Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cuba Democracy Program must be preserved

Posted on Saturday, 02.22.14

Cuba Democracy Program must be preserved

During the confirmation hearings of Sen. John Kerry for secretary of
state, Sen. Marco Rubio asked Kerry whether, if confirmed, he would
continue his efforts to "halt the Cuba democracy programs" of the Agency
for International Development (USAID).

According to the Congressional Record, Kerry's answer was: "If confirmed
I will continue U.S. policies that promote democracy, freedom of
expression and assembly, and human rights in Cuba … The Cuban democracy
programs are one element of the strategy to support these objectives."

In March 2009, a report directed to President Obama's administration
made several recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness and
oversight of USAID's Cuba Democracy Program by the Cuban American
National Foundation. Those recommendations included more accountability
and frequency of auditing, expansion of the pool of grantees, as well as
requiring that the majority of funds be spent in direct support of
on-island civil society activism.

The administration acted upon our recommendations, with significant
positive results, as noted in a 2012 report by the General
Accountability Office that praised the progress attained by the program.
Equally notable has been the exponential growth in activism,
coordination and diversification among leaders and activists of the
opposition since 2010 due, in large part, to the support of the Cuban
Democracy Program, as well as the aid and interaction with the exiled
community once President Bush's 2003 restrictions on travel and
remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans were lifted.

The Damas de Blanco, a small group short of two dozen ladies going to
church on Sunday and marching with gladiolas in their hands, have now
become a national movement with more than 350 members active in nine
Cuban provinces. They're providing services to their neighbors, like
their recent distribution of toys to children during the feast of the
Epiphany. The Cuban Patriotic Union, initially active in Santiago de
Cuba, has spread throughout the island with more than 1,000 active members.

This activity, even though strictly nonviolent, has caught the attention
of the regime, which in the last six months has doubled the number of
imprisoned human-rights activists awaiting trial — and the number of
short-time arrests — from 2,074 in 2010 to 6,424 in 2013. The Castro
regime's most intensive propaganda effort has been directed against the
USAID Cuba Democracy Program and its elimination, along with Radio-TV
Marti broadcasts to Cuba.

This is why we must question the motives behind the recent move by
Congress to eliminate funding for the program from the 2014 budget. Are
we trying to please Raúl Castro, or is it simply that local Miami
politicking takes precedence over the fate of Cuba's brave internal

In 1996, when the final touches to the Helms-Burton bill were being
discussed, my father, Jorge Mas Canosa, and Sen. Bob Menendez, then a
congressman, were adamant that an effective program for helping the
development of Cuban civil society be included in the bill. They
prevailed, and their wisdom is reflected in the success of the Cuba
Democracy Program as well as the maturity, coordination and growth of
the independent activism of Cuba's growing civil society. The invaluable
contributions of USAID's Cuba Democracy Program, and the courageous
persistence of the on-island opposition, deserves our commitment to
their support and preservation.

Jorge Mas Santos, chairman, Cuban American National Foundation, Miami

Source: Cuba Democracy Program must be preserved - Letters to the Editor
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