces.
Assistance to Cuba is governed by a complex series of statutory and other restrictions. There are two statutes that are particularly critical in providing authority, notwithstanding other provisions of law, for USAID’s work in Cuba. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (also referred to as “Helms-Burton Act”, P.L. 104-114) provides notwithstanding authority to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba, including (1) published and informational matter to be made available to independent democratic groups in Cuba; (2) humanitarian assistance to victims of political repression and their families; (3) support for democratic and human rights groups in Cuba; and (4) support for deployment of independent international human rights monitors in Cuba.
Also, the Cuban Democracy Act (1992) authorizes the provision of certain assistance notwithstanding any other provision of law. Specifically, this provision authorizes donations of food to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or individuals in Cuba, exports of medicines and medical supplies, and assistance through appropriate NGOs for the support of individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent democratic change in Cuba.

The following are goals and objectives expected to be achieved by the end of the program:

  • Provide moral, financial, and/or material support to Cubans who, because of their political beliefs or efforts to exercise their fundamental freedoms, have lost some or all of their ability to support themselves or their families, including by being imprisoned or otherwise marginalized or discriminated against.
  • Provide food, medicines and medical supplies that are most desired by and beneficial to targeted beneficiaries on a regular basis.
  • Strengthen and organize networks and systems to ensure regular deliveries outside Havana in order to minimize costs and maximize the amount of goods delivered to beneficiaries.
  • Demonstrate the role that partner networks of civil society members play in identifying political prisoners and marginalized people throughout the island, maximizing the impact of assistance, network strengthening, and providing feedback and information sharing on political conditions and repression on the ground.

Through various activities implemented by USAID/Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and State Department’s Bureaus of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) and Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), the USG provides ongoing support to targeted beneficiaries throughout the island subjected to human rights abuses as detailed in the 2014 State Department Human Rights Report: This activity will support and complement these ongoing initiatives. USAID/LAC coordinates closely with these offices and is in frequent communication with the U.S. Embassy in Havana, both soliciting and sharing information, during its programmatic analysis and subsequent design of this activity.
To maintain appropriate oversight and management and to avoid potential overlap, award recipients will be expected to coordinate and collaborate with other USG program implementers on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to avoid duplication of efforts. USAID shall not fund activities deemed to be duplicative with existing USG Cuba projects and activities.

Award recipients will retain overall management responsibility for all aspects of the program including management of all sub-agreements and sub-contracts. (See also section on Requirements for Prior Approval of Sub-awards and Substantial Involvement.) In addition to adhering to the policies, laws, and regulations governing USAID/LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs assistance awards, recipients are also responsible for the following:

  • General program management, including financial management, reporting, and provision of assistance to Cuban counterparts.
  • In consultation with USAID, determining appropriate working and coordination relationships with other LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs program grantees and other U.S. and third-country non-governmental organizations working in Cuba.
  • In consultation with USAID, finalizing the implementation and annual workplans;1 project- specific results framework;2 cash grants strategy, protocols and reporting requirements; and performance management plan (PMP) covering all program components within 60 days of award.
  • Identifying, managing, and supporting other essential programs and communications.
  • Carrying out reporting and monitoring and evaluation responsibilities as described below.
  • Applicants must closely monitor, track, verify and report to USAID on the end-use of all materials sent to Cuba. LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs is covered by a general license issued by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The general license of note to USAID is found at 31 CFR 515.562. Successful Applicants will be required to obtain an applicable Department of Commerce license if necessary, consistent with the Export Administration Regulations (15 CFR Parts 740 and 746). Of particular note is the Department of Commerce license exception “Support for the Cuban People” found at 15 CFR § 740.21. Information regarding U.S./Cuba legal and/or policy requirements may be found on the following websites:

a. U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control:;
b. U.S. Department of Commerce Cuba page for exports:;
c. USAID and Assistance Awards Policies:
d. OFAC Cuba FAQs:
e. State Department fact sheet on regulatory changes:

Applicants should be familiarized with the difficulties of working in closed societies similar to Cuba and with the particular challenges of working in Cuba. Applicants should also understand that, given the nature of the Cuban government, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID grant funding.

8.1 Monitoring Results and Tracking Indicators
Recipients will be required to comply with all USAID policy and requirements related to performance monitoring, reporting, and evaluation, including the new USAID Evaluation Policy which can be found at The recipient will be expected to work and coordinate with USAID monitoring and evaluation experts on a regular basis.
Those applications that include a level of effort and funds to conduct baseline assessments for each performance indicator will be strongly preferred. Such baseline figures will be extremely important when objectively measuring program results. Applicants are expected to submit a comprehensive, implementation workplan and annual workplan. A complete Cuba commodities list should also be included in the proposal.
In conjunction with and corresponding to the stated objectives of the implementation plan, proposals should include a performance management plan (PMP) with annual targets, performance indicators, and definitions in their proposal. Upon award, the implementation plan, an annual workplan, and PMP will be reviewed in consultation with the assigned Agreement Officer’s Representative (AOR)/Program Manager from the LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs, with revised plans submitted to the AOR/Program Manager for final written approval within 60 days of the award date.
Recipients will need to revise their draft PMP upon award and receive USAID approval within 60 days of the award date. The final PMP should include the following elements:

  • A list of specific, quantifiable performance indicators that the recipient plans to use in measuring performance.
  • Detailed information on the indicators (outputs, outcomes, and impact): unit of measure; data source; justification/management utility; baseline values if available; annual targets for the overall objectives and activities; frequency and schedule for data collection; and detailed plans for data analysis, review, and reporting to measure project progress against overall objectives; and for the use of data collected by the project to improve program planning and performance.
  • Indicators shall be disaggregated by gender as appropriate.

Performance indicators shall include one required indicator: “Number of individuals/groups from low-income or marginalized communities who received legal aid or victim's assistance with USG support” and 2 to 3 additional custom indicators to be proposed by the Applicant in their application.
Recipients will be responsible for developing and tracking program activity targets, outputs, and outcomes. Recipients’ post-award consultation with the appropriate AOR/Program Manager will also include discussion of USG foreign policy directives. Programs receiving funds under this NFO will contribute to the Office of Cuban Affairs objectives, program areas, and indicators.
These objectives and indicators are in accordance with the performance indicators established by the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources. If an Applicant’s proposed program and activities do not fit within the listed USG indicators, Applicants should include suitable program and activity-level indicators in their proposal and explain why the selected indicators are needed.
Upon award, USAID will consult with selected recipients to ensure that their monitoring, evaluation, results tracking, and reporting of activities and indicators are realistic, feasible, and contribute to the
overall Office of Cuban Affairs objectives, as well as comply with USAID policy. Recipients will routinely monitor, track, evaluate, and report on program activities using the agreed-upon indicators. Recipients must differentiate gender when collecting indicator data. As appropriate, USAID encourages Applicants to also differentiate between age, gender, beneficiary, and province when collecting indicator data.
All activities implemented under this NFO may be subject to evaluation by a USAID-funded evaluator, and recipients are expected to work closely with the evaluator(s) to effectively monitor program implementation and performance. Evaluating on-island activity is especially important and recipients, in addition to working with a third-party evaluator, are expected to track and report on all the necessary information as identified in their official PMPs.
Note: Under this award, USAID will not fund any recipient sub-agreements or consultancies for monitoring and evaluation activities. Recipients are still required to closely monitor their program activities and report results.
8.2 Workplans and Performance Management Plan (PMP)
Recipients are responsible for following their approved implementation workplan, annual workplan, project-specific results framework, cash grants strategy, and PMP throughout the life of the award. These plans provide the basis for the recipient’s performance. USAID will utilize these plans (including the approved budget plan) to monitor, assess, and evaluate a recipient’s program and program operations. USAID understands the difficult operating environment in Cuba, and if necessary, will work with a recipient to revise plans if mid-program corrections and adjustments are required. However, it is the recipient’s responsibility to inform the LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs if implementation issues arise which may affect approved plans.

Cross cutting issues must be integrated into the technical approach and be considered when designing activities and creating implementation plans.
9.1 Gender Equality and Female Empowerment
The Applicant will be required to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of gender equality and empowerment and how gender can best be addressed in programming. In addition to demonstrating an understanding of issues of gender in the Cuban context, the Applicant will need to present a methodology for monitoring gender impact in its PMP, including incorporation of gender-sensitive indicators. Please review ADS 205 found at for more information on integrating this policy into their approach.
9.2 Partnerships
This project should aim at forming partnerships and seek to engage the private sector, other donors, international organizations, and civil society institutions, in order to provide comprehensive approaches to deliver humanitarian assistance and also to leverage additional funds to enhance proposed project results, promote sustainability of these activities, and provoke a broader impact.
While USAID will consider applications that include proposed partners (sub-recipients) for implementation of this award, Applicants are encouraged to partner with organizations that show a
complementarity of skills sets and capabilities. Please note that Applicants are not encouraged to partner with organizations that will require organizational capacity building. Rather USAID seeks that the recipient organization has prior commendable performance in Cuba or other closed societies, with a preference for experience in Cuba. Subject matter experience by the prime recipient or sub-recipients in implementing similar programs is also preferred.
If an Applicant includes sub-recipients for implementation of the award, Applicants should demonstrate how these sub-recipients complement the organizational capabilities of the Applicant and how the partnerships strengthen the overall program plan.
While each member of the partnership should have a defined role under the agreement, the Prime Recipient will be named in the agreement and will be responsible to USAID for all administrative, management, and reporting requirements. Applicants should describe their proposed partnership(s), each partner organization, its strengths and experiences, its proposed role and responsibilities, and associated costs. The application should also explain how the Applicant will assure the effective implementation of all program activities set forth in its proposal (including those carried out through sub-awards) and the delivery of timely and accurate reports among partner organizations. References for the past performance of each partner organization should also be provided. (For more information, please refer to the section on Requirements for Prior Approval of Sub-awards.)

10.1 Consultants and Travelers
Special thought and consideration should be given to the selection of consultants and other personnel who may be required to travel to the island. To the extent possible, travel by American citizens should be avoided. It is preferable for these personnel to speak Spanish fluently, possess solid understanding of the cultural context, and have prior experience on the island, in order to maximize their effectiveness in this unique operating environment.
10.2 Cash Grants
If USAID is able to confirm that appropriate disbursement and monitoring mechanisms exist among all partners (prime and sub-recipients) affiliated with an award, the use of cash grants is an implementation option. Applicants should clearly articulate a cash grants strategy and the role of cash grants in their proposal. The application should include: a concrete plan that presents the goals and objectives of a cash grants program; which activities will be undertaken using the grants; how those activities will be implemented; how the activities will expand the impact of the overall Cuba program; and why cash grants are the better choice over other approaches. Disbursement and monitoring protocols should also be provided and programmatic need and mitigation measures for identified risks are among the criteria for approval. The partner must also demonstrate that it has the management capability to administer a cash grants program. Implementing partner monitoring protocols should include financial and administrative systems that require, to the maximum extent possible, supporting documentation on the use of cash grants and end-use verification. Disbursement and monitoring mechanisms will be reviewed in consultation with the assigned AOR/Program Manager from the LAC/Office of Cuban Affairs and approved by USAID in a written communication separate from the cooperative agreement. Cash grants reports will be submitted to USAID on a quarterly basis.

The authority for the NFO and any resulting award is from the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended. Additionally, as explained above, there are two statutes that are particularly critical in providing authority, notwithstanding other provisions of law, for USAID’s work in Cuba: (1) Section 109(a) of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (also referred to as “Helms-Burton Act”, P.L. 104-114) and (2) Section 6004 of the Cuban Democracy Act. 22 U.S.C. 6001 et. seq. (“CDA”). Activities authorized and financed under this program are governed and limited by the terms of the CDA and the Libertad Act.
The following link contains the full text of the LIBERTAD Act:
The following link contains the full text of the CDA Act:

1 The “implementation workplan” provides the three-year project timeline of activities, milestones, and deliverables, while the “annual workplan” provides a breakdown of activities to be achieved by quarter over a one-year period. Note: for workplan (and reporting) purposes, recipients and sub-recipients should mirror the USAID fiscal year, which begins on October 1.
2 The “project-specific results framework” is specific to the recipient’s project and is used for quarterly reporting purposes and to create the project’s PMP.

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