Saturday, 15 January 2011

How Obama's USAID operates in Cuba

Reversing Bush policies: "Like taking cocaine from an addict."
Source: Along the Malecón, 27 November 2010.
by Tracey Eaton.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent some $140 million toward Cuba pro-democracy programs since 1996. The Obama administration is asking for another $20 million for fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30, 2011.

Over the past few years, USAID has gotten behind on programming and distributing funds. The agency is still working its way through fiscal 2009 funds, and says it’s too early to say how much of that money has reached Cuba. But USAID told me in a statement:
The vast majority of this money is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba. Our objective is to maximize the amount of support that benefits Cubans on the island. Since the $15.62 million in fiscal year 2009 funds has recently been programmed, it is too early to have a precise figure at this point, but the overall goal is to have the funds directly benefit Cubans on the island.
I posted that statement on Oct. 25. Later a former State Department officer told me he believes that the USAID statement was “horseshit.”
Speaking to me on condition of anonymity, he said:
Only a tiny fraction of the money ever gets to these regime opponents. A tiny fraction of it. For them to juice up their rhetoric as if the regime-change programs were going full bore…It’s really too bad that your source said that because it’s not true.
Whoever you talked to is somebody that’s using talking points prepared by the extreme right wing that supports these regime-change programs and wants them to be as provocative toward the regime as possible.
The source said President Obama has signed off on new people-to-people programs related to Cuba, but supporters of more aggressive tactics persuaded the White House not to implement the programs quite yet.
Such programs will make it easier for people to bring money and assistance to Cubans, and not just regime opponents.
The source said he believes that some of the pro-democracy programs may not legal under USAID and State Department guidelines. USAID and State Department employees:
are not authorized to do covert actions. They’re not authorized to do classified programs in foreign countries. And they’re not authorized to do clandestine political activities, which they’ve been doing.
The source said the State Department did not sign off on and was not aware of the activities of Alan Gross, who was arrested in Cuba on Dec. 3, 2009.
They were unaware. And some of them, in a moment of honesty, say, ‘Well, that’s pretty fucking stupid.’ If you’re going to do satellite communications gear, something that provocative, then you should at least should do some basic research and the person who goes and does it should at least be a Spanish speaker.
Ending these kinds of programs is difficult, the source said.
It’s very tough because the bureaucracy loves these programs. They love the clandestinity and all of that.
Such programs endure, the source said, even when some of the pro-democracy funds are funneled to Cuban:
government-controlled agents, and it doesn’t matter because it is really fun to spend money and run programs and do clandestine operations. It’s really, really fun. And it’s really fun to have no supervision. You basically move it all out of the government so it can’t be FOIA’ed. It can’t be FOIA’ed and there’s no accountability.
The source contends that these types of pro-democracy programs are not always effective. He said:
This shit doesn’t work. It undermines the legitimacy of these people. It opens them up to – even the good ones, the sincere ones – it opens them all up to severe criticism if not arrest by the Cuban government because like in the United States to be a foreign agent is against the law. If the Cubans came and started passing around money in the United States of America, we would arrest that person. We would arrest the recipients, too, for receiving foreign money.
The moral question of whether we should support democracy isn’t on the table. Of course, we support democracy. All of this is looking at the how.
The source was referring to how such programs should be carried out. He asked:
Why are these treated as clandestine programs? Where's the oversight? What are we doing with taxpayer money? There's no accountability.
These programs have cost $160 million. Show us where it has contributed, where it has helped the Cuban people, not contractors and lobbyists. No one dares ask that question because there's no answer.
Another shortcoming of the pro-democracy programs, he said, is that once private contractors start operating pro-democracy programs, they sometimes use their political assets, their surrogates, to attack interests who work against their political goals.
For example, John Kerry put a hold on regime-change programs. Surprise, surprise, the people that are nurtured and funded by the some of the Miami-based groups, start attacking Senator Kerry.
Or Cardinal Ortega successfully negotiates the release of political prisoners. Surprise, surprise. The people who don’t want there to be an improvement in bilateral relations start attacking Cardinal Ortega through their surrogates on the island.
The source said he didn’t know how the situation will evolve, but believes that it will be difficult to reverse policies implemented during the Bush administration.
The bureaucracy has basically hijacked this policy, which then puts the political people in the position of trying to wrestle it away from them. But, boy, that’s like taking cocaine from an addict.