In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 31

Sunday, June 5, 2011
From the Pulitzer Center:

Beyond fake boogie boards: Promoting democracy in Cuba

It was a novel plan: Disguise satellite dishes as boogie boards. Smuggle them into Cuba and set up a mobile Internet connection free from socialist government control.

"The internet works VERY RAPIDLY!" a technician told his Cuban contact while explaining the set up. "...You may use Skype, Yahoo video + voice... Next week we will be talking FOR FREE!"

But Cuban authorities say they were onto the plan from the beginning, and the improvised communication system wound up in the hands of Cuban agents, thwarting the U.S.-financed effort.

Three years later, U.S. democracy programs in Cuba have been redesigned and improved, their supporters say. And they are operating on the island, despite a 20-month delay in new funding and political fights over their effectiveness.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have set aside more than $94 million for the democracy programs since 2007, budget figures show. The programs form a key part of President Obama's bid to promote democratic change in Cuba, something 11 successive American presidents have failed to do.

"I think the programs are important," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a leader of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports hard-line policies against the Cuban government. "No program is perfect. But I think we have seen continuous improvement" [...]

Claver-Carone, a lawyer and lobbyist, said the Cuban government "hates these programs passionately" because the U.S. support "goes to people who don't agree with their views."

He is optimistic the $20 million will be distributed.

"Congress approved those funds. Congress voted. Even if Sen. Kerry completely disagrees, he's cognizant that this was voted on. This is Sen. Kerry holding up President Obama's request. It'll go through."

"We want to help the Cuban people. We're not trying to impose anything on them."