USAID pledges $750,000 for political prisoners in Cuba

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The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide $750,000 to political prisoners in Cuba, the agency’s chief said Friday.
“This will help facilitate information and help document ongoing human rights’ abuses,” USAID Administrator Mark Green said.
Before joining USAID in August 2017, Green was president of the International Republic Institute in Washington, D.C. The IRI received $758,292 for Cuba projects in 2017.
On Friday, Green spoke to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. His speech is below:

“First off, thanks to Dan and CSIS for bringing us all together. I think we all recognize that this is a crossroads moment in the community of the Americas. On one hand, as Senator Menendez pointed out, we see optimistic signs in many parts of the hemisphere. OECD tells us that the Latin American middle class is expanding, from 21 percent of the overall population in 2001, to nearly 35 percent by 2015.

In Mexico, real GDP growth is upwards of 3 percent. And Colombia’s GDP has tripled in the past two decades. As, perhaps, a sign of its rising status and influence, this very day, Argentina is playing host to the G20. And over the last four years, Brazil has hosted both the World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games.

But, on the other hand, which is what brings us here, there are darker trends in parts of Latin America, as well. As worrisome as any, is the rise of violent authoritarianism in several significant countries. In Cuba, Fidel Castro may have passed away, but with Raul still pulling the strings of the Communist Party, his legacy of oppression continues unabated.

As Cuban democracy leaders and former political prisoners put it when they met with me on the margins of the Summit of the Americas, “Don’t be fooled by the propaganda.” Instead of reforming, Havana is merely mutating. It continues to crackdown on civil society by harassing, beating, and imprisoning innocent civilians. Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White, still gather every week and walk peacefully to church to draw attention to the plight of political prisoners and violations of human rights. And, every week, they’re still confronted, harassed, and arrested by Castro’s thugs.

In Nicaragua, Ortega’s regime is resurrecting old-style tyranny. He’s reportedly authorized a “shoot to kill” policy against protestors, with widespread kidnapping and extrajudicial killings, and torture. Over 500 people have been killed since April. Thousands have been injured or imprisoned.

And there is simply no greater tragedy in this hemisphere than a little further south, in Venezuela. The Maduro regime is not only destroying that country’s democracy and economy, but his dictatorship has created the largest cross-border mass exodus in the history of the Americas. By some accounts, 3 million Venezuelans have fled their homeland. The violent crackdown to holding some 200 political prisoners in brutal conditions, unleashing hyperinflation, malnutrition, and basic medicine stock outs, they’ve inflicted unimaginable suffering on their people.

Mark Green

But we’re also here — and I call this a crossroads moment because there is reason for hope. Brave men and women in each of these countries have refused to give up. They refuse to give in. And, therefore, neither should we. They’ve never given up in Cuba. Three years ago, Castro’s people infiltrated Las Damas de Blanco. They began a propaganda campaign against its leader Berta Soler, in an effort to force her to resign. She stood proudly. She surprised them by promptly calling for a vote amongst the organization’s rank and file.

You see, Castro’s spies never anticipated democracy, nor did they understand it. And she won in a landslide.

In Nicaragua, despite threats and violence and arrests, Roman Catholic priests continue openly to call for a peaceful end and a political solution to the terrible, brutal policies of the government.

In Venezuela, despite all that has happened, democratic actors continue to resist. Civil society groups are persevering, so they can record human rights’ abuses and help chronicle the depth of the humanitarian crisis.

We’re here today because we stand with these brave souls. We’re here today because we refuse to be mere spectators. Our very first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, perhaps more than any other man in his time, understood that, in this hemisphere, what they then called the “New World,” citizens have devotions to principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. They had it in their very DNA.

He wrote to a friend in 1823: “America, north and south, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe. Our endeavor should surely be to make our hemisphere a hemisphere of freedom.” Hemisphere of freedom. How beautiful that sounds, not only for a young United States, but for our foreign policy at this crossroads moment.

At the Summit of the Americas, our Vice President made it clear that pursuing this goal should be the heart of our policy. To drive the point home, National Security Advisor John Bolton recently described the regimes in Cuba, and Venezuela, and Nicaragua, as a Troika of Tyranny. And he declared, “We will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores.”

And, perhaps, as a sign that he actually meant what he said, this week’s action by President Trump to sanction two high-level officials from the Nicaraguan regime for human rights’ abuses and acts of corruption. USAID pledges to do our part with this great cause.

But when we recently learned that Cuban scientist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola had been imprisoned for disrespecting government authority, and that his sister and sole means of support had fallen ill, our partners immediately fast-tracked 70 pounds of food and medicine to him in prison.

And in Nicaragua, the U.S. is the largest, and one of the only, remaining donors still working on democracy and human rights. And we will make sure that that continues. And to help suffering Venezuelans who have fled Maduro, as well as support the communities, which are giving them refuge, we’ve expanded our support to the countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, even some of the Caribbean countries, to try to help.

We won’t give up because they won’t. These heroes of freedom.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that we’re providing an additional $750,000 in humanitarian assistance to political prisoners in Cuba. This will help facilitate information and help document ongoing human rights’ abuses.

I’m also announcing an additional $4 million to Nicaragua. This will be in the form of support to civil society organizations and others who are advancing democratic reform and human rights there.

And then, finally, today, I’m also announcing that USAID is mobilizing more than $13.6 million in new funding for those fleeing tyranny in Venezuela. This will help provide much-needed water, sanitation, hygiene assistance, and government-focused programming in Colombia and all across the region.

To be clear, we know, all of us know, humanitarian assistance is relief, not a solution, and not an answer. We know the answer must be human liberty and democracy. And we are fortunate to be joined by champions of that cause today.

Senator Bob Menendez has been a steadfast leader for liberty in the regions, especially in the countries that we’re here to discuss. And then my friend and former colleague, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

She has been getting many tributes. She deserves every single one. I mentioned, earlier, that sometimes when people come to me and talk to me about a new tropical storm in the Caribbean, I say, “Ileana.”

She has been passionate. She has been forceful. She has been tireless. She has given hope to so many who had feared they had been forgotten or left behind.

Senator Menendez’s public service began when he was just 19-years-old. And during his time in Congress, he has been a steadfast advocate for U.S.-Latin American relations. And, as you’ve heard, they partnered together on some of the most important pieces of legislation affecting this region in a very long time; from different sides of the aisle, working to do what is important. I know, as a former member of Congress, it is difficult to pass legislation. And, yet, they have joined together to pass key legislation at key moments in time.

We will also hear from Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, a longtime friend. The NED has been, quite literally, a lifeline for key groups and individuals in very difficult places. He has provided hope to those who truly thought all were lost. Today is an opportunity to hear from them. It’s an opportunity to hear from you.

Finally, I’ll say that I, you know, I understand why some may fret about the challenges facing democratic values in the region. But we must remind ourselves, these authoritarians are not motivated by courage. They’re driven by fear. Quite simply, authoritarians are afraid. They are afraid of their own people. They are afraid of democracy. They are afraid of freedom. They fear what we, and all of you, most treasure, a hemisphere of freedom. Thank you.”

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