The USAID Cuba program got a new black eye as White House aide Felipe Sixto resigned because of alleged improprieties involving USAID money during his three years working at the Center for a Free Cuba, where he worked as chief of staff until last July.
Sixto resigned March 20. The White House held the story until late Friday afternoon, the time when bad news is released to minimize coverage.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, quoted by AFP, said: “Our understanding is that Mr Sixto allegedly had a conflict of interest with the use of USAID funds by his former employer.” Stanzel says the matter has been referred to the Justice Department.
A more informative statement came from an unidentified White House official who told the Washington Post that Sixto had “misused federal grant money for personal gain.”
USAID, as usual, provided the least information of all.
Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba gave an interview to the left-of-center blog Talking Points Memo, which reported:
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for A Free Cuba, told me that the center “became aware of the allegations weeks ago, and we informed USAID immediately.” He said that the USAID inspector general had been investigating Sixto’s possible misuse of the funds. He said he had “no idea” how much money was missing, but that “we’re anxious to cooperate in any way shape or form to get to the very bottom of it. We expect that all funds in question will be returned to the American taxpayer.”
Miami Congressional candidate Joe Garcia issued a statement saying that the incident highlights “the fundamental flaws of a policy designed to win votes in Miami and patronize partisan supporters – not bring freedom to Cuba…millions of dollars intended to fuel a democratic change in Cuba are ending up in the hands of Bush/Diaz-Balart cronies and never makes it to the island.”
Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart said in a joint statement they were “deeply disturbed by any allegation of misuse of taxpayer funds” and urged the Department of Justice and the Inspector General of the USAID “to move thoroughly and swiftly in investigating all the facts in this matter.”
Last June, Garcia and Calzon tussled on the Miami television program Polos Opuestos, hosted by Maria Elvira Salazar. Calzon departed the set when Garcia used the verb “take” to refer to the receipt of USAID grants by Calzon’s organization.