Who Benefits? Castro
Politics: With Democrats resisting spending cuts in the great budget battles, all of a sudden one Democrat, Sen. John Kerry, is interested in cutting a measly U.S. program to promote democracy in Cuba. Something smells bad.
The senior senator from Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has inexplicably put a “hold” on a $20 million USAID program to support democracy, human rights and civil society in Cuba, a crumbling communist dictatorship that hasn’t seen freedom in 52 years.
It’s not that Kerry has any interest in Cuba. Congressional sources say a top staffer with pro-Cuba sympathies, Fulton Armstrong, is putting the screws to the program even at the expense of his boss’ political interests. A lot of them think it would be nice to know why.
Ostensibly, the aim of Kerry’s “hold” is to save money. But wait a second — that’s because “the programs only provoke Havana, which has made it illegal to receive the U.S. funds,” as the Miami Herald reported.
From the U.S. perspective, that makes no sense. Wittingly or not, the beneficiary of this “hold” is the Castro regime, even if the “hold” just delays the program.
Initiated in 2005, the program has always enjoyed bipartisan support. Even the Obama administration favors it and has repeatedly said that full relations with Cuba cannot be restored until the regime moves to permit basic liberties. The hold has created an atmosphere of “fistfights” among Democrats, as one source told IBD.
There’s also no smoking gun of waste or fraud. Putting funds on hold will only ensure that Cuba’s oppressed citizens don’t get Internet and text-messaging access, dissidents go without food support, and students miss training on basic business concepts and how free markets work, among other things the program does.
Armstrong’s initiative is so strange it’s got Capitol Hill boggling at how it works against even the interests of his own boss. Hill sources say Kerry is interested in being named Obama’s next secretary of state. He’d be a shoe-in for that, but his “hold” puts in question whether he could be confirmed by his own fellow Democrats.
His successor on the committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is a Cuban-American who values this program highly. “What are his chances of getting confirmed after this?” a source close to Congress asks.
As Armstrong takes this rogue action, it’s notable that his pro-Cuba sympathies are no secret — he favors lifting the U.S. embargo and establishing diplomatic relations, like many Americans.