Twenty Million Doubts / Ernesto Morales Licea

As one would expect, Senator John Kerry’s statement that he opposes the U.S. government’s $20 million budget proposal to promote democracy in Cuba has created quite a stir.

Analysts from different ends of the spectrum criticized his words, using adjectives ranging from “political opportunism” — linking his declarations with the possible conditioning of the Cuban government, during Carter’s recent visit to Havana, for the release of Alan Gross — to “traitor” to the United States’ commitment to democratization of the Island.

Even his senate colleague, the Democrat Bob Menendez, spoke up strongly against the decision of Kerry, who presides over nothing less than the influential Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

But what were the controversial statements of the former presidential candidate with respect to these economic funds. He said, in essence:

“Before this $20 million is committed, a full review of the programs should be undertaken and the Administration should consult with the Congress. There is no evidence, however, that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people.”

To explain my point of view, I take as a starting point the fact that I am a Cuban who has recently left his country, who lived there for twenty-six years, and most of all, who has recently gotten to know a significant number of opponents, both traditional and of the new kind, and members of an incipient but exemplary civil society.

Without mincing words, and begging your pardon for the arrogance: Nobody has to tell me how ordinary Cubans live, or think, nor how peaceful opponents carry out their struggle for respect for freedom on the Island. One of the most frequent mistakes I’ve noticed in exiles with good intentions, is to think in the name of people who, at times, they do not know.

And with this knowledge of the facts I say: If the American taxpayers have paid $150 million dollars so far to support the admirable efforts of some Cuban dissidents; if they have been told that their money has been decisive for the Cuban cause, I think they should demand a refund. They have been somewhat cheated.

As a committed journalist who knocked on the doors of defiant people, I can say that save minor exceptions, the vast number of the Cuban opposition, of alternative bloggers, of these new kind of guerrillas, whether public or camouflaged, suffer from an economic insecurity that is not consistent with the aid funds approved, year after year, by the American government.

And I’m not talking about the scandals. I’m not talking about the embarrassment of the Government Accountability Office’s inspection in 2006, which discovered that these funds to promote democracy on the Island were spent, in large part, on chocolates, leather coats, chain saws, crab meat and Sony Playstations. (I don’t think even a Marx Brothers film could bring together such a list of products to defend liberty.)

Better I should ask a question that could rightly be that of millions of American citizens in the midst of a worrying economic crisis, wondering where these tax dollars end up. The question is: What has been the real impact of that money on the Cuban cause?

Putting myself in the shoes of a native of this country, what have I gotten in that country for my money?

What I’m really interested in is hearing the response of those who see these funds as an indispensable help. To educate me with proofs, with facts, not with romantic suppositions, what is the real benefit of these dollars to the fight for democracy in Cuba.

Because I, like Senator John Kerry, suspect that those millions — which, by the way, are impossible to send directly, in cash, because the embargo prevents it — an imprecise number but no small number of them, have swelled the pockets of intermediaries, functionaries and presumed defenders of the cause of my country

And then comes the awful circumstance: Cuban opponents are sent flash drives, portable radios, some chocolate and some crab meat and the Cuban government says: “This is financing the internal counterrevolution.” And gives another turn to the screw of repression.

And while some sharp schemers on this side of the sea benefit from these projects, on the other side, at “the center of things,” they receive a few crumbs from this capital, along with all of the consequences.

No matter what they say: It’s not fair.

So I approve of the mistrust and the sharp interest of Senator John Kerry in reviewing what have been the uses of this budget, which is not out of this world considering the amount of other United States programs, but, in times of crisis, I don’t think anyone has it to spare.

And above all, it’s worth reviewing not only the capital itself, but the mechanisms by which it is invested in indirect aid. Who knows if the great fissure lies in the deficient apparatus of implementation, with too much bureaucracy that takes advantage of the loopholes, burdening an intention that in principle, as a Cuban, I appreciate and admire.

Let no one forget: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

April 10 2011