Members Urge Pro-Democracy Support

Friday, February 5, 2010
Members of Congress Urge Obama Administration to Resume Aid to Pro-Democracy Movement in Cuba

Washington, DC – Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL), Mike Pence (IN), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Dan Burton (IN), Connie Mack (FL), Thaddeus McCotter (MI), Todd Tiahrt (KS), Connie Mack (FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (FL) sent a letter today to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern about the current suspension of democracy assistance programs for Cuba’s independent civil society and the manner in which the Administration is handling the arrest of Alan Gross, the American citizen incarcerated in Havana two months ago.

Text of the letter to Secretary Clinton:

“We are greatly concerned about the manner in which the Administration is handling the arrest of Alan Gross, the American citizen who has been incarcerated in Cuba without charge since December 4th, and the consequences of his arrest on U.S. democracy assistance programs.

It appears that the Administration has opted to handle Mr. Gross’ arrest by trying to appease the Cuban dictatorship. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has gone so far as to discourage democracy assistance grantees from traveling to Cuba to provide aid to members of Cuba’s independent civil society and is surveying grantees about whether it is possible to provide assistance without having to travel to Cuba. Furthermore, USAID has yet to announce the solicitation for new grant proposals for the disbursement of FYs 2009 and 2010 democracy assistance funding, despite the requirement of the law. In fact, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been informed that the Administration is considering taking democracy assistance funding in a “new direction.”

Congress and previous Administrations have maintained a long-standing commitment to supporting Cuba’s internal pro-democracy movement and in recent years, pursuant to Congressional intent, the United States has significantly increased aid to the island’s growing independent civil society. On the island we have seen how diverse sectors of independent civil society have emerged to create new social, political and cultural spaces. The Cuban dictatorship is greatly threatened by the evident progress of the pro-democracy movement and is utilizing the arrest of Mr. Gross to force the United Sates to cease providing aid to Cuba’s independent civil society.

Just this week, we were informed that the State Department will proceed with the scheduled “migration talks” with the Cuban dictatorship on February 19th. It is unsettling for the State Department to be proceeding with “migration talks” and to have, in effect, suspended on-island assistance programs, while an American citizen continues to be under arrest in one of Castro's prisons and human rights activists on the island are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. This policy of acquiescing to the wishes of the Cuban dictatorship emboldens and encourages it to prolong Mr. Gross’ incarceration in the hopes of obtaining further concessions from the United States.

We urge you to suspend all talks with the Cuban dictatorship until Mr. Gross is freed, and that you demand that he be immediately released. We also respectfully request that you call on USAID to proceed swiftly with the solicitation process, as called for by U.S. law, so that all interested non-governmental organizations may submit grant requests to provide needed assistance to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your prompt response.”