The State Department is offering up to $1 million for programs that would boost “civil, political, religious, and labor rights in Cuba.”
U.S. officials contend that Cuban authorities have “taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to increase repression and harassment of independent journalists and civil society activists.”
“Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions,” the State Department said in a notice about the grant opportunity.
The application deadline is Dec. 21. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said it is seeking proposals that would “strengthen the capacity of independent civil society groups in Cuba to advance civil and political rights on-island and to increase accountability of Cuban officials for human rights violations and corruption.”
Proposals “should offer an approach that ties these objectives to the socio-economic and political issues that matter most to Cuban citizens.”
They should also “outline a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging obstacles that would have to be overcome, including the current coronavirus pandemic. Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that reflect recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts leading to long-term sustainable change.”
The State Department request was posted on Nov. 24 as interest in the San Isidro Movement grew, particularly in Cuba.
The graphic below tracks Google searches for the San Isidro Movement in English and in Spanish.
The timing of the State Department’s announcement may be coincidental, but I wonder if U.S. officials are looking for ways to capitalize on the furor over the San Isidro Movement.
The State Department said proposals “that promote creative approaches to recognized ongoing challenges are highly encouraged.”
The State Department’s full announcement is below:
Department of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest:
Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba
I. Requested Objectives for Statements of Interest
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (RSOI) from organizations interested in submitting concepts for programs that support the policy objective to foster civil, political, religious, and labor rights in Cuba.
PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly encourages applicants to immediately access SAMS Domestic or www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. For instructions on how to register with SAMS Domestic for the first time, please refer to the Proposal Submission Instructions for Statements of Interest at: https://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/285904.htm.
The submission of a Statement of Interest (SOI) is the first step in a two-part process. Applicants must first submit a SOI, which is a concise concept note (three page maximum) designed to clearly communicate a program idea and its anticipated outcomes. The purpose of the SOI process is to allow applicants the opportunity to submit program ideas for DRL to evaluate prior to requiring the development of full proposal applications. Upon review of eligible SOIs, DRL will invite selected applicants to expand their ideas into full proposal applications.
For more than sixty years, the Cuban regime has denied its citizens many of the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Political participation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are restricted through tightly controlled, undemocratic elections and by withholding legal status from independent civil society organizations, labor unions, and diverse political parties or movements. The free flow of information and freedom of expression are suppressed by blocking the Cuban peoples’ access to media outlets, and by censoring independent journalists, artists, and other individuals with alternative views. As connectivity slowly increases, the government is also expanding measures to surveil and harass citizens online to further inhibit the free flow of information and to prevent activists from connecting with broader audiences in and outside Cuba.
The Cuban government also abuses freedom of religion or belief by restricting the ability of faith communities to congregate and worship outside of the state-sanctioned Council of Churches. Cuban state security regularly threatens, harasses, arbitrarily arrests, detains, and restricts the movement of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists on-island. Human rights organizations report more than 100 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, most sentenced under dubious charges like “contempt” of Cuban authorities or “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” Furthermore, the regime has taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to increase repression and harassment of independent journalists and civil society activists. Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions.
Statements of Interest:
DRL seeks SOIs that support independent civil society groups and Cuban individuals in their efforts toward the realization of the liberties enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
DRL’s programmatic emphasis advances the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.” Specifically, DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the fundamental freedoms and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil, political, labor, and religious rights. DRL strives to ensure its projects also advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other individual characteristics.
DRL seeks SOIs that aim to strengthen the capacity of independent civil society groups in Cuba to advance civil and political rights on-island and to increase accountability of Cuban officials for human rights violations and corruption. SOIs should offer an approach that ties these objectives to the socio-economic and political issues that matter most to Cuban citizens. SOIs should also outline a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging obstacles that would have to be overcome, including the current coronavirus pandemic. Projects should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society. Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that reflect recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts leading to long-term sustainable change.
DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined SOI in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant. The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments. Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by independent Cuban civil society.
Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries. Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure the local partner organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.
To maximize the impact and sustainability of the award(s) that result(s) from this SOI/NOFO, DRL reserves the right to execute a non-competitive continuation amendment(s). Any non-competitive continuation is contingent on current or past award performance and availability of funds. A non-competitive continuation is not guaranteed; the Department of State reserves the right to exercise or not exercise the option to issue non-competitive continuation amendment(s).
Activities that typically are NOT considered competitive include:
• The provision of large amounts of humanitarian assistance;
• English language instruction;
• Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
• Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships;
• External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than three months;
• Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns;
• Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
• Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact;
• Initiatives directed solely towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba;
• Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.
Programs that are NOT funded:
• DRL does not fund programs for Cuba that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.
II. Eligibility Information
Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:
• Be a U.S.- or foreign-based non-profit/non-governmental organization (NGO), or a public international organization; or
• Be a private, public, or state institution of higher education; or
• Be a for-profit organization or business (noting there are restrictions on payment of fees and/or profits under grants and cooperative agreements, including those outlined in 48 CFR 30, “Cost Accounting Standards Administration”, and 48 CFR 31, “Contract Cost Principles and Procedures”); and
• Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders including private sector partner and NGOs; and
• Have demonstrable experience administering successful and preferably similar programs. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis.
Applicants may form consortia and submit a combined SOI. However, one organization should be designated as the lead applicant with the other members as sub-award partners.
DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. For-profit entities should be aware that its application may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process, and that the Department of State generally prohibits profit under its assistance awards to for-profit or commercial organizations. Profit is defined as any amount in excess of allowable direct and indirect costs. The allowability of costs incurred by commercial organizations is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at 48 CFR 30, Cost Accounting Standards Administration, and 48 CFR 31 Contract Cost Principles and Procedures. Program income earned by the recipient must be deducted from the program’s total allowable costs in determining the net allowable costs on which the federal share of costs is based.
DRL is committed to an anti-discrimination policy in all of its programs and activities. DRL welcomes SOI submissions irrespective of race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other status.
No entity listed on the Excluded Parties List System in the System for Award Management (SAM) is eligible for any assistance or can participate in any activities under an award in accordance with the OMB guidelines at 2 CFR 180 that implement Executive Orders 12549 (3 CFR 1986 Comp., p. 189) and 12689 (3 CFR1989 Comp., p. 235), “Debarment and Suspension.” Additionally, no entity listed on the EPLS can participate in any activities under an award. All applicants are strongly encouraged to review the EPLS in SAM to ensure that no ineligible entity is included.
Organizations are not required to have a valid Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) number—formerly referred to as a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number—and an active SAM.gov registration to apply for this solicitation through SAMS Domestic. However, if a SOI is approved, these will need to be obtained before an organization is able to submit a full application. Therefore, we recommend starting the process of obtaining a SAM.gov registration as soon as possible. Please note that there is no cost associated with UEI or SAM.gov registration.
III. Application Requirements, Deadlines, and Technical Eligibility
All SOIs must conform to DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in September 2018, available at https://www.state.gov/proposal-submission-instructions/.
Complete SOI submissions must include the following:
1. Completed and signed SF-424 and SF424B, as directed on SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov (please refer to DRL’s PSI for SOIs for guidance on completing the SF-424); and,
2. Program Statement (not to exceed three  pages in Microsoft Word) that includes:
a) A table listing:
i. Name of the organization;
ii. The target country/countries;
iii. The total amount of funding requested from DRL, total amount of cost-share (if any), and total program amount (DRL funds + cost-share); and,
iv. Program length;
b) A synopsis of the program, including a brief statement on how the program will have a demonstrated impact and engage relevant stakeholders. The SOI should identify local partners as appropriate;
c) A concise breakdown explicitly identifying the program’s objectives and the activities and expected results that contribute to each objective; and,
d) A brief description of the applicant(s) that demonstrates the applicant(s) expertise and capacity to implement the program and manage a U.S. government award.
An organization may submit no more than two SOI as the lead applicant. SOIs that request less than $500,000 or more than $1,000,000 may be deemed technically ineligible.
Technically eligible SOIs are those which:
1) Arrive electronically via SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov by 11:59 PM EST on December 21, 2020 under the announcement titled “Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba,” funding opportunity number “SFOP0007435”;
2) Are in English;
3) Heed all instructions and do not violate any of the guidelines stated in this solicitation and the PSI for Statements of Interest.
For all SOI documents please ensure:
1) All pages are numbered;
2) All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper; and,
3) All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Captions and footnotes may be 10-point Times New Roman font. Font sizes in charts and tables can be reformatted to fit within one page width.
Grants.gov and SAMS Domestic automatically log the date and time a submission is made, and the Department of State will use this information to determine whether it has been submitted on time. Late submissions are neither reviewed nor considered unless the DRL point of contact listed in section VI is contacted prior to the deadline and is provided with evidence of a system error caused by www.grants.gov or SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.servicenowservices.com) that is outside of the applicant’s control and is the sole reason for a late submission. Applicants should not expect a notification upon DRL receiving their SOI. It is the sole responsibility of the applicant to ensure that all material submitted in the SOI package is complete, accurate, and current. DRL will not accept SOIs submitted via email, fax, the postal system, delivery companies, or couriers. DRL strongly encourages all applicants to submit SOIs before December 21, 2020 to ensure that the SOI has been received and is complete.
IV. Review and Selection Process
The Department’s Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM) will determine technical eligibility for all SOI submissions. All technically eligible SOIs will then be reviewed against the same four criteria by a DRL Review Panel: quality of program idea, inclusivity of marginalized populations, program planning, and ability to achieve objectives/institutional capacity. Additionally, the Panel will evaluate how the SOI meets the solicitation request, U.S. foreign policy goals, and DRL’s overall priority needs. Panelists review each SOI individually against the evaluation criteria, not against competing SOIs. To ensure all SOIs receive a balanced evaluation, the DRL Review Panel will review the first page of the SOI up to the page limit and no further. All Panelists must sign non-disclosure agreements and conflict of interest agreements.
In most cases, the DRL Review Panel includes representatives from DRL policy and program offices. Once a SOI is approved, selected applicants will be invited to submit full proposal applications based on their SOIs. Unless directed otherwise by the organization, DRL may also refer SOIs for possible consideration in other U.S. government related funding opportunities.
The Panel may provide conditions and/or recommendations on SOIs to enhance the proposed program, which must be addressed by the organization in the full proposal application. To ensure effective use of limited DRL funds, conditions and recommendations may include requests to increase, decrease, clarify, and/or justify costs and program activities.
DRL’s Front Office reserves the right to make a final determination regarding all funding matters, pending funding availability.
Quality of Program Idea
SOIs should be responsive to the program framework and policy objectives identified in the RSOI, appropriate in the country/regional context, and should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to DRL’s mission of promoting human rights and democracy. Projects should have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term, sustainable reforms. DRL prefers new approaches that do not duplicate efforts by other entities. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way. In countries where similar activities are already taking place, an explanation should be provided as to how new activities will not duplicate or merely add to existing activities and how these efforts will be coordinated. SOIs that promote creative approaches to recognized ongoing challenges are highly encouraged. DRL prioritizes project proposals with inclusive approaches for advancing these rights.
Addressing Barriers to Equal Participation
DRL strives to ensure its projects advance the rights and uphold the dignity of all persons. As the U.S. government’s lead bureau dedicated to promoting democratic governance, DRL requests a programming approach dedicated to strengthening inclusive societies as a necessary pillar of strong democracies. Violence targeting any members of society undermines collective security and threatens democracy. DRL prioritizes inclusive and integrated program models that assess and address the barriers to access for individuals and groups based on their religion, gender, disabilities, ethnicity, or sexual orientation and gender identity. Applicants should describe how programming will impact all of its beneficiaries, including support that specifically targets communities facing discrimination, and which may be under threat of violence.
A strong SOI will include a clear articulation of how the proposed program activities and expected results (both outputs and outcomes) contribute to specific program objectives and the overall program goal. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable, results-focused, and achievable in a reasonable time frame.
Ability to Achieve Objectives/Institutional Capacity
SOIs should address how the program will engage relevant stakeholders and should identify local partners as appropriate. If local partners are identified, applicants should describe the division of labor among the applicant and any local partners. SOIs should demonstrate the organization’s expertise and previous experience in administering programs, preferably similar programs targeting the requested program area or similarly challenging environments.
For additional guidance, please see DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in September 2018, available at https://www.state.gov/proposal-submission-instructions/.
V. Additional Information
DRL will not consider applications that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization. Please refer the link for Foreign Terrorist Organizations: https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/. Project activities whose direct beneficiaries are foreign militaries or paramilitary groups or individuals will not be considered for DRL funding given purpose limitations on funding.
In accordance with Department of State policy for terrorism, applicants are advised that successful passing of vetting to evaluate the risk that funds may benefit terrorists or their supporters is a condition of award. If chosen for an award, applicants will be asked to submit information required by DS Form 4184, Risk Analysis Information (attached to this solicitation) about their company and its principal personnel. Vetting information is also required for all sub-award performance on assistance awards identified by the Department of State as presenting a risk of terrorist financing. Vetting information may also be requested for project beneficiaries and participants. Failure to submit information when requested, or failure to pass vetting, may be grounds for rejecting your proposal prior to award.
The Leahy Law prohibits Department foreign assistance funds from supporting foreign security force units if the Secretary of State has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. Per 22 USC §2378d(a) (2017), “No assistance shall be furnished under this chapter [FOREIGN ASSISTANCE] or the Arms Export Control Act [22 USC 2751 et seq.] to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Restrictions may apply to any proposed assistance to police or other law enforcement. Among these, pursuant to section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA), no assistance provided through this funding opportunity may be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country when there is credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. In accordance with the requirements of section 620M of the FAA, also known as the Leahy law, project beneficiaries or participants from a foreign government’s security forces may need to be vetted by the Department before the provision of any assistance. If a proposed grant or cooperative agreement will provide assistance to foreign security forces or personnel, compliance with the Leahy Law is required.
Organizations should be aware that DRL understands that some information contained in SOIs may be considered sensitive or proprietary and will make appropriate efforts to protect such information. However, organizations are advised that DRL cannot guarantee that such information will not be disclosed, including pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or other similar statutes.
Organizations should also be aware that if ultimately selected for an award, the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards set forth in 2 CFR Chapter 200 (Sub-Chapters A through F) shall apply to all non-Federal entities, except for assistance awards to Individuals and Foreign Public Entities. Please note that as of December 26, 2014, 2 CFR 200 (Sub-Chapters A through E) now applies to foreign organizations, and Sub-Chapters A through D shall apply to all for-profit entities. The applicant/recipient of the award and any sub-recipient under the award must comply with all applicable terms and conditions, in addition to the assurance and certifications made part of the Notice of Award. The Department’s Standard Terms and Conditions can be viewed on DRL’s Resources page at: https://www.state.gov/resources-for-programs-and-grants/.
The information in this solicitation and DRL’s PSI for SOIs, as updated in September 2018, is binding and may not be modified by any DRL representative. Explanatory information provided by DRL that contradicts this language will not be binding. Issuance of the solicitation and negotiation of SOIs or applications does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the U.S. government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.
This solicitation will appear on www.grants.gov, SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.servicenowservices.com), and DRL’s website https://www.state.gov/statements-of-interest-requests-for-proposals-and-notices-of-funding-opportunity/.
Background Information on DRL and DRL Funding
DRL has the mission of promoting democracy and protecting human rights globally. DRL supports programs that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, prevent atrocities, combat and prevent violent extremism, and build civil society around the world. DRL typically focuses its work in countries with egregious human rights violations, where democracy and human rights advocates are under pressure, and where governments are undemocratic or in transition.
Additional background information on DRL and the human rights report can be found on https://www.state.gov/bureaus-offices/under-secretary-for-civilian-security-democracy-and-human-rights/bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/.
VI. Contact Information
SAMS Domestic Help Desk: For assistance with SAMS Domestic accounts and technical issues related to the system, please contact the ILMS help desk by phone at 1-888-313-4567 (toll charges for international callers) or through the Self Service online portal that can be accessed from https://afsitsm.servicenowservices.com/ilms/. Customer Support is available 24/7/365.
For assistance with Grants.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email email@example.com. The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.
See https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/ for a list of federal holidays.
For technical questions related to this solicitation, please contact DRLWHAGrants@state.gov.
With the exception of technical submission questions, during the solicitation period U.S. Department of State staff in Washington and overseas shall not discuss this competition until the entire review process has been completed and rejection and approval letters have been transmitted.