Saturday, June 11, 2011

Top lawmakers in dispute over money for Cuba

Top lawmakers in dispute over money for Cuba
By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press – Fri Jun 10, 5:49 pm ET

WASHINGTON – A private congressional dispute over democracy programs in
Cuba went public Friday, with a House committee chairwoman accusing her
Senate counterpart of failing to understand what she calls "the brutal
nature of the Havana tyranny."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee,
criticized Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for blocking $20 million in U.S.
money slated for the programs this year and for suggesting that the
programs led to the imprisonment of Alan Gross, an American contractor
jailed in Cuba.

"U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba advance our foreign policy
goals of helping to bring freedom to the Cuban people and to facilitate
a transition to democracy," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Senator
Kerry has suggested that U.S. democracy promotion programs provoked the
Cuban regime into wrongfully imprisoning a U.S. citizen who was helping
the Cuban people overcome the dictatorship's censorship. I believe this
demonstrates a lack of understanding of the brutal nature of the Havana
tyranny. It is my hope that Senator Kerry will reconsider his position."

The Florida Republican, who was born in Havana, also sent a letter to
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praising the programs as
critical and arguing that the struggle of the Cuban people is no less
deserving that the U.S. support for activists in the Middle East and
North Africa.

Kerry's office had no immediate response to Ros-Lehtinen.

Gross was working on a USAID-funded democracy-building program when he
was arrested in December 2009. In March, he was sentenced to 15 years in
prison after being convicted of bringing communications equipment into
Cuba illegally. His lawyer is appealing.

Cuba considers the millions of dollars spent on USAID-funded projects to
be aimed at toppling the government, and it has called Gross a spy. U.S.
officials say relations with Havana cannot improve while he remains in jail.

Gross' daughter and elderly mother both have cancer, and State
Department officials have expressed hope that Cuba might release him on
humanitarian grounds.

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