Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

Development Aid in Cuba Threatened by Red Tape

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Mar 19 2012 (IPS) - Excessive delays by the Cuban government in evaluating foreign aid projects for their compatibility with the country’s economic planning policies have created uncertainty for aid organisations, which have sometimes even been forced to return funds to donors due to missed deadlines.

“A lot of money is being lost simply because of bureaucracy,” an economist who asked to remain anonymous told IPS.

Representatives from several nongovernmental organisations with offices in Cuba told IPS that the most serious aspect of this problem is that many of these projects are related to food security.

“We’ve been in an impasse for the last three years, where we don’t know exactly what role or part will be given to cooperation,” said Pepe Murillo of the Mundubat Foundation, a Spanish NGO that has been working in Cuba in the areas of agriculture and rural development since 1996.

A project by Mundubat and Japan to improve drinking water and sanitation services in the municipality of Isla de la Juventud, a small island off the southwest coast of the main island, has benefited almost 80,000 people in its capital, Nueva Gerona, and in the surrounding countryside since 2011.

Within the process that the Cuban government calls the “updating” of the country’s economic model, all foreign aid received by Cuba must be included in the “national economic plan,” to ensure that it is in line with economic planning goals.

The “economic and social policy guidelines of the party and the revolution”, Cuba’s road map for modernising its economy, also state that it is necessary to “perfect and complement the legal and regulatory framework” for aid that is given and received.

Foreign aid has been regulated to date by Resolution 50, passed in 2008, which modified Resolution 15 of 2006, regarding the “Norms for economic collaboration that Cuba receives”. These regulations primarily spell out the obligations and duties of NGOs and other organisations involved in cooperation.

In 2009, the ministry for foreign investment and economic cooperation was merged with the ministry of foreign trade, which since then has overseen this sector. Some NGOs that operate in Cuba say it was like starting over, with new experts, working methods and assumptions.

“Trade relations have been thrown together with cooperation with civil society organisations from the European Union (EU) and countries from other regions that are here based on solidarity, which has nothing to do with foreign trade,” said Eva Fernández, of the Spanish NGO Acsur Las Segovias.

In addition, the economic plan has become a straitjacket that is keeping projects from meeting deadlines. First they must be approved by the ministry of foreign trade, and then by the ministry of economy and planning – a slow-moving, complicated process.

“We have projects that have been waiting for two years for a decision on whether or not they will be included in the economic plan,” said Paola Larghi, of the International Committee for the Development of the Peoples, a European NGO based in Italy that has been working in Cuba for 20 years.

In her opinion, the process lacks clarity and transparency, and the excessive delays in decision-making are having a major impact on NGOs with respect to planning and their donors. “Because of this, cooperation funds are being sent back, for projects that could not be implemented,” Murillo said.

Elio Perón, a consultant with the Dutch organisation Hivos, the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation, said the philosophy of including aid projects in the economic plan is aimed at improving efficiency. “That is the Bible, full of good intentions,” he remarked.

In his opinion, the problem is the result of administrative changes that the country is trying to introduce, which “unfortunately” have not found the best channel. “It is a question of putting new concepts into practice; as I see it, it is an administrative problem, not a political position,” he said.

On that point, NGO representatives agreed that the political stance toward them that existed in the 1990s has been replaced by a “technocratic and bureaucratic” approach, which is especially affecting projects related to food production.

“That sector, which the government of Raúl Castro has made a national priority, is the one that is experiencing the greatest difficulties at this time. We have pointed out that contradiction, but the response (from officials) is always the same: if it is not in the ‘guidelines’ or the economic plan, it does not go forward,” Murillo said.

Sources with the EU delegation in Havana told IPS that a dozen European NGOs currently have aid projects in Cuba. In addition, the EU subsidises plans implemented by European “non-state actors” that do not necessarily have offices on the island.

The NGOs arrived in Cuba during the height of the 1990s economic crisis, to provide aid and show solidarity with the Cuban people. “Those were times when people were predicting the collapse of socialism here,” Perón recalled.

In the opinion of the Hivos consultant, the authorities do not seem to have realised that a reduction in aid from NGOs translates into decreased political potential, solidarity and international influence. “The most intelligent thing would be to especially support these organisations that are in solidarity with Cuba,” he said.

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