Corruption charges roil politics in Miami

In June, months after reports surfaced that $500,000 the so-called Center for a Free Cuba took from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was missing, that agency temporarily suspended all its programs providing money and support for government opponents in Cuba. USAID’s 2008 budget for Cuba projects totaled $45 million. USAID was responding to a directive from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Frank Calzon, head of the Center for a Free Cuba, attributed Berman’s action to bias stemming from opposition to President Bush’s Cuba policies. USAID reported last week that stepped-up monitoring of its 11 Cuba programs revealed misuse of over $11,000 by the Group in Support of Democracy, another Cuban American funding conduit. Newly appointed Felipe Sixto, formerly associated with the Center for a Free Cuba, was forced to resign on March 20 from his position as Special Assistant to President Bush for Intergovernmental Affairs because of a possible role in the disappearance of the half-million dollars. The Justice Department is investigating.

Responding to pressure from White House and USAID, Berman announced July 22 his acquiescence in the unfreezing of USAID Cuba monies. A funding suspension remained in effect for the two groups accused of irregularities.

The Cuban American National Foundation published a report in May, covering a 10-year period, demonstrating that less than 17 percent of money appropriated for destabilization efforts in Cuba ever arrived on the island, the rest having been waylaid in Florida to pay for academic programs and expenses of exile groups. An earlier audit by the congressional Government Accountability Office led to similar findings.

Frank Calzon is an issue in Florida’s 25th Congressional District between incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart and former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Joe Garcia, who also served as executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. Garcia has found it useful to accuse established Cuban American politicians of viewing the largesse from Washington that feeds anti-Cuban projects as patronage.

On a July 23 television talk show, wrangling between Garcia and Calzon over the missing half million dollars became so heated — especially after Garcia talked about theft — that Calzon cut off the discussion by barging out of the studio.

Part of the mix is a July 15 report from the Government Accountability Office alleging that Florida-based radio and television broadcasting to Cuba is funded through federal no-bid contracts worth more than $1 million. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), chair of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, had requested the investigation. He told the Miami Herald that the U.S. propaganda broadcasts “have been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, inefficiencies, and ineffectiveness.”