US Congress freezes funds for Cuba political change

July 23rd, 2008 - 11:23 am ICT by IANS  

Miami (Florida), July 23 (IANS) The US Congress has frozen $45 million in government funding to promote political change in Cuba after a series of troubling audits, the EFE news agency reported Wednesday. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) tried to keep the amount from going into effect by carrying out an in-depth review of its programmes meant to promote democracy in Cuba, the report quoted the Miami Herald as saying Tuesday.

Among the activities undertaken by USAID was the suspension of all economic aid to a Miami anti-Castro group that spent at least $11,000 in federal funds on personal articles, the paper said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman ordered freezing of the grants in June in response to a $500,000 fraud committed by the centre for a Free Cuba group in Washington.

Stephen Driesler, USAID deputy assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs, said in a communique that his organisation had put into practice “the strictest financial reviews”, the newspaper said.

The investigation showed “irregularities in the Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia (Group in Support of Democracy)”, a Cuban organisation in exile in Miami.

“USAID has decided to conduct an immediate review of all grants to determine where financial vulnerabilities exist and how best to address these vulnerabilities to strengthen the programme for future success,” he said.

A study prepared by the influential Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), and released last May, criticized that less than 17 percent of the $70 million distributed by the US government since 1996 to promote democracy in Cuba “was used for direct assistance to the island”.

A large part of the funds, according to the CANF report, was diverted to pay the expenses of exile groups and for studies promoting democracy in Cuba by US universities and institutions.

“When we have problems with two institutions in a period of six months, one hopes it isn’t a pattern, but it’s better to investigate and be sure,” Driesler said.

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