No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
USAID programs in Cuba, which have been highly controversial in recent
years, aren’t funded under the Trump administration’s proposed State
Department budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
“As we work to streamline efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness
of U.S. taxpayer dollars, we acknowledge that we have to prioritize and
make some tough choices,” said a USAID spokesperson. “Focusing our
efforts will allow us to advance our most important policy goals of
protecting America and creating American jobs.”
There are no economic support funds for Cuba in the State Department’s
2018 budget proposal, which was released Tuesday. Such funding, which is
appropriated by Congress and provided to USAID by the State Department,
reached $20 million in fiscal year 2016 under the Obama administration.
Aid to Venezuela and Ecuador also has been cut completely and funding
for Nicaragua was whittled from $10 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to
$200,000 in the proposed budget. All are leftist governments.
The Trump administration proposed slashing the overall State Department
and USAID budget by around 30 percent to $37.6 billion. In his letter to
Congress justifying the 400-page budget proposal, Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson said the budget addresses “the importance of defending our
national security interests” but also acknowledges that “U.S. diplomacy
engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective.”
The proposed budget cuts are expected to face a tough slog through Congress.
“The White House is obligated to provide Congress its budget request but
Congress ultimately has the power of the purse,” said South Florida
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “This budget is very troubling when
it comes to democracy funding for countries in Latin America. It is
imperative for the United States to continue to support civil society
and human rights activists in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.”
Ros-Lehtinen said she would work with her “colleagues in Congress in a
bipartisan manner to ensure that we rectify this problem.”
Assistance to Cuba is governed by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the 1992
Cuban Democracy Act, which among other things, authorizes donations of
food to non-governmental organizations or individuals as well as other
assistance to individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent,
democratic change in Cuba.
Cuba has always said the USAID programs aren’t welcomed.
Cuba programs that USAID advertised last year included $6 million in
grants offered over a three-year period to organizations to “provide
humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and
politically marginalized individuals and groups in Cuba,” and a $754,000
program to bring Cuban young people to the United States for internships.
Among USAID programs for Cuba that have caught flak in recent years were
a failed effort to co-opt the Cuban hip-hop scene to spark a youth
movement that would speak out against the government, a program to
create a secret Twitter-like network called ZunZuneo and an event billed
as an HIV prevention workshop that brought young Latin Americans posing
as tourists to Cuba with a mission of scouting for “potential
The Associated Press, which first disclosed these projects in 2014, said
the goal of ZunZuneo was first to create a program for Cubans to speak
freely among themselves and then funnel political content that could
create political unrest.
USAID said ZunZuneo’s goal was to connect Cubans so eventually they
could engage on topics of their choice and that only tech news, sports
scores and trivia were sent out on ZunZuneo. But a report by the Office
of Inspector General found some early messages, which mocked Cuban
leaders, contained political satire.
ZunZuneo was starting up just as USAID subcontractor Alan Gross was
arrested in Havana in December 2009 for distributing satellite equipment
in Cuba to link with the internet. Gross was sentenced to 15 years by a
Cuban court that ruled his intent was to undermine the government, but
he was released after serving five years Dec. 17, 2014. It was the day
the United States and Cuba announced a rapprochement after more than a
half century of hostilities.
There are few direct references to Cuba in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal.
But under Migration and Refugee Assistance programs in the Western
Hemisphere, which are budgeted for $51.3 million, is this reference: “In
Cuba, resources enable the State Department to support the Migrant
Operations Center at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay. Under 306 Executive
Order 13276, the State Department is responsible for the care of
migrants interdicted at sea, determined to be in need of protection,
while they await third country resettlement.”
Amid all the cutting, the budget proposes a $40,00 increase to $2.41
million for the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC). This
quasi-judicial agency within the Department of Justice adjudicates
claims of U.S. nationals against foreign governments. The proposal says
the agency’s budget would go for the continued evaluation of claims, to
maintain the decisions and records of past claims programs and to
modernize such records by creating and updating databases.
While the FCSC deals with outstanding claims around the world, it is the
repository of 5,913 certified claims against Cuba valued at more than
$1.9 billion. In today’s dollars with interest added, those claims for
sugar mills, ranches, utilities, corporate holdings and personal
property would be worth around $8 billion.
However, Cuba claims the United States owes it billions in reparations
for economic damages caused by the U.S. embargo and for human damages
for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the bombing of a Cubana airliner and other
deadly U.S.-supported incursions on Cuban soil.
The two sides met to discuss the claims during the Obama administration
but at this point they have said little more than they hope their claims
can be resolved in a “mutually satisfactory manner.”
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Source: No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump’s FY 2018 budget | Miami Herald