Urgent: Calls needed, Congress about to vote on Cuba

The House of Representatives is voting today on the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which funds the Department of State and USAID programs. Included is funding for so-called "democracy programs" in Cuba. The bill includes $9 million for these programs, which is the same as FY 2007. The committee that wrote the bill points to prior misuse of this money and is requiring USAID and the Department of State to present a plan for improved coordination, and for oversight of the Cuba program.

The Bush Administration asked for $45 million for this program, a budgetary increase of $36 million. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart has introduced an amendment to the Foreign Ops bill to restore funding in the bill to reach the level of the Bush request, $45 million. The debate on this amendment was completed about an hour ago, and the vote on the amendment will happen in about two hours. This amendment must be defeated.

ACTION: Please call your member of Congress, ESPECIALLY IF HE/SHE IS A NEW MEMBER. See the LAWG website for a list of new members and their phone numbers: . Ask your member to VOTE AGAINST the Diaz-Balart/Sires amendment to increase USAID funding for "democracy assistance programs in Cuba."

Talking Points:

1. The Cuba program is ill-managed. Even if the Cuba program were well-conceived, it is so poorly managed as to be counter-productive. A November 2006 General Accounting Office study concluded that "poor monitoring and oversight of the Cuba program did not provide adequate assurance that funds were properly used." Administrative costs on the part of grantees were high; shipping costs to get goods into Cuba illegally were very high, and oversight of the goods chosen was inadequate. According to the GAO study, there were instances in which cashmere sweaters, Godiva chocolates, Nintendo Game Boys, and Sony Play Stations were among the items purchased in the United States, to be shipped to dissidents in Cuba.

2. In a year in which the foreign assistance budget is limited, there is no justification for an increase in U.S aid for Cuban dissidents. Between 1996 and 2005, USAID and the Department of State signed contracts worth $74 million for Cuba programs, according to the GAO study. The Administration is asking for a one-year FY2008 request that is more than 2/3 the size of what was committed over the ten years from 1996 and 2005. This request is 500% of what USAID received in the last fiscal year. Given how ill-conceived and ill-managed the program is, there is no justification for an aid increase. The $9 million level included in this bill should stand as written.

These talking points do not address the issue of the dissidents themselves, but they are written in a way that members of Congress can hear and support.

Please make your calls now. The vote happens soon. We cannot afford to lose this one.

Mavis Anderson
Latin America Working Group

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