Monday, March 29, 2010

USAID, building people-to-people links – for foreigners

This is really special.

USAID’s recently issued summary of its plans for the next $20 million to be spent on its Cuba programs notes a $2.5 million expenditure to promote “‘people-to-people’ linkages between non-traditional civil society actors on the island and NGOs in the region.”

This is part of a program run by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. The idea is that the program “identifies emerging leaders and groups” in Cuba and builds linkages between them and counterparts abroad.

Americans used to travel to Cuba under licenses for people-to-people programs, at no expense to the taxpayer, but the Bush Administration ended licensing in that category in March 2003, and the Obama Administration has not restored it.

So now we are spending government money to build people-to-people contacts between Cubans and foreign nationals, while we continue to bar people-to-people programs that American civil society would carry out for free.

I doubt that the Obama Administration has consciously linked these two threads – funding foreign “people-to-people” links to Cuba, while continuing the severe Bush limits on those programs, student programs, and many more for Americans. But maybe it should link them. If the point is to build contacts with Cubans, why not look first at what Americans and American institutions would do for free, unencumbered by USAID’s political baggage, if Treasury regulations permitted them to do so?

Regarding that $20 million, the Washington Post editorial page broke the news that Senator Kerry has put a “hold” on its disbursement. (AFP quotes some dissidents supporting such a review.) The same editorial cites government officials saying that the USAID program is now spending “less on political operations outside” of Cuba.

Finally, Congressman Van Hollen released a letter calling for the release of his constituent, Alan Gross, who was detained in Cuba while working on a USAID contract.

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