The House Appropriations Committee earlier this month approved a bill that would authorize the State Department to spend $20 million on democracy promotion projects in Cuba during fiscal 2022, which begins Oct. 1.
Nearly half the money – $9.98 million – would go toward civil society; $4.78 million would be spent on independent media and free flow of information and $5.24 million would be used to promote human rights.
Curiously, the Democrat-controlled committee also asked the State Department to report on “the steps necessary to advance the normalization of bilateral relations with Cuba,” according to an explanation attached to the bill.
The committee voted 32-25 to approve the bill on July 1, before the wave of protests hit Cuba on July 11.
The $20 million comes from the State Department’s Economic Support Fund, or ESF. The House bill states:
The ESF request for Cuba will support democracy programs that advance a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people through support for independent civil society organizations (CSOs) in Cuba that promote democratic values, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. Programs will seek to empower the Cuban people to determine their own future by providing basic needs assistance to political prisoners and their families, strengthening the capacity of independent CSOs, and promoting the free flow of uncensored information to, from, and within the island. U.S. assistance aims to promote values the United States upholds around the world, while supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their futures and reduce their dependence on the Cuban state.
The Appropriations Committee’s note of explanation said at least $5 million go toward private enterprise and people-to-people initiatives. It states:
The Committee recommendation includes $20,000,000 under Economic Support Fund for democracy building, human rights, and civil society programs for Cuba. Within the amount provided, not less than $5,000,000 is for programs to provide technical and other assistance to the Cuban people to support the development of private enterprise and private business organizations in Cuba and for people-to-people educational and cultural activities. No such funds may be used for assistance for the Government of Cuba.
The note also requires the State Department to review its Cuba policy, stating:
The Committee directs the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 45 days after enactment of this Act detailing the results of the Administration’s Cuba policy review. The report shall also address the steps necessary to advance the normalization of bilateral relations with Cuba, how the strategy will improve opportunities for American businesses legally operating in Cuba, recommendations for supporting the growth of a Cuban private sector independent of government control, the extent to which the Government of Cuba has cooperated over the previous fiscal year with United States anti-terrorism efforts, and a timeline for safely restoring staffing levels at the United States Embassy in Havana.
The chair of the House subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs is Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who opposes U.S. sanctions against Cuba and has visited the island more than two dozen times.
After the protests began in Cuba, Lee said in a statement:
I support the right of the Cuban people to peacefully protest without interference from the Cuban government. The United States should move swiftly to provide humanitarian relief to address the needs of the Cuban people. Specifically, the United States should immediately permit remittances and financial transactions from relatives, food, and vaccination assistance, including the delivery of syringes, to the Cuban people.
I’m also renewing my call for the Biden Administration to take urgent action to reverse the misguided and failed policies of the Trump administration, which have only served to hurt the Cuban people. Through decades of failed policy, the United States government has repeatedly missed opportunities to engage with and invest in the Cuban people. While we have many disagreements with the Cuban government, the way to address them is through diplomatic engagement on all the issues—including, human rights, trade, travel, and the economy.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is also on the subcommittee. On July 13, he introduced a resolution calling for international support of the Cuban people who are demanding freedom. He stated:
“For 62 years, the Cuban people have struggled for freedom and human rights under a brutal, repressive dictatorship. On this day, which also coincides with the anniversary of the Tugboat Massacre, we also remember the regime’s decades of malevolence, including the Brothers to the Rescue Shoot-Down, the firing squads, torture, arbitrary arrests, killings, human trafficking, those who fled in makeshift rafts through shark-infested waters, and the many activists who have suffered or perished for simply daring to speak against the regime. The Cuban people will be free, and they will remember those who stood with them. I thank so many of my colleagues for standing with them by supporting this important resolution.”
Other Cuba-related items in the House Appropriations bill include:
- $5.394 million for U.S. Embassy in Havana, up from $5.369 million. The staffing level would remain the same at 27. All employees are listed as American citizens. None are shown as Cuban nationals. In contrast, the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic is expected to employ 31 American citizens and 36 nationals, and will have a budget of $9.224 million.
- $2.382 million for the Office of Cuban Affairs, with 10 employees, up from $2.331 million.
- $12.973 million for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami.
- $9.7 million for radio, television and digital equipment and transmission, including to Cuba; “and physical security worldwide.”
The bill also asks U.S. officials to investigate Cuban doctors, saying it “opposes coercive labor practices, in all forms, including those of the Government of Cuba’s foreign medical missions. The Committee directs the Secretary of State to assess the Pan American Health Organization’s involvement in Cuba’s foreign medical missions program and to update the Committees on Appropriations on its findings as well as steps taken to improve the Organization’s transparency, internal oversight, and risk management.”
For further reading:
Congressional Budget Justification, Foreign Operations, U.S. Department of State, Fiscal Year 2022, Appendix 1, Diplomatic Engagement
Congressional Budget Justification, Foreign Operations, U.S. Department of State, Fiscal Year 2022, Appendix 2