Thursday, December 6, 2012

Foggy Bottom: Wite-Out capital of the world

Your tax dollars at work
Over the past two years, I have filed more than 100 Freedom of Information Act requests to try to make sense of tens of millions of tax dollars that go toward Cuba programs.
The State Department answered one of my FOIA requests on Nov. 27, sending me documents related to a $59,198,592 grant that it gave to the non-profit National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C.
Somewhere in that $59 million pile of dough there was some money for a Cuba program, but you wouldn't know it looking through the documents that the State Department sent me.
The State Department whited out the section marked "Items of Expenditure," making it impossible to find the Cuba money or know how the NED spent the $59 million.
The State Department told me in a letter that the redacted material was exempt from release because it contained "trade secrets or commercial or financial information obtained from a person and is privileged or confidential."
Using that exemption to keep secret a simple breakdown showing how $59 million was spent is a perversion of the Open Government Act.
NED received the grant to "encourage free and democratic institutions throughout the world."
The U.S. government shells out millions of tax dollars to promote democratic practices in other countries, but is unnecessarily secretive about its own spending.
These records requests show there is a striking lack of accountability at the State Department, where the motto seems to be "Do as I say, not as I do."
The NED in recent years has been more transparent than the State Department about how it spends its Cuba funds.

The organization's 2011 Annual Report listed the following Cuba program expenses:
Afro-Cuban Alliance, Inc.
To encourage greater discussion and academic analysis about racial issues in Cuba. Afro-Cuba Alliance will publish a quarterly journal to inform readers on the island and in the international community about racial issues in Cuba, the experience of civil rights movements, and the efforts of civil rights activists towards greater racial equality

Center for a Free Cuba
To provide additional humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, pro-democracy and human rights activists, and victims of repression in Cuba. In addition to humanitarian assistance, the Center will provide independent, democratic activists with important material support that will permit them to carry out their work in a more effective manner.

Committee for Free Trade Unionism
To promote inter-regional cooperation among labor unions in Latin America, Europe and the U.S. CFTU will continue to develop an international campaign to build support for independent unionists in Cuba. It will continue maintaining its website and producing a quarterly newsletter aimed at raising interest in labor and worker's rights issues in Cuba.

Cuban Democratic Directorate
To increase the Cuban democratic movement's access to uncensored information through Radio República broadcasts. Directorio will produce and broadcast original programming aimed at providing Cubans with an independent source of commentary and analysis about events throughout Cuba and around the world.

CubaNet News Inc.
To support independent Cuban journalists as they produce objective media content about the situation in Cuba. Cubanet will continue to present the work of independent journalists on its digital media platform at CubaNet will also provide independent Cuban journalists with training on the use of new technologies and digital security techniques.

Grupo Internacional para la Responsabilidad Social Corporativa en Cuba
To promote labor rights and support Cuba's independent labor movement. GIRSCC will also raise international awareness campaign regarding labor rights in Cuba

Instituto Político para la Libertad Peru
To provide youth in Cuba with training on use of the internet and social networking media. IPL will also provide youth with training on democratic rights, access to information tools and international standards of freedom of expression.

National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
To empower Cuban civil society by providing independent civil society organizations with the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to contribute toward a more democratic society through technical assistance and information about other democratic transition experiences. NDI would also raise awareness about and support for Cuban-led projects for change among Cuban citizens and the international community through a weekly radio program and participation in international events.

Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos
To promote greater public awareness about human rights violations in Cuba. The Cuban Observatory on Human Rights, whose members are all former prisoners of conscience from Cuba, will work with counterparts on the island to document ongoing human rights abuses. It will use this information to prepare reports for the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and international media outlets.

People in Need
To increase the free flow of information in Cuba and promote relationships between independent Cuban journalists and European media outlets. PIN will train independent Cuban journalists on new media tools. PIN will also seek to engage more Cuban youth and community journalists in independent journalism by creating grassroots, lifestyle magazines, and training grassroots leaders on how run small media enterprises.

People in Peril Association
To encourage critical thinking and the free exchange of ideas among youth in Cuba; and to strengthen the training and pedagogical capacity of informal educators and independent librarians in Cuba. PIPA will develop an educational toolkit and train independent educators and independent librarians on how to encourage discussion among youth.

Civic Education
To improve the capacity of independent Cuban democratic activists to advocate for greater economic freedom and equality from the government.

Rule of Law
To provide technical assistance to Cuban citizens.

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