As it turns out Oscar Corral’s article in today’s paper wasn’t the end of the story. A series of articles on the subject appeared on the Miami Herald’s and El Nuevo Herald’s web sites today, which will presumably be in tomorrow’s paper.
The gist of the stories is that much of the money gets spent here in US and that some of it has been spent on questionable items. The basis of the stories is a GAO report that was released today that suggests that better controls are necessary in administrating USAID programs that promote a peaceful transition in Cuba.
As I mentioned yesterday, the idea that government programs are wasteful and often don’t work as well is we would like is hardly news. The GAO produces literally hundreds of reports like this every year.
The articles also explain that much of the money was distributed to groups that submitted unsolicited proposals but that a competitive bid process is now in place. While the idea of unsolicited bids in a noncompetitive enviroment sounds scary, we aren’t talking about ordering weapons or paperclips. When you are trying to find ways to support dissidents you have to be creative and open-minded. You have to let people bring ideas to you. I suppose it’s kind of like being on the escape committee in a prisoner of war camp (remember the guy that wanted to pole vault the fence in the movie “Victory”?).
Here’s an understatement (from the GAO report’s highlights) for you:
The Cuban government’s active opposition to U.S. democracy assistance presents a challenging operating environment for State and USAID.
The full report explains the difficulties more fully:
Conditions in Cuba—a hard-line Communist state that restricts nearly all political dissent—pose substantial challenges to implementing, monitoring, and evaluating democracy assistance. USAID does not work cooperatively or collaboratively with the Cuban government, as it does in most countries receiving U.S. democracy assistance. The United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations, and the United States maintains an embargo on most trade. USINT staff is restricted to Havana. USAID does not have staff in Cuba, and Cuba program office staff have been unable to obtain visas to visit the island since 2002. Additionally, the range of Cuban partner organizations is significantly limited by U.S. law, which generally prohibits direct assistance to the Cuban government and NGOs with links to the government or the Communist Party.
Cuban law prohibits citizens from cooperating with U.S. democracy assistance activities authorized under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, punishable with prison terms of up to 20 years. Tactics for suppressing dissent include surveillance, arbitrary arrests, detentions, travel restrictions, exile, criminal prosecutions, and loss of employment. Neighborhood committees (known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) monitor residents’ activities; those identified as dissidents are subject to intimidation (acts of repudiation), including psychological and physical violence. Independent groups, dissidents, and activists face constant harassment and infiltration by Cuban government agents. In 2003, the Cuban government arrested and sentenced 75 leading dissidents and activists to terms of up to 28 years in prison…
The Cuban government also substantially restricts and controls the flow of information, routinely monitoring international and domestic telephone calls and fax transmissions. As of 2006, only about 200,000 Cubans out of a total population of 11 million had been granted official access to the Internet. The use of satellite dishes, radio antennas, fax machines, and cellular telephones is restricted due to high costs, laws, and the threat of confiscation. The customs service also routinely monitors mail, freight shipments, and visitors’ baggage for materials with political content…