2019 DRG Partners Forum: USAID Administrator Mark Green Keynote Address

2019 DRG Partners Forum: USAID Administrator Mark Green Keynote Address


When Mark Green was nominated for the
role of AID Administrator the collective cheer that went around the
the Ronald Reagan Building probably could have been heard in Oklahoma where
my parents live and I think this community as a whole felt the same way.
His reputation and his role in Congress as Ambassador, as a board member of MCC, and so many other things preceded him and we were absolutely thrilled that we
were getting that kind of leader. The real test, though, is now almost two years later we are still cheering. I’ve had the fortune to work with and support the Administrator on a number of issues and from the first meeting we had on Kenya
elections, to working with him on the plight of the Rohingya, to the
Democratic Republic of Congo elections, to now the ongoing Venezuela crisis, I
have seen him time and time again go to bat for us. For his people, for the Agency,
and most importantly for the U.S. government to do the right thing, to have
the moral courage, to do so even when it is not always politically convenient. So
in the spirit of my earlier remarks of us stripping ourselves of our
organizational affiliation and our titles and roles and just being here
together as people who care deeply about these issues, I’m honored to invite to
the stage not as our Administrator or an ambassador but as a person, who in
whatever role in capacity he is in, is a champion of human rights, dignity and
democracy. Ladies and gentlemen, Mark Green. With an introduction like that I should
stop. That’s as good as it’s going to get. Kate, thank you not just for those way-too-kind words, but I know that you’re leaving us or at least leaving this
field of work. As many of you know, she’s going to some place called Tanzania. I’ve
heard of it a time or two. I have recommendations on places to get the best Mediterranean pizza, I have beaches I can point you to so, anyway, thank you.
Thanks for everything that you’ve done. I really do appreciate– your leadership has been
very important. So FDR used to say that the three most important rules of
speaking are be sincere, be brief, and be seated. I will do my very best to follow
that but because the topics that you’re taking up, that you have been taking up,
and you’re taking up today are so important, I thought I’d offer a few
observations to get you going. As some of you know, I’ve been traveling a fair bit recently. No matter what region I’ve been visiting, no matter what sector I’ve been
reviewing, I see sign after sign of the irreplaceable importance of citizen responsive, citizen-centered institutions and political systems of democracy. It is
very clear, as it has been to me for some time, that nothing else that we do
in the development community can possibly be sustainable, can possibly
last, can possibly lift lives, if we don’t have citizen responsive institutions and
democracy. As many of you know, at USAID it is our goal to elevate our democracy
work. The great news that we’ve just received is that our new Bureau DDI has,
in fact, been approved by Congress and will go into action soon, and that, I
think, will make us even more nimble and stronger when it comes to taking on
the challenges that we all see around the world. So as to my travels, I spent
time in Somalia where I met a young prime minister who was telling me of his
efforts at constructing dialogue and responsive institutions connecting
Mogadishu with his country’s long-fractured regions. As many of you know, Somalis are wonderfully entrepreneurial people. They’re people who truly believe
in private enterprise and what can be done in private enterprise is very much
on the rise. And the government realizes that building representative government
is a prerequisite to attracting the kind of investment and opportunity that their
entrepreneurial people demand. It’s because of their government’s commitment
and because of the reforms that are underway that I officially opened a new
mission for USAID in Mogadishu, our first one in nearly 30 years. I even had the
honor of swearing in a new mission director, Jeff Bakken, who we sent there
from South Sudan, talk about being a bear for punishment. After Somalia,
actually before Somalia, I visited DRC getting to Butembo and visiting an
Ebola treatment unit. I was there not so long after WHO declared that Ebola was
not an international public health emergency. When I meet with senators this
afternoon to brief them on my visit, I’m going to say that since I’m not a doctor
I can’t comment on the health aspects of it, but what is very clear to me is it is
a public development emergency. After touring communities in an Ebola
treatment unit, after meeting with local officials and NGOs, it is very very clear
to me that the fundamental problems of representative government, of failed
institutions and development must be undertaken before we
can even get to a medical response. The failure of democracy, in the case of
eastern DRC, really is at the heart of the problem. That’s a country that has
suffered from years of kleptocratic government, a perverted political system
which has destroyed any sense of trust or political investment in governing
institutions, and most recently the people of the Ebola-afflicted area
weren’t even permitted to vote in the last elections. And then outsiders came
in in huge white airplanes and armored convoys following years of ignoring
people’s basic needs, somehow expecting beleaguered, besieged communities to
listen. And so what I’m going to be telling the Senators is that if we’re
going to defeat Ebola, if we’re gonna be able to apply the medical tools and
strategy that we know will work, we simply have to break the cycle of
distrust and disillusionment. We must help people replant seeds of democracy. We must help them reclaim their sense of human dignity and self-worth and the
centrality of community and those who are around them. Not all my travels are quite
like that. A few months ago, I was in Ecuador where we established a USAID
presence after being effectively forced to leave in 2014. In 2014, the enabling
environment was so constrictive on civil society and NGOs that we couldn’t
function. When I went back there a couple of months ago, the way that we were
received was astounding and extraordinary. A jammed room, cameras
everywhere, people everywhere. They were thrilled to see us back and the values that we represent, and what we can do to help them
strengthen their civil society and unleash the capacities that they bring. I
met with the first lady and the vice president there and we laid plans to
strengthen democratic institutions with a special emphasis on helping those with
disabilities and other marginalized communities. It was absolutely music to
my ears. I had a chance to meet with some USAID alumni who were there before 2014
and they were in tears. They were so excited about what the future can bring
and to see their work being picked up once again. While I was traveling of
course a lot of other things have been happening in the democracy space. On the
other side of the world, two million citizens were taking to the streets of
Hong Kong, the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s history, demanding to be
heard. Police attacked them with tear gas and batons and threatened them, dragged
some of them off, and still they demanded to be heard. A few thoughts for you: I’m
always amazed at how quickly pundits pronounce the decline, if not the demise,
of democracy around the world. Now, in fairness, there is little doubt that
authoritarian forces are doing everything that they can to unwind
freedom’s gains. It’s also true that their tactics are more sophisticated and
more devious than perhaps ever before. Authoritarians no longer dispute the
virtues of democracy head-on. They see that that approach doesn’t do much for them it; fails time and again. Instead, they’re seeking to redefine the term hoping that none of you will notice along the way. One approach they take is
to publicly embrace democracy while working to rig the next elections before
they can even begin. Another tactic that many of you are familiar with is the use of phony election observers, zombie observers, as many of us like to call
them. Many of them come from China and Russia, who are only too happy to help
their clients. In advance of last year’s elections in Cambodia, Hun Sen took numerous steps to extinguish political competition. He dissolved the main
opposition group, banned it from politics, he arrested and jailed its leader, and
then he announced that he actually wanted international observers to be
present. These observers, he said, would see just how smoothly elections can be
run. Especially when, for all intents and purposes, you’re unopposed. We criticized. The Chinese praised the elections as orderly. Another tactic authoritarians use is to so restrict civil society and independent media, party line propaganda is the only voice that their citizens will hear. In Iran, journalists are jailed and flogged for covering a protest. In 2017, 41 journalists were arrested and
imprisoned in China. So I guess what I’m saying is I can understand why people fret about the challenges facing us in the democracy community, but what I don’t
understand is the gloom that so many have over the future. We act as though
authoritarianism is an unstoppable force, as though democracy is in irreversible
decline, that its best days are past. I don’t agree. The only way that
democracy will fall away is if we let it, if we surrender, because we know that the activists, the grassroots champions, have never surrendered or quit, Despite all the threats and violence, Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White in Cuba, still gather every Sunday and peacefully walk to church to protest human rights violations. Despite Ortega’s brutal crackdown, his regime’s shoot to kill policy against
student protesters, the defiling of churches, the attacks upon Catholic priests, Nicaragua citizen activists continue to call for peace and free elections. They’ve never quit. They’ve never surrendered, because they
realize what the naysayers, the gloom-sayers, do not: these anti-democratic
tactics that I just described, they aren’t signs of strength. They are proof of weakness. The authoritarians aren’t motivated by courage; they’re driven by fear. Quite simply, the authoritarians are afraid. They’re afraid of students; they’re afraid of women; they’re afraid of priests; they’re afraid of reporters and cameras and bloggers; they are afraid of their own people and their hopes for the future. They are afraid of freedom. Our purpose, your mission, should be to
recognize their fear and turn it back at them. Our tactics must be based upon a
framework that plants small seeds of responsiveness in authoritarian settings, and nurture them as they sprout. And sprout they will. As many of you know, in recent months, we’ve had lots of dealings with Juan Guaidó and his team in Venezuela. When I had the chance to meet Juan Guaidó for the first time, actually face-to-face in Colombia, I’ll never forget because he said something interesting. So the first thing he did was to thank me for humanitarian assistance, for the relief that we are providing for his people, but the second thing he thanked me for was the democracy assistance. He thanked me for all the support, many of you were involved, to his National Assembly that
helped Juan Guaidó and others gain the skills, learn the tools, that allowed
them to stand up, that created the opportunity for them and for Venezuela. We must redouble our efforts in places
like Venezuela. We must continue to provide those tools, those trainings, that
support that assistance. We owe it to Juan Guaidó and the Juan Guaidós all around the world. The brave students and priests in Nicaragua, Cuban wives and mothers who will March to highlight the plight of political prisoners, the
journalists who despite the floggings, imprisonment, and threats, will continue
to do whatever it takes to bring voters the truth. So as we get going today, what
I’m saying is: I’m not asking you to celebrate because democracy is somehow installed in every corner in the world. I’m asking you to celebrate because it’s
spirit is. That’s our strength. That’s the authoritarians weakness. We
have to challenge ourselves to use every tool, every trick, every tactic, to put
that spirit to work. I pledge to you that USAID will stand
with you, we will provide that support to you, as you undertake these efforts. We
will stand with those who have never given up and never will because we know
that freedom and democracy is the highest aspiration and the best hope for
mankind. Thank you.

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