Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gotta Keep The Cuban-American Exiles Happy

Receipts? I don't provide no stinking receipts.

Nearly all of the $74 million a federal agency has spent on contracts to promote democracy in Cuba over the past decade has been distributed without competitive bidding or oversight in a program that opened the door to waste and fraud, according to a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office. ...

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who requested the audit along with Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.), said the lack of oversight and the failure to follow government rules led to creation of a money trough that existed largely to provide jobs and operating funds to Miami-based activists who oppose Cuba's communist government.

"I think that this administration and to some extent the last wanted simply to curry favor with the Cuban American exile community," Flake said. "It's been kind of a bipartisan thing, and you haven't had anybody really challenge it. We just kind of turned away." ...

Flake and Delahunt chair the bipartisan Cuba Working Group, which has pushed unsuccessfully for changes in long-standing travel restrictions and economic sanctions -- tightened by the Bush administration -- that prohibit sending virtually anything to Cuba. "What is striking about this," Flake said of the democracy program, "is we're basically spending money to beat our own embargo."

Under Clinton-era legislation, USAID distributes money to U.S. groups to send surreptitious aid -- including food, medicine and office supplies -- to Cuba and non-monetary assistance to political dissidents and independent journalists trying to operate within the island's tightly controlled communist system. The administration has promised an additional $80 million in funding over the next two years and expanded the program to include detailed plans for a transition to democracy in Cuba. Planning has accelerated with President Fidel Castro's relinquishment of power to his brother, Raul. Although the official Cuban government position is that Fidel Castro is recovering from surgery and will return to office, U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe he has terminal cancer.


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