Politics & Government

USAID defends $3.4M Cuba grant program

The U.S. Agency for International Development is strongly rejecting complaints of political favoritism in its grant of $3.4 million to a human rights group closely linked to the Cuban American National Foundation.

USAID this summer approved the three-year grant to the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), a Miami nonprofit created by CANF members, to help support civil society and democracy on the communist-ruled island.

News of the grant drew complaints from critics who allege that FHRC has little experience with such grants and point to the warm relations between CANF, the premier exile organization, and the Obama administration.

South Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart complained last week that U.S. funds for democracy programs in Cuba “should be provided only to organizations with strong experience and proven track records” on the island.

“It would be a disgrace if the Obama administration broke with tradition and used a penny of that critical funding to reward political cronies,” Diaz Balart added in a statement emailed.

Mark Lopes, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean and a former aide to Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said a “technical evaluation committee” made up of officials from government agencies is in charge of reviewing grant applications and selecting winners.

“The criteria for competing for USAID funds is included in the grant application This is a technical process based on the merits of the proposals submitted,” Lopes added. “No political appointee had any role in the selection process.”

Washington’s Cuba democracy programs have been criticized as inefficient and that they only provoke Havana authorities, who outlawed any cooperation and view the programs as “subversive” attempts for “regime change.”

USAID subcontractor Alan Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana on charges of undermining the island’s national security by providing a satellite telephone to Cuban Jews so they could connect to the Internet more easily.

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