Lost in the news of Barack Obama's change in U.S. policy toward Cuba was a shift that could open up a new development marketplace: Obama is allowing U.S. humanitarian aid into Cuba for the first time since 1958.
Aid to Cuba has always been one of many points of conflict between Washington and Havana. Shipments of aid to Cuba in the past were stopped by the U.S. blockade. It's also political kryptonite, as allowing aid to Cuba is going to anger one-half of the all-important Cuban vote in the all-important battleground state of Florida.
Details on how the policy change will be implemented are scarce. But it's a fair bet that most of the aid given to Cuba would be for disaster assistance and in postcrisis situations, like after hurricanes, which are so common in Cuba. Therefore, the change in policy could benefit contractors that traditionally are given that kind of work.
The U.S. Agency for International Development already has a small presence in the Caribbean country through its Cuba Program, which since 1996 has given $83 million in grants to non-governmental organizations and universities to do work related to democracy promotion. The Government Accountability Office found last year that this program suffered from poor oversight and lack of staffing.
Elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late last week announced a new five-year, $12.5 million project to improve public education in the Dominican Republic.
Previously, USAID had programs to improve math and language arts education in the Caribbean nation. The new Effective School Program takes a broader approach to education by expanding the number of subjects covered and assisting efforts to improve public school administration. It also increases the number of schools benefiting from the program from 200 to 450, and provides training to first- through fourth-grade teachers.