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.Shah's message: GAO signed off on USAID's Cuba programs and there's nothing else to debate.
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.
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?
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.