USAID requests proposals for Cuba programs
Money for another set of programs to promote democracy in Cuba is still
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
The U.S. Agency for International Development is pushing ahead with Cuba
programs worth $21 million, although another $20 million remains blocked
after oddly mixed signals by aides to Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
Staffers on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Kerry,
lifted his "hold" on the money Friday but put it back on ice Monday,
said several U.S. government officials.
"Something smells bad," Investor's Business Daily wrote in an editorial
that quoted unidentified Capitol Hill sources as pointing a finger at a
"rogue" committee staffer "with pro-Cuba sympathies."
USAID's public notices Monday requesting proposals on how to spend $21
million were merely a procedural step for future multi-year programs,
said the U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity.
The three notices listed $9 million for civil society entities such as
cooperatives and church groups; $6 million to expand Cubans' access to
information; and $6 million to increase free expression among Cubans
aged 12 to 14.
The $21 million has not been approved by Congress. The $20 million being
blocked by Kerry is part of $40 million for Cuba democracy programs
already approved by the full Congress in 2008.
Cuba has made it illegal to cooperate with the programs and sentenced
USAID subcontractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for delivering
communications equipment paid for by the U.S. government to Jewish
groups on the island.
Kerry put a "hold" on the money in April, arguing the programs were
wasteful and provocative.
But he seemed ready to give in last week. His committee staffers
notified the State Department — which includes USAID — on Friday that
the hold was being lifted, but then on Monday it returned, several U.S.
officials told El Nuevo Herald.
Committee spokesman Frederick Jones, asked twice on Monday about reports
that the Kerry hold had been lifted, replied only that "the status
remains the same."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has a second hold on the Cuba money because
of questions about the programs, but those are widely expect to be
resolved this week.
The Tuesday editorial in Investor's Business Daily, a national business
journal, said Kerry is "inexplicably" holding up the $20 million.
The Kerry committee note to the State Department putting the hold on the
money asked for the names of all contractors and subcontractors involved
in the Cuba programs. The State Department reply did not provide the
names, amid complaints they might be leaked to Havana.
The editorial added that the Cuban programs hold goes against the
interests of Kerry, widely reported to be interested in serving as the
next secretary of state.
Kerry's nomination would have to be confirmed by the Foreign Affairs
But if he leaves the Senate, he is likely to be succeeded as chairman by
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat who strongly
favors the Cuba democracy programs.
Kerry's hold also runs counter to an Obama administration "liberation
technology" campaign to help dissidents in repressive countries use
secretive Internet and mobile phone technologies to sidestep government
The campaign involves an "Internet in a suitcase" and "stealth wireless
networks" to allow dissidents in countries such as Iran, Syria and Libya
to communicate with each other and abroad, according to a New York Times
report published Sunday.