Cuba democracy program funding held up in Congress

An Obama administration effort to spend another $20 million on Cuba democracy programs has been blocked for two months amid bitter clashes over policy and personalities.

Words like “backstabber” and “communist dupe” have been thrown about and the issue is littered with leaks and counter-leaks about alleged wrongdoings.

Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is offering to lift the “hold” he put on the money April 1 if the amount is cut to $15 million, according to a note sent by his committee staff to the State Department Friday. El Nuevo Herald obtained a copy.

Committee spokesman Fred Jones declined to comment on the note but said, “We are continuing discussions with the administration in an effort to make sure these programs are effective and meeting real objectives.”

Program supporters would not say whether the offer resolves the dispute, which has featured Kerry, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., their staffs and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“It’s been nasty — a Democratic committee chairman against a Democratic administration and another Democratic senator,” said a Senate aide who asked to remain anonymous to avoid the crossfire.

At the root of the fight are sharply different visions of the Cuba programs, which have cost $150 million since they were created in the 1990s to assist nongovernment groups on the island.

Havana denounces them as thinly varnished efforts at “regime change” and recently displayed several lots of seized communications equipment, including satellite dishes disguised as surf boards, it said were paid for with U.S. funds.

Kerry, in a note to the State Department shortly after he blocked the money, asked 13 pointed questions, essentially alleging the programs only provoke Havana, which has made it illegal to receive the U.S. funds.

The note alleges that U.S. money was used to “mobilize protests” in Cuba and that dissident groups are so thoroughly penetrated by Havana spies that the U.S. aid is, in effect, helping to finance the island’s intelligence services.

It also condemns the use of encrypted communications, secret codes and aliases in some of the programs, and adds that some of the Cuban recipients were not even aware their aid was coming from Washington.

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