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 organizations, sometimes even leading to the return of funds to donors because of missed deadlines. In 2009, the Ministry for Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation was merged with the Ministry of Foreign Trade, which since then has overseen development aid. Some NGOs that operate in Cuba say it was like starting again, with new experts, working methods and assumptions. ‘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 working in Cuba. Moreover, 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, so first it must be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and then by the Ministry of Economy and Planning. This has slowed the process down to a snail’s pace, with one European NGO claiming it has projects that have been waiting for two years for a decision on whether or not they will be included in the economic plan. In some cases, says Murillo, ‘cooperation funds are being sent back, for projects that could not be implemented’. Ironically, the problem seems to be especially hampering projects related to food production, an area that the government has made a national priority. ‘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.
IPS News, 19 March 2012