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Fraud forces USAID to freeze Cuba programs.

Congress has put the U.S. Agency for International Development's $45 million Cuba program's 2008 funding on hold, following a series of troubling audits and cases of massive fraud, the Miami Herald reported July 22.

"In a quest to get the funding hold lifted, USAID ordered a bottoms-up review of all its Cuba democracy programs and suspended a Miami anti-Castro exile group that spent at least $11,000 of federal grant money on personal items," the newspaper said.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) ordered a hold on the Cuba program funding last month, in part in response to a $500,000 embezzlement at the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington disclosed earlier this year, said federal officials quoted by the Herald.

The story went on: "In a memo sent to various members of Congress, Stephen Driesler, AID's deputy assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs, said the agency recently implemented stricter financial reviews. That new review turned up irregularities at Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia (Group to Support Democracy), a Miami-organization criticized in the past for using federal funds to send Nintendo games to Cuba."

According to Driesler' memo, "the executive director of Grupo de Apoyo admitted that an employee used the organization's credit card for thousands of dollars in personal items and then billed them to the grant aimed at bringing democracy to Cuba."

In a phone interview with the Herald, Driesler said the group's funding has been suspended pending further review, and the money has been reimbursed. He declined to say what items were purchased.

"USAID has decided to conduct an immediate review of all the grants to determine where financial vulnerabilities exist and how best to address these vulnerabilities to strengthen the program for future success," his memo said.

In our May 2008 issue, CubaNews broke the story about a report conducted by the Cuban American National Foundation.

According to the CANF study, 83% of the $65 million allocated by USAID over the last 10 years for Cuba democracy programs has been spent on salaries, travel and other expenses instead of actual help to dissidents.
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Date:Aug 15, 2008
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