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realclearworld

Cuba democracy programs run by U.S. improving, says GAO

Juan Tamayo in the Miami Herald:

U.S. government report says America’s Cuba democracy programs have improved

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report sees some improvements in Cuba democracy programs.

An exhaustive review of Washington’s controversial Cuba democracy programs gave the U.S. Agency for International Development a passing grade but noted that the State Department must improve its links to the groups that implement the programs.

The Government Accountability Office report issued Thursday was in sharp contrast to GAO reports in 2006 and 2008 that listed numerous problems with the programs, including the purchase of Nintendo Game Boys and Godiva chocolates with U.S. funds.

Thursday’s report “should confirm that our Cuba democracy programs are comparable to what we and other donors do to support people in repressive societies all over the world,” said Mark Lopes, head of USAID’s Latin American and Caribbean section.

Secretary of State John Kerry, then chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ordered up the latest GAO report in September 2011 as committee staffers complained the programs were ineffective and wasteful and merely provoked Cuban authorities.

Cuba has outlawed cooperation with the “subversive” programs, and USAID subcontractor Alan Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana for delivering sophisticated communications equipment to Cuban Jewish communities.

Congress has appropriated more than $205 million since 1996 — the majority after 2004 — for the Cuba programs, officially designed to support non-government sectors, including dissidents, women and youths, and promote freedom of information.

The 58-page report by the GAO, the government’s main internal watchdog agency, after a 15-month audit had no recommendations — a rarity — for USAID, which has handled most of the funds for the Cuba democracy programs.

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