Encourage change from within
Posted on Thursday, 02.25.10
Encourage change from within
BY FRANCISCO “PEPE'' HERNANDEZ
These are days of profound reflection for the Cuban-American exile
community. Two days ago the brave prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata
Tamayo, died in Castro's notorious prisons, a victim of the regime's
brutality and its disdain for human life.
Wednesday, we commemorated another anniversary of that dark day when
four defenseless Brothers to the Rescue pilots were mercilessly killed
by Castro's henchmen while flying over international waters on a
humanitarian rescue mission. Feb. 24 also has been designated
International Day of the Cuban Exile.
These events, the remembrance of the pain and suffering endured for more
than 50 years, give us the opportunity to renew the promise many of us
made when we embarked on the journey to freedom: to help restore
democracy for the Cuban people. We have a duty to look introspectively
at our own actions and how those actions have, thus far, failed to meet
the challenge of supporting real change on the island.
Today, after long and arduous efforts, most of us have arrived at a
consensus that change will come only from the direct action of the Cuban
people firmly, albeit nonviolently, demanding their rights.
In addition to increasing purposeful people-to-people and
family-to-family interaction, which is essential to the overall effort,
we must demand of the U.S. government the immediate and effective
restructuring of two of our strongest vehicles for helping Cubans to
promote change on the island: Radio and Television Martí (Office of Cuba
Broadcasting, OCB) and the U.S. Agency for International Development's
Cuba Democracy Program.
Rather than focusing on the mission of effectively transmitting news and
information to the Cuban people and hiring qualified personnel able to
utilize modern technology and messaging, OCB's decision-making has been
ruled by nepotism and political cronyism the past several years. As a
result, Radio and Television Martí are failing to meet their mandate of
providing objective news and information to the Cuban people.
OCB has virtually eliminated programs that incorporated the
participation of Cuban dissidents and has done away with full television
newscasts, opting to transmit novelas. Apparently Spanish-language soap
operas hold transformative powers we don't know about.
Delays in Washington's distribution of funds to USAID's Cuba Program can
be attributed in large part to the agency's need to find ways to prevent
the rampant misdirection of funds allowed to perpetuate for over a
decade. The lack of clear rules allowed some of USAID's grantees to
spend 95 percent of the millions of dollars they received to cover
salaries, office overhead and attend international conferences, while
Cuba's dissidents were left with crumbs.
Many of those USAID grantees had funding automatically renewed without
the benefit of competition or an assessment of the impact their programs
were having on the ground in Cuba. Nearly all have failed to meet
USAID's cost-share requirement, instead relying solely on U.S.
So here we are, at a crossroads, in need of some urgent decision-making:
Do we focus our individual and collective efforts in providing robust
support for those brave voices inside of Cuba fighting for change?
Will we take the responsibility of salvaging Radio and TV Martí?
Do we demand that our elected leaders fight for the transparency and
oversight needed to make the USAID Cuba Program work?
Our answer should and must be a collective Yes.
Francisco “Pepe'' Hernandez is president of the Cuban American National
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