Saturday, May 30, 2015

Office of Cuba Broadcasting: Where the money trickles up

OCB takes care of its own
Government salaries never cease to amaze. More than a third - 37 percent - of the employees at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami earn more than $100,000 per year. The vast majority - 92 percent - earn more than $80,000 per year.
The median salary at the OCB is $95,591, which is more than two and a half times the $35,870 median salary for reporters and correspondents nationwide, according to Department of Labor statistics.
The OCB's median salary is 1.7 times greater than the $55,380 median salary of broadcast news analysts around the country.
Except for one poor soul who earns $38,787 per year, everyone at the OCB makes a decent wage - or more.
And so as Cuba's Josefina Vidal insists Radio & TV Martí be shut down, you can bet these OCB employees will be fighting for their jobs.
Josefina Vidal
OCB top dog Carlos García-Pérez earns $170,000 per year. No. 2 is administrative officer Irvin Rubenstein, at $157,100. No. 3 is Alberto Pando, at $145,852, followed by José Costa Jr., at $145,701.
You wouldn't know it's a time of belt-tightening at the OCB. The office handed out $48,000 in bonuses in 2012. No bonuses were passed out in 2014, according to the Feds Data Center.

Friday, May 29, 2015

USAID's multibillion-dollar solar system

Big bucks in this planetary system (see interactive graphic)
This visualization shows $16,768,294,568 in U.S. Agency for International Development contracts. It has the look of a strange solar system with the small contractors and start-ups revolving around such giants as Chemonics International and the Berger Louis Group.
The biggest of the companies that have worked in Cuba are Development Alternative Inc., Creative Associates International and International Relief and Development.

On removal of Cuba from black list

Here are two opposing views. The first is from James Williams, president of Engage Cuba:
The State Department’s announcement that it has removed Cuba from the U.S. List of State Sponsors of Terrorism is a historic and welcome development. We anticipate the next step of opening embassies in our respective capitals.

We conclude yet another week with encouraging news and reflect on the astonishing pace of change in U.S.-Cuba relations. Status quo advocates in both countries should take note. The Cold War is over.

Cuba's off the terrorism list

Cuba has vowed that "it will not support acts of international terrorism"
From the State Department:
In December 2014, the President instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and provide a report to him within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism. On April 8, 2015, the Secretary of State completed that review and recommended to the President that Cuba no longer be designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

Accordingly, on April 14, the President submitted to Congress the statutorily required report indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The 45-day Congressional pre-notification period has expired, and the Secretary of State has made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015.

The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission. While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

U.S. Interests Section: No. 13 in spending

See interactive chart
U.S. Interests Section spending ranks 13th among American embassies in the Western hemisphere for fiscal year 2015, which ends Sept. 30.
Embassies spending the most so far this year are Lima, at $2,500,128; Mexico City, at $2,159,152; and Panama City, at $1,918,051, records show.
Santo Domingo is 5th at $1,136,915. I'd expect Havana to vault past that number in the next couple of years.
These spending figures are based on numbers that the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, or WHA, has reported to the Federal Data Procurement System. Not included here is $12,921,058 in WHA Office of Acquisition Management spending. I would imagine that some of the funds from that pool of money wind up in Havana.
See interactive bubble chart
One other note: Not appearing here is Santiago, Chile. The embassy there reported spending $232,392.80. It all looks pretty routine. But then there's a massive additional transaction in the amount of -$8,799,086.84, money evidently returned to "gasoline stations with convenience stores" on Nov. 4, 2014. I didn't include Santiago in the chart because the graphic - with the $8 million-plus negative bar - would have taken up twice the space.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Uncle Sam shells out big bucks for humor targeting enemy nations

Cartoon by Gustavo Rodríguez, a.k.a. Garrincha
Uncle Sam could use a good laugh - and he's willing to pay for it.
The U.S. government-financed Broadcasting Board of Governors on Tuesday announced that it's looking to hire an Iranian-American comedian.
The job announcement described the position requirements in humorless bureaucratic fashion, saying the BBG is looking for a comedian capable of providing "the greatest overall benefit in response to the requirement," a vague requirement that isn't described in detail.
The BBG doesn't say it's looking for the funniest Iranian-American comedian around (check out Maz Jobrani). Instead, the agency says it'll hire the comedian "whose offer provides the Government with a best value solution."
The BBG's quest to find an Iranian-American comedian got me wondering how many U.S. tax dollars have gone toward making fun of the Castro brothers and the Cuban government. I would not be surprised to learn that taxpayers have unwitting spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for such work.
Of course, countless Cubans and Cuban-Americans lampoon the socialist government every day - and they do it for free.
U.S. officials are willing to pay for this kind of material and evidently see skewering enemy governments as great way to stir up trouble.

Taíno dance in Cuba

Taíno dancer
New on YouTube: A video showing a group of Cubans performing a Taíno dance. The video includes an interview - in Spanish - with Abel Espinosa, one of the dancers.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interests Section sinks money into flags, signs

U.S. Interests Section is stocking up on flags
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana has spent $473,258 since Dec. 17 when the U.S. and Cuba announced plans to pursue diplomatic relations.
I wonder how much of the some of the spending is tied to the Interests Section's eventual conversion into an embassy. Recent contracts include:
  • $23,560 to Apco Graphics Inc. in Lanham, Md., for "temporary seal and lettering for the building
  • $17,082.25 to CVS Systems Incorporated in Marion, Ind., for American flags (the same company sells the standard 50-star, U.S. government-sanctioned flag and is prepared to sell a 51-star model if Puerto Rico ever becomes a state).
  • $18,546.42 to an undisclosed contractor for an "LED lamp for office building."
Galls "tactical polo shirt"
Other recent expenses include:
  • $10,110 in swimming pool chemicals
  • $7,744.96 for "office supplies - VIP delegation"
  • $3,294.61 in men's footwear from Galls in Lexington, Ky.
  • $4,002 for "tactical polo shirts" from an undisclosed vendor (likely Galls, which sells the shirts for $39.99 to $44.99 each).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Directorio pays thousands of Cubans

Orlando Gutierrez Boronat spars with Cuban intelligence chief
Directorio Democrático Cubano was founded 25 years ago in Miami Beach. Back then it was called the International Congress of Cuban Youth for a Free Cuba. Members changed the name to Directorio in 2002.
Now based in Hialeah, Fla., the organization gives direct aid to Cuban dissidents and carries out radio broadcasts to the island. Its co-founder and national secretary is Orlando Gutierrez Boronat, who made headlines in April after getting into a fistfight in Panama City where the Summit of the Americas took place. His foe that day was Alexis Frutos Weeden, identified as a Cuban intelligence chief.
Gutierrez' wife, Janisset Rivero-Gutierrez, is adjunct national secretary of Directorio Democrático. Board member Lorenzo L. de Toro is her brother-in-law. The executive director and co-founder is Javier de Céspedes.
U.S. taxpayers provide most of the funding for the Directorio, which received $6,272,110 in government grants from 2009 to 2013, tax records show.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Snackable content" at Radio Martí

Carlos García-Pérez
Radio Martí marks its 30th anniversary on May 20. Carlos García-Pérez, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, said in a statement:
The staying power of Radio Martí is a testament to the importance of a free flow of information. It is a profound and personal honor to be part of an institution that has made such a positive impact on the daily lives of people throughout the island.
García-Pérez said Radio Martí reaches audiences in Cuba using everything from satellite and shortwave radio to websites, flash drives and mobile apps. He said:
At each step of the way, the Cuban government has tried to stop us. But we have been undeterred and by pursuing creative media alternatives we have ensured that our professional journalism reaches Cuba.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

State Department's Top 50 Intriguing or Bizarre Expenses

See interactive graphic
I took a spin through $6,052,837,219 in State Department expenses and compiled a list of the 50 most intriguing or bizarre expenses.
The top expense was for office buildings, at $1,897,708,127. Further down the list was a category called "miscellaneous items." That totaled a whopping $57,035,138 - all expenses that were too trivial to describe.
The government spent $105,549,588 in household furniture - a nice little perk for our diplomats abroad. No big surprise there. But the top 50 I chose were offbeat or strange. They included such items as:
  • $5,939,630 for tableware
  • $2,924,003 for draperies, awnings and shades
  • $1,322,750 for intelligence services
  • $882,035 for perfume, toilet preparation and powder
  • $301,750 for bags and sacks
  • $278,000 for surveillance services
  • $249,400 for "motor charter for things," whatever the heck that means
  • $235,000 for camouflage and deception equipment
  • $198,000 for torpedo and gun boats
  • $186,000 for recreational and gymnastic equipment
  • $111,000 for screws
  • $98,000 for miscellaneous weapons
  • $39,000 for men's outerware
  • $33,500 for space vehicles (no kidding) and,
  • $8,000 for "launchers, torpedo and depth charge."
See interactive graphic of State Department spending by category.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

GITMO wants a little religion

U.S. government chaplains. See graphic.
The U.S. Navy is searching for "potential PROVIDERS for Catholic Priest Services" at its base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Information about the job is below.
The Navy's search got me wondering how much the U.S. government spends on chaplain services. The amount reported: $173,394,152. Most of the money was spent over the past 10 years.
The Army led the way with $75,792,084, followed by the Navy, $31,201,548; the Air Force, $30,640,263; Veterans Affairs, $14,940,948; and the Federal Prison System, $13,931,998.
If you'd like a piece of that dough while living in sunny Guantanamo, see below:


1.0 BACKGROUND. Per US Navy Regulations, SECNAVINST 1730.7D, and OPNAVINST 1730.1E, it is incumbent upon Commanding Officers (COs) to have a CRP which accommodates the religious needs, preferences, and rights of assigned military personnel, eligible family members, and other authorized users.

NED's Cuba grants

In March, recipients of Cuba grants no longer appeared on the National Endowment for Democracy's website. They are back up, here, and are listed below:

Alianza Regional para la Libertad de la Expresión e Información
Democratic Ideas and Values
Freedom of Expression in Cuba: Inclusion in Latin America’s Regional Agenda
To promote the participation and strategic inclusion of Cuban civil society organizations and activists into Alianza Regional's regional network on freedom of expression. Alianza Regional, will develop strategic mechanisms to include Cuba's freedom of expression and access to information agenda into its annual activities, advocacy work, and strategic litigation.

Asociacion de Iberoamericanos por la Libertad
Democratic Ideas and Values
Training for Cuban Leaders Project
To promote consensus building, dialogue and cooperation among civil society actors in Cuba and in exile. AIL will work to strengthen the ability of Cuban democratic activists to work together on points of common concern. AIL will also raise greater international awareness in Europe and Latin America about the lack of democratic values in Cuba.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

State Department requests more Cuba funds

Cuba Outreach Initiative
The State Department is asking for more than $6 million to convert the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to an embassy and $528,000 for a new program called "Cuba Outreach Initiative," budget documents show.
Separately, officials are requesting $15 million for civil society programs and $5 million for rule of law and human rights programs in Cuba for fiscal year 2016. That totals $20 million, the same amount authorized in fiscal 2015, which ends on Sept. 30.
Appendix 3 of the State Department's fiscal 2016 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations states:
The United States will continue robust democracy assistance to Cuba to support civil society and greater human rights for the Cuban people. (See page 366 of Appendix 3).
The State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, or WHA, wants $6,046,000 for its "Cuba embassy conversion," but does not give details on how the money would be spent.
Appendix 1 of the State Department's Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations states:
The President’s historic announcement that the United States will open an Embassy in Havana, Cuba will place more demands on the Department’s aging facilities to engage Cuban civil society and support the increase in visitors to Cuba. If the U.S. Interests Section transitions to Embassy status, the mission will expand its presence and handle more extensive operations as the relationship with Cuba intensifies. (see page 184 of Appendix 1).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Center for a Free Cuba


The Center for a Free Cuba received $231,096 in grants and contributions in 2013, down dramatically from 2007 when it snagged a $2.2 million grant.
The non-profit organization, based in Washington, D.C., received $5,119,001 in grants from 2007 through 2013, tax records show. See Form 990s for 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Expenses in 2013 included:
  • $111,226 to "help the courageous but beleaguered Cuban civil society" by providing information to democracy activists and by "encouraging solidarity and support for them by democratic governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations from around the world."
  • $39,723 to "victims of Castro's repression, including political prisoners and former political prisoners and their families."
  • $7,945 for "thousands of press releases, appeals, and special reports to newspapers and electronic media."

Hyper-local media outlets in Cuba

2012 proposal
Normando Hernández, the youngest of 75 activists arrested during the Black Spring of 2003, was exiled to Spain in 2010 and later settled in the United States.
In 2012, he was a Reagan-Fascell fellow and studied how independent journalists could deal with authoritarian governments. That same year, he proposed the creation of "hyper-local" media outlets in Cuba. His presentation is dated, but I hadn't seen it until now and thought I'd share it.
Hernández stated:
For ordinary Cubans to continue reclaiming social spaces, they need access to information and the ability to process it. This will allow them to make their own decisions and take action. Therefore, I propose the creation of a network of “hyper-local” community media outlets that rely on citizen journalism to promote a method of communication by Cubans, for Cubans, inside Cuba. This type of journalism would focus on the specific interests of local communities and be open to any citizen willing to participate. The international community can contribute to empowering ordinary Cubans by supporting independent community media centers that circulate information inside Cuba; monitoring violations against freedom of information; denouncing attacks; and standing in solidarity with citizen journalists.

OTI seeks boss in Colombia

The job pays $73,115, to $95,048
USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives seeks a "highly qualified, highly motivated" individual to manage and lead a project in Colombia, which "may be nearing an end to its fifty-year internal armed conflict."
An OTI announcement states:
Ongoing negotiations between the Government of Colombia (GOC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continue to advance in Havana, Cuba. According to polls, the mood of the country towards a peace accord is moderately supportive but significant sectors of the population remain skeptical, including the Democratic Center party and its principal public figure, former President Uribe. If an agreement is concluded in Havana, the Colombian public will need to approve it in a referendum or other form of public consultation for it to be binding. 
Regardless of whether an agreement is reached, growing evidence suggests that Colombia is already on a path out of conflict toward greater stability and development. 
Applications for the position are due May 22. The full job announcement is below:

Request for Personal Services Contractor
USAID Office of Transition Initiatives

Position Title: OTI Deputy Country Representative - Colombia
Solicitation Number: SOL-OTI-15-000027
Salary Level: GS-13 Equivalent: $73,115 - $95,048

Cuba: Dancer in body paint

Cuban dancer in body paint
See 3-minute video featuring:
  • Cuban dancers in body paint who are portraying the Taino Indians
  • A poolside dancer wearing a shirt that says "I don't care"
  • Las Damas de Blanco at El Cobre
  • José Daniel Ferrer
  • Campesinos
  • A police confrontation with a homeless man