Thursday, May 28, 2015

U.S. Interests Section: No. 13 in spending

See interactive chart
U.S. Interests Section spending ranks 13th among American embassies in the Western hemisphere for fiscal year 2015, which ends Sept. 30.
Embassies spending the most so far this year are Lima, at $2,500,128; Mexico City, at $2,159,152; and Panama City, at $1,918,051, records show.
Santo Domingo is 5th at $1,136,915. I'd expect Havana to vault past that number in the next couple of years.
These spending figures are based on numbers that the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, or WHA, has reported to the Federal Data Procurement System. Not included here is $12,921,058 in WHA Office of Acquisition Management spending. I would imagine that some of the funds from that pool of money wind up in Havana.
See interactive bubble chart
One other note: Not appearing here is Santiago, Chile. The embassy there reported spending $232,392.80. It all looks pretty routine. But then there's a massive additional transaction in the amount of -$8,799,086.84, money evidently returned to "gasoline stations with convenience stores" on Nov. 4, 2014. I didn't include Santiago in the chart because the graphic - with the $8 million-plus negative bar - would have taken up twice the space.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Uncle Sam shells out big bucks for humor targeting enemy nations

Cartoon by Gustavo Rodríguez, a.k.a. Garrincha
Uncle Sam could use a good laugh - and he's willing to pay for it.
The U.S. government-financed Broadcasting Board of Governors on Tuesday announced that it's looking to hire an Iranian-American comedian.
The job announcement described the position requirements in humorless bureaucratic fashion, saying the BBG is looking for a comedian capable of providing "the greatest overall benefit in response to the requirement," a vague requirement that isn't described in detail.
The BBG doesn't say it's looking for the funniest Iranian-American comedian around (check out Maz Jobrani). Instead, the agency says it'll hire the comedian "whose offer provides the Government with a best value solution."
The BBG's quest to find an Iranian-American comedian got me wondering how many U.S. tax dollars have gone toward making fun of the Castro brothers and the Cuban government. I would not be surprised to learn that taxpayers have unwitting spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for such work.
Of course, countless Cubans and Cuban-Americans lampoon the socialist government every day - and they do it for free.
U.S. officials are willing to pay for this kind of material and evidently see skewering enemy governments as great way to stir up trouble.

Taíno dance in Cuba

Taíno dancer
New on YouTube: A video showing a group of Cubans performing a Taíno dance. The video includes an interview - in Spanish - with Abel Espinosa, one of the dancers.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interests Section sinks money into flags, signs

U.S. Interests Section is stocking up on flags
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana has spent $473,258 since Dec. 17 when the U.S. and Cuba announced plans to pursue diplomatic relations.
I wonder how much of the some of the spending is tied to the Interests Section's eventual conversion into an embassy. Recent contracts include:
  • $23,560 to Apco Graphics Inc. in Lanham, Md., for "temporary seal and lettering for the building
  • $17,082.25 to CVS Systems Incorporated in Marion, Ind., for American flags (the same company sells the standard 50-star, U.S. government-sanctioned flag and is prepared to sell a 51-star model if Puerto Rico ever becomes a state).
  • $18,546.42 to an undisclosed contractor for an "LED lamp for office building."
Galls "tactical polo shirt"
Other recent expenses include:
  • $10,110 in swimming pool chemicals
  • $7,744.96 for "office supplies - VIP delegation"
  • $3,294.61 in men's footwear from Galls in Lexington, Ky.
  • $4,002 for "tactical polo shirts" from an undisclosed vendor (likely Galls, which sells the shirts for $39.99 to $44.99 each).