How to Wean Miami off the USAID Cuba Program
Today marks one year since a USAID subcontractor, Alan Gross of Bethesda, MD, allegedly helping the Cuban Jewish community connect via internet to the Jewish community outside of Cuba, was taken into Cuban custody at the conclusion of his fifth such trip to the island. Cuban authorities maintain that he broke Cuban laws, and have even suggested in a couple of instances that he was a spy. U.S. authorities, meanwhile, insist that Gross did nothing wrong, broke no laws, and that Gross's work would not have been a problem in other countries around the world. Alan Gross's wife considers her husband a political pawn, and believes both the U.S. and Cuba could take steps to improve relations and in the process, bring her husband home.
I'm with Judy Gross on this. If Alan Gross violated Cuban laws, he should know and face the charges against him in a fair and open trial.
Unfortunately, Cuba's failure to move the case along has merely enabled Washington's own immobility. Simply demanding his release, as the State Department again did once again yesterday, clearly isn't getting anywhere. It would be a lot easier to sit back and fold our arms ("We don't negotiate with hostage takers!") if our own government hadn't played a starring role in Gross's predicament in the first place. Beyond the intrepid oversight efforts of Senator John Kerry and Congressman Howard Berman (whose committees have jurisdiction over the program) there's been zero effort - beyond a cursory "at your own risk" warning to future USAID Cuba program contractors - from the U.S. side to take responsibility for what happened here. And in that vacuum, Tracey Eaton reports, people like former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, continue to offer platitudes like this one:
"Americans can be proud that this is one of a handful of countries that has supported the aspirations of the Cuban people to claim control of their future from a cruel Stalinist regime."
Noriega tells himself - and any of us who will buy his line - that we're helping the Cuban people free themselves. Setting aside whether he's right or wrong, what happens when our own citizens end up in a Cuban jail instead? How does that make anyone better off?
The problem, of course, is that the USAID program is so hyperpoliticized, that it's become a zero sum game. Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque, who accepts support from the program, points out, "One must eat." Mauricio Claver-Carone (who runs the ubiquitous pro-embargo U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC) clearly agrees, suggesting that any congressional purse-string tightening of the program is a signal that the U.S. "[doesn't] care about Cuba's dissidents anymore and that's music to the regime's ears."
Well I've got a great idea for Claver-Carone. Instead of raising money to stuff in politicians' pockets several times a year, in the hopes they won't cut of these USAID funds along with all of the other wasteful spending newly elected Republicans are sure to go after come January, why not ask his PAC donors to support Cuba's dissidents instead? Why does the U.S. government need to be involved at all, particularly when U.S. government funding triggers the very sort of legal problems Alan Gross is now facing? While private support of Cuban dissidents would encounter some of the same limitations it does when it comes from the U.S. Treasury, Claver-Carone and his passionate donors could feel safe in the knowledge that they did their best to make it possible for people like Marta Beatriz Roque to eat (which could become a concern once Cuba's ration card really phases out), without asking the U.S. taxpayer to do it for them.
Note: the above photo, of Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque, with then-U.S. Interests Section Chief Jim Cason standing behind her, comes from a Cuban government sponsored website. Just sayin'.
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