Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Diaz-Balart: Millions in democracy funds idle

Juan Tamayo
Here's a first: A government agency that can't spend money fast enough.
A bottleneck at the U.S. Agency for International Development has delayed spending of as much as $70 million on Cuba democracy programs, the Miami Herald reported today.

The Herald's Juan Tamayo wrote:
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations committee, said Congress approved cutting USAID out of Cuba funds for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 “because there was agreement that USAID frankly needed to get its act together on the Cuba program.”

USAID’s pipeline has $60 million to $70 million in unspent funds for Cuba programs, Diaz-Balart said. He added that it has spent Cuba-tagged money on other programs and granted $3.4 million to a group with little experience, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.

The Miami Republican has long been critical of the grant to the Miami non-profit, founded and still closely linked to the leadership of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which backs President Barack Obama.

USAID spokesperson Karl Duckworth defended the agency, citing a 2013 report that applauded USAID's management of the Cuba programs. (See "No Godiva chocolates: Sweet news for USAID.")

José "Pepe" Hernandez
CANF President José “Pepe” Hernandez told the Herald that "if there’s any truth to reports Diaz-Balart was a key force behind the decision to leave USAID out of the money, 'then Mario has done a great favor to the Cuban regime.'"

On Feb. 9, I quoted an unnamed source blaming (or congratulating, depending on your point of view) Diaz-Balart for wresting the Cuba programs from USAID's control. (See "Source: Miami foundation has 'tremendous impact'").

A journalist colleague later told me he thought it was lousy of me to quote an anonymous source on the accusations against the congressman. I agreed that it wasn't ideal to rely on a single anonymous person for the information, but used it because I felt it was credible source. And if you follow the paper trail, it does lead to Diaz-Balart (See "Cuba out of Cuba by 2015").

Mario Diaz-Balart
In any case, my hunch is that Diaz-Balart is not at all apologetic. He didn't think USAID was doing the job and wanted to make better use of the resources. It's a compelling argument, especially if there is $60 million to $70 million in unspent Cuba program funds.

USAID officials have said it's impractical to spend more on Cuba programs. This evidently has something to do with the difficulty of working in Cuba, although I haven't seen a detailed explanation of the agency's reasoning.

Hernandez told the Herald that "cutting USAID out of the $17.5 million throws away the agency’s 18 years of experience with Cuba programs launched in 1996 to support civil-society and dissident groups on the communist-ruled island."


Antonio said...

Tracy, thanks for all your recent reports on this. There seem to be people more interested in keeping the money flowing, irregardless of whether it makes a difference in Cuba or not.

Unfortunately this is not really new. I recall reading that most of the CIA material aid sent to the underground resistance in those early years (1959-63) ended up in Fidel's hands anyway

Tracey Eaton said...

Thanks, Antonio. I agree. I can't imagine that the government would stop the flow of money.

Antonio said...

Changing subjects a little, you still have some contacts among Bay of Pigs veterans down there. I will email you on something I have always wondered about.