title as seen at [url=http://www.CubaCentral.com]http://www.CubaCentral.com[/url] : CU grant for Cuba project gets heat
Henry J. Cordes, Omaha World-Herald
Tuesday, Nov 29, 2005
Creighton University Law School administrators knew they were getting into a hot political issue when they applied for a federal grant to devise a mechanism for resolving property disputes in a post-Castro Cuba.
But even they have been surprised by the firestorm generated since the U.S.
Agency for International Development awarded Creighton the $750,000 grant.
Castro supporters suggested that the university is part of a U.S. government effort to topple Castro and seize property from Cubans.
Others suggested that the process under which USAID awarded the grant was tainted, noting that a key agency official is a Creighton graduate.
“I’ve been a little bit surprised, partly because in Omaha we’re removed from the everyday tumult of Cuban politics, “said Patrick Borchers, dean of the Creighton law school.
“But you understand why it’s such an emotional issue. You’ve got families split up and people who were dispossessed of property, and you have people living on the island in god-awful economic conditions,” Borchers said.
Both Creighton and USAID officials defended the grant, which they said was earned through a competitive process.
Under the grant, a legal team from Creighton will come up with a model property claims tribunal that someday could settle claims arising out of the billions in private property that Fidel Castro`s government seized after the
1958 revolution. Much of it was owned by U.S. companies and by Cubans now living in the United States.
The Creighton proposal calls for setting up a U.S.-Cuba tribunal that would seek to settle claims now said to be worth more than $6 billion.
The university formally received the grant last week in a ceremony attended by Adolfo Franco, a 1983 Creighton graduate who serves as USAID`s assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The grant since has been criticized as an effort by the United States to impose a property claims mechanism on the Cuban people.
“The grant is a sham and totally counterproductive,” Wayne Smith, director of the University of Havana`s exchange program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told the Associated Press.
Prensa Latina, a Latin American news agency, said: “In another action against Cuba, the Bush administration has channeled taxpayer money to a U.S. university to come up with a plan on how to revert the island to its 1958 status.”
Several critics seized upon Franco’s ties to Creighton.
The Havana Journal, a pro-Castro Web site, published a World-Herald article on the grant but changed the headline to: “Creighton University celebrates $750,000 tainted grant money from USAID insider.”
Agency officials said Creighton`s was the top scorer among more than 100 grant applications. The applications were stripped of identifying information so the panel reviewing them had no idea where they originated.
Franco said the Creighton grant already had been selected by the panel when it landed on his desk for his signature.
“You won a competitive process, “he told Creighton officials. “You won it the old-fashioned way—on the merits.”
A Washington Post columnist suggested that Franco had steered the grant to his alma mater. The columnist did not quote either Creighton or USAID officials.
Creighton`s Borchers said that column item was “a cheap shot.” He said he had never met Franco before the signing ceremony.
Borchers said he understands Cubans’ fears that they could be dispossessed of property. He said the Creighton team knows that whatever it proposes will have to pass muster with the Cuban people.
“We are acutely aware nothing worthwhile is going to happen unless it takes into account Cuban legal culture and is something the Cuban government will buy into,” he said.