Posts in Bob Menendez
It's not often you see public infighting between an administration and a Senate chairman of the same party. But last week, an impasse over USAID's Cuba program between USAID and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry heated up on the pages of The Miami Herald. According to the Herald, somebody called somebody a "Communist dupe" and the word "backstabbing" was thrown around.
What's the ruckus about? Last spring, the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Committees charged with foreign affairs put holds on FY09 USAID funds for its Cuba program. The two chairmen questioned the efficacy of a program which (do we have to remind anyone at this point?) has had its fair share of problems. After successive investigations uncovered embarassing misuse of funds, fraud and embezzlement, and a lack of demonstrable or significant results, the arrest of an American USAID subcontractor in Cuba forced Congress to finally examine how practicable USAID's democracy mission in Cuba really is.
The Chairmen seemed to come to an understanding with USAID after numerous consultations together last spring, and released their holds. The result was a $5 million cut to the program and a shift in the program's strategy and implementation. This spring, when USAID gave notice to Congress that it was ready to spend FY2010 funds, Kerry again held the funds (which were back to $20 million), and submitted more than a dozen detailed questions to USAID. (The notification is here. The questions and answers are here.)
It's pretty in-the-weeds stuff, but the upshot I get from reading it is that team Kerry thinks that USAID hasn't lived up to whatever deals were agreed to last spring. But team USAID thinks not only has it done enough, but that it can "take" Kerry in this rematch. How else to explain administration officials leaking an email from a Democratic chairman's office to the media?
As our readers no doubt noticed, the Rubio - Menendez amendment intended to curb U.S. travel to Cuba (via restricting the flights that may go there) went nowhere. And as one Cuban blogger and recent immigrant to the United States, Ernesto Morales Licea, writes at the Huffington Post via Yoani Sanchez: " . . . fortunately, when there is great nonsense there will always be great common sense to contain it. . . . "
I'm not so confident as Morales that good sense always contains the nonsense, but I am heartened to hear what Morales has to say in defense of our great democracy:
"When governments or state officials forget their limits and begin to decide what kind of religion its people should practice, or what television they should watch (in Cuba today they broadcast a nightly program called "The Best of Telesur," where they select, with tweezers, what Cubans should see even within this "friendly" channel), when the government begins to regulate, for example, where its citizens can or cannot travel, the foundations of democracy, by definition, are cracking."
Morales isn't interested in whether Rubio and Menendez's oft-repeated justifications for curtailing the rights of Americans and Cuban Americans to travel freely to Cuba - to avoid enriching the Cuban government - actually hold water (they don't, he says). He argues that what makes our democracy pure is that we protect the civil liberties of our citizenry above whatever interests might possibly (or even definitely) be served in exchange.
Oddly enough, freshman GOP Senator (and Tea Party darling) Marco Rubio is counting on Democrat Bob Menendez to hold the line on Cuba policy reforms in the Senate this year. But, he told two hard-line Miami radio show hosts, he does plan to educate his fellow colleagues from agriculture states about political prisoners in Cuba (afterall, they’re “not communists” – they just don’t know any better).
Rubio disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision to ease restrictions on family travel in 2009 (see here for why), and tells the Miami-based Radio Mambi show that he thinks the administration may be looking to do more. (H/T to Politico's Ben Smith for posting the interview.) My informal translation follows:
“It’s important that this community and especially our elected officials, especially those holding federal office, express clearly that our position hasn’t changed and won’t change. If there’s something that has to change here, it’s in Cuba, there needs to be a change in government there. And if U.S. policy should change toward Cuba, then it should become even more tough.”
Does that refrain sound hopelessly familiar to anyone? I’m sure an hour on the internet could turn up numerous such statements from Florida politicians and Bush administration officials in the last decade alone.
Rubio, and anyone following Cuba news last year, knows well that the inter-agency approved new regulations for Cuba travel last summer. But perhaps he’s worried about any progress this week at the next round of twice-yearly bilateral talks on the 1994-95 migration accords.