Friday, April 2, 2010

Throwing Money at the Problem [Updated]

As usual, the Cuban Triangle by Phil Peters provides essential information about Cuba and U.S. policy towards Cuba, and two recent posts made me think about how expensive U.S. policy towards Cuba can be, and without any measure of its effectiveness.

In this post, Peters notices that the 20th(!) anniversary of TV Marti, the U.S.-funded television station that transmits a variety of programs to Cuba (and which seems to lack an audience), passed last week without anyone else noticing. Surprised? (I myself couldn't find any mention of it on their website, or in the archives.) "But the program chugs on, about $10 million per year, a monument to the idea that in this corner of U.S. foreign policy, intentions can count for more than results," concludes Peters.

[Radio and TV Marti's estimated budget last year was $34.8 million, this year the Office of Cuba Broadcasting has requested $32.4 million [PDF, Broadcasting Board of Governors 2010 budget requests]

And in an earlier post, Peters notes how USAID, the government-funded agency that provides "foreign assistance" to a host of countries, has proposed $20 million for "civil society initiatives" inside Cuba. Peters links to a copy of the budget plan [PDF] and it seems that $1.7 million will be directed towards Cuba's political prisoners and their families, such as the Ladies in White. (One can immediately imagine how the Cuban government will react to this plan.)

Other funds go to organizations like Freedom House and the International Republican Institute. But, Peters argues that President Obama should restore "people-to-people" licenses (suspended since 2003) and allow American civil society to travel to Cuba, and do for free what we are now paying millions for without any indication of effectiveness.

But, what concerns me most is the appearance that USAID is essentially funding Cuba's dissident groups, and this can become problematic on many levels. But, most importantly how do Americans feel about their government supporting a dissident movement in Cuba?

One analysis of polling data found that American don't really approve of government support towards dissidents of a non-democratic country. Instead, a majority of Americans seem to favor democracy-promoting efforts that are more cooperative and (not surprisingly) multilateral in nature towards countries that are headed towards democracy.


The Cuban Triangle links to a recent article from Laura Rozen at Politico describing the temporary hold on USAID initiatives towards Cuba. The article says that the Cuba plans are under review and quotes a "former senior State Department official" saying:

"These are counterproductive programs...are completely ineffective coming from the U.S.," the former official said. They are done in a "ham-handed" way that is ineffectual and causes a backlash against the [Cuban] civil society activists they intend to support.