Senator puts hold on US funding for Cuba opposition

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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry has placed a hold on US funding for pro-democracy opposition activities in Cuba, the senator's office told AFP on Friday.

Kerry has "a temporary hold" on the programs while US State Department officials "undertake a review of these programs, and while the Committee investigates whether they're effectively accomplishing our shared goal," said Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones.

"We all want democratic change in Cuba," said Jones. "The question is whether American taxpayers are getting progress towards that goal."

The State Department last year effectively froze the 40 million dollars that Congress appropriated for those programs while it conducted a review, the Washington Post reported.

The funds are used largely for distributing information and telecommunications equipment to opposition groups and civil society members, but signs of abuse have come to light in recent months.

A State Department contractor, Alan Gross, 60, was arrested in December in Havana and accused of being an intelligence agent after seeking to help Jewish groups communicate with people outside the country by distributing mobile phones and computers.

The hold will be lifted once Kerry has "assurances that these programs have eliminated waste, fraud, and abuse," said Jones.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday slammed Cuba for its continued political and human rights repression and called for an end to the Communist regime's "clenched fist" policy against its people.

Obama took office in early 2009 pledging to seek improved ties with the only Communist government in the Americas, and reportedly sought to urge President Raul Castro to step up efforts to improve relations with Washington.

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