The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a $982.8 billion spending package that includes $20 million for democracy promotion in Cuba and $12,973,000 for Radio and TV Martí.
The spending would cover fiscal year 2020, which runs from Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020.
The House Committee on Appropriations included a request that the Secretary of State provide a timeline for the return of U.S. diplomats to the embassy in Havana.
Reports that some sort of acoustic attack or disturbance had injured U.S. personnel led to a drastic staff reduction in May 2018.
The Appropriations Committee wrote:
The Committee notes recent diplomatic and policy changes regarding the United States’ economic relationship with Cuba. The Committee directs the Secretary of State to submit to the appropriate congressional committees, not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, a clear and concise strategy for providing certainty for United States businesses legally operating in Cuba, consistent with the shared objective of avoiding negative impacts on American businesses. The strategy should include:
- how the Department of State intends to ensure that engagement between the United States and Cuba advances the interests of the United States and the Cuban people, including encouraging the growth of a Cuban private sector independent of government control, as stated in National Security Presidential Memorandum;
- the impact of the United States Embassy Havana staff reduction on embassy operations, including visa processing; and
- a timeline for the safe return of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana to previous levels.
The Committee expects USAGM to continue the focus on countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, where authoritarian governments censor news coverage and access to independent media is restricted.
The committee recommended that the federal government set aside $12,973,000 for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is equal to the White House’s fiscal year 2020 request.
The committee said the State Department would manage the $20 million for democracy promotion. The funds appear under the Economic Support Fund and are aimed at “democracy building, human rights, and civil society initiatives in Cuba.”
The Trump administration, which has sought drastic cuts for international development and diplomacy, had recommended spending of just $6 million.
The administration envisioned zeroing out or eliminating funds in the Agency for International Development’s Development Assistance account and consolidating that budget line with the State Department’s Economic Support Fund.
The new budget line would be called the Economic Support and Development Fund, or ESDF, and $6 million would be set aside for Cuba for fiscal 2020.
Of that, $3 million would be used to “promote respect for human rights and support human rights activists” and $3 million would be used to “identify and engage the next generation of Cuban civil society leaders.”
House Resolution 2839 must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president before it becomes law.
I would imagine that competing interests include Sen. Marco Rubio, National Security Advisor John Bolton and others who want to step up the pressure on Cuba, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who has pressed for cuts to international programs.