U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at Council of the Americas Event

Press Release Shim

Speeches Shim

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Washington, DC
August 8, 2018

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Good morning. And, Eric, thank you for those kind words. And thanks for all that you've done to arrange my visit here today. I really am grateful for the opportunity, and I see so many people that I've worked with over the years, and it's great to see you here.

As Eric mentioned, one year ago this week, President Trump gave me the honor of joining the great team at USAID. It seems only fitting that I mark that milestone here. I've made more trips to Latin America during that time than any other region in the world.

There are many reasons why we at USAID are so focused on our work in the Americas. We see great openings in the region to enhance trade, investments, and economic opportunity in ways that will not only lift lives, but, yes, expand American economic leadership.

Latin America already accounts for more than a quarter of all U.S. goods exports, and supports over 2 and a half million American jobs. According to the OECD, the expansion of the Latin American middle-class is one of the major positive socio-economic transformations of recent times. In 2001, only 21 percent of the population in Latin America was considered middle-class. In 2015, that figure was approaching 35 percent.

In Mexico, real GDP growth is upwards of 3 percent. As you all know, the OECD recently voted to allow Colombia to join its ranks. It will soon claim its place on the world's economic stage alongside Chile and Mexico.

Of course, there are other, darker trends that have also drawn our engagement at USAID. Eight of the world's 10 most violent countries are in Latin America. It is arguably the world's most dangerous region outside a war zone. And the economic progress that has lifted so many lives -- well, it's just as true that it has left far too many communities behind.

More than 30 million people live in extreme poverty in Latin America. Latin America has some of the world's highest levels of income inequality, and it disproportionately affects the 154 million young people who are in the region.

And, of course, it's hard to talk about the Americas these days without touching upon migration. Now, we, I think, in the U.S., instinctively focus on the migration emerging from the Northern Triangle. But what we don't talk about enough, what doesn't receive enough coverage is the largest cross-border mass exodus in the history of the Americas: Venezuela.

Some estimates are that more than 1.6 million Venezuelans* have already fled to Colombia. I saw firsthand when I was in Cucuta and the Bolivar Bridge last month, this is a real time crisis. Five thousand new migrants enter Colombia each and every day, real time, day after day. They're desperately seeking food, emergency medical care. They're seeking survival.

To be clear, this is not merely Colombia's problem. As I heard at the Summit of the Americas, desperate Venezuelans are fleeing to places like Brazil and Ecuador, and some are now reaching the Caribbean. This massive displacement creates challenges with everyone involved. And, of course, it's entirely man-made and entirely regime-driven.

So, given all these challenges and opportunities, the question for us at USAID is, "What should our approach be in the Americas?" Someone put it, "What are we going to do about it?"

What principles should guide our work as we seek to lift lives, strengthen enterprise opportunity, and advance U.S. leadership? In many ways, we're guided by the principles that Vice President Pence laid out in his message around the Summit in Lima, but they date back to a framework that was first described by Thomas Jefferson two centuries ago.

Jefferson, thinking about the nature of this hemisphere and what he saw in the U.S. role in the hemisphere, he wrote, "America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe and, peculiarly, her own. She should, therefore, have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. While the last is laboring to become the domicile of despotism, our endeavor should surely be to make our hemisphere that of freedom."

A "hemisphere of freedom." How beautiful that sounds, what Washington and Bolivar fought so hard for, and others, like Lincoln, gave their lives to defend. And what so many young Americans, North and South, dream of today, and they deserve.

I like to think of USAID as the operations arm of American foreign policy. And so, for us, that notion of freedom serves as both an inspiration and an operational road map.

For us, freedom includes the freedom of personal security, the right to be safe and secure in your own home and own community, the right to live each day free from fear.

We're part of the effort to ensure that, throughout the hemisphere, narco-traffickers and drug dealers who pedal death and violence, they find nowhere to hide. We see intense eradication as an essential step in the hemisphere's response, as progress in places like Peru's Monzon Valley has shown. But, we're also convinced that eradication alone won't win the fight. It won't carry the day.

And so, we play a role in fostering alternative livelihoods to ensure that once coca is actually removed, licit crops and rewarding jobs can take root.

A few months back, I visited Peru and saw firsthand how our partnership with that government, its national anti-drug commission (DEVIDA), and the business community is making eradication more effective and more sustainable. We're deploying technical assistance to improve the local business climate. We're providing farmers with high-quality seeds and cultivation. And we're matching these farmers with chocolatiers and confectioners in Europe and the U.S.

Peru's production of export-quality chocolate will more than double by 2021, helping to feed the growing demand for dark chocolate and supply the $35 billion U.S. confectionery industry. We have similar programs involved in another of my great vices: coffee.

During my visit in Peru, I asked a farmer why it was he was turning away from coca. After all, coca still produces money. And he said, emotionally, as he put his hands on the shoulders of his two boys, "Coca gives you work, but it doesn't give you a future."

Freedom of personal security isn't just about the drug trade, as the Northern Triangle countries know so well. Crime, corruption and, in some places, outright lawlessness, are driving people to desperation and to flight.

One of our most promising initiatives harnesses lessons that U.S. law enforcement and community leaders learned on the streets in places like Boston and L.A. We brought together civil society leaders, local officials, and police in parts of Honduras to establish 46 outreach centers. These centers recruit mentors and provide vocational training for at-risk youth. We're supporting efforts to help them find jobs and, neighborhood by neighborhood, deter them from joining gangs and criminal life.

Our assistance has helped place streetlights and clear abandoned soccer fields that had become dumping grounds for bodies. We helped launch a program to combat substance abuse. And we even supported the launch of a local soccer league to take at-risk youth off the streets.

In the four years since this work has begun, homicides in that part of Honduras have fallen 70 percent, and gang recruits dropped by one quarter.

For us, the hemisphere of freedom also includes economic freedom, freedom for private enterprise, the freedom to own and invest, the freedom to pursue your own entrepreneurial dreams.

And, for us, this freedom reinforces all the others. It helps citizens and communities realize freedom's benefits in a very tangible, measurable way. It helps freedom deliver.

Since the day I joined USAID, I've emphasized two very simple principles in our approach to development: first, the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist. And we say that because we believe in the inherent desire of every person, every community, and every country to be self-reliant, to be able to lead their own future, and create their own opportunity.

Second principle we follow, we believe, quite simply, that free enterprise is the most powerful force on earth for accelerating a country's journey to self-reliance. So, in practical terms, what this means is that we're prioritizing programs in this hemisphere that incentivize market-based economic reforms, strengthen in-country capacity, mobilize domestic resources, and strengthen the role of civil society. In Honduras, we're helping to ensure that economic growth is more inclusive.

A great example of that is Carmen Carrasco, a 23 year old woman from one of the most violent neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She completed a USAID-sponsored, community-based training program, Empleando Futoros, that helped her choose a technical training path and learn valuable skills. She now works in the construction industry as an iron assembler. According to Carmen, this project is, "An opportunity that changed my life, filled me with knowledge and taught me that there are no such things as men's jobs or women's jobs; there are just jobs."

People like Carmen change the character of their neighborhoods. They strengthen the communities in which they live and work. In Colombia, we're providing technical assistance that is turning mining, especially gold mining, from an illegal activity that funds criminals, destroys the environment, and steals tax revenue into real opportunities for good jobs and community development. Believe it or not, illegal mining has now replaced drug trafficking as the primary source of funding for organized crime in Colombia. Our Artisanal Gold Mining program strengthens laws on permitting and registration. It teaches workers how to cost-effectively mine without relying on mercury, and helps rehabilitate the land when the mining is done. In short, it gives legal, responsible mining businesses the chance to succeed and generate both new jobs and government revenues.

It creates new investment opportunities; it uses private enterprise and community based workforce, to make sure that freedom delivers. Our work in Colombia goes well beyond mining. For example, we've been using our programs to help Colombia with strategically planning their energy sectors. One result is that just over a week ago, Colombia was able to announce its first reverse energy auction. The auction has a role of delivering 1,000 megawatts of new capacity next year in 2019. This auction will generate strong international competition, including from U.S. investors, equipment suppliers, providing the nation low cost, clean energy. Again, economic freedom that delivers.

But of course, to be clear, more than anything else, when Jefferson wrote of a "hemisphere of freedom," he was writing about liberty and democratic freedom, the right for every man and woman to have a voice in their government and to shape their government's policies. Democratic freedom guides and inspires our work at USAID because we don't believe the Americas can rise to their potential unless democracy -- citizen-led, citizen responsive governance -- touches every corner of the hemisphere.

Two centuries after Jefferson's message, even though so much has been achieved in the Americas, in too many places, freedom is but a dream. In Cuba, Fidel Castro may have passed away, but his legacy of repression continues with Raul. Raul is still leading the Communist Party. When I met Cuban pro-democracy leaders on the edges of the Summit of the Americas, their message was very clear. They said instead of moderating, the Havana regime is merely mutating. And they warned us not to be fooled.

The dictatorship continues to crack down on civil society by harassing, beating, and jailing the Cuban people. Las Damas de Blanco, the ladies in white, still gather every week and peacefully walk to church to protest ongoing human rights abuses and call for the unconditional release of political prisoners. And every week, those courageous ladies are met with harassment, violence, and arrest by Castro's thugs. In Cuba, it's old-line communism that is mutating. In Nicaragua, it's old-style tyranny that's doing its best to make a comeback. The ironies are inescapable. Daniel Ortega once battled tooth and nail to overturn Somoza's reign. He has now become Somoza.

Just last month, I met the local Nicaraguan community leaders as I passed through Miami. I heard of the brutality and ongoing violence occurring right now as we speak. Over 350 people have been killed; the death toll rises each day. NGOs on the ground say the regime has authorized a "shoot to kill" policy and is using tactical weapons and snipers to carry it out. There are widespread reports of kidnapping, extra-judicial killings, and torture. And the injured have been intentionally denied access to life-saving care.

Students who dare to protest are labeled terrorists. Even the church and the clergy, who believe their faith calls them to try to bring peace and to try to mediate, are now under attack for those very same activities. Because priests were unwilling to simply stand by during the atrocities, Daniel Ortega has called the Roman Catholic Church itself "coup-mongers." And now, the Nicaraguan priests have recently described for me the regime's relentless efforts to frighten, intimidate, and divide them.

Ortega must stop the violence now; he must listen to the voice of the people, the voice of freedom.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most far-reaching forces sweeping across Latin America is the wave of Venezuelans desperately fleeing Maduro's dictatorship and mismanagement.

A country rich in resources, that country has been reduced to stock outs, hyperinflation, malnutrition, and a scarcity in the most basic of medicines. A country that should be a donor nation, a country that should be lifting others out of poverty, has become a driver of despair, and (inaudible) country in other parts of the region.

USAID has mobilized over $40 million in funding to support Venezuelans and Colombians who have fled Venezuela. This is aimed to help such things as medical attention, emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, shelter, and protection from violence and exploitation.

This brings total U.S. assistance in the region, including Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador, to these crises to over $60 million.

We stand ready to offer humanitarian assistance to suffering families who remain in Venezuela, if only President Maduro will allow us the access and the chance to extend a helping hand.

As I saw for myself when I visited the border, the world owes Colombia a debt of gratitude for its willingness to accommodate the Venezuelans who have fled to there. And we're supporting their efforts.

But the numbers of those displaced and the needs they have from living for months under horrible, miserable, basic nutrition challenges, emergency healthcare, and more. It obviously requires a much broader international response.

As we know, humanitarian assistance is not a long term answer -- in Venezuela or anywhere else. The U.S. always stands with people when disaster strikes; that's just who we are, but we must also remember that these are not natural disasters. Again, they are man-made and regime-driven. Ortega, Maduro, and Castro are simply on the wrong side of history.

We believe that USAID has an irreplaceable role in helping the Americas to reach their potential, a potential that is almost limitless. But your role, your role is even more important.

First, you can help deliver on the promise of democracy and freedom by creating opportunity. Second, by the way you do business, you can reinforce the openness and transparency necessary for sustainable, conclusive economic growth, to rise, to lead. Now, I'm always amazed, people look around the world, they look at the demographics. They refer to the youth bulge in many parts of the world as a problem to be avoided, or a challenge to be met. It's an opportunity. It's an opportunity to shape the future.

Taken together, the freedoms that we see, the freedoms that are part of that hemisphere of freedom, that unleashed energy and creativity in the way the government alone could never match. As opportunity grows and good jobs are created, and access to justice reaches communities that are sometimes forgotten, crime will find no corner. As communities flourish, democracy becomes stronger because people see it; see the results, tangible, real.

Seeing how far nations like Colombia and Peru have come inspires people inside and outside of Latin America in ways that USAID and our U.S. partners could not, at least not alone. Our most effective programs are those that partner successful community leaders from across the region. Like those who turned Medellin and Cali around, to apply them to communities that could use role models and inspiration.

The Americas are a community. The Americas are a neighborhood. What affects one inevitably affects the others. Last year, when a string of hurricanes flattened much of the Caribbean, we in the U.S., we at USAID, we moved to assist. We assisted in supporting the displaced, helping the homeless, and launching projects to help effected communities find new livelihoods.

A few months later, when Hurricane Maria lashed the shores of Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico were among those who responded. Mexico sent $100,000 in potable water and mosquito repellent. They sent six electrical experts to help assess the power grid needs on the island.

As someone said to me at the time, that's what friends and neighbors do. Indeed, especially in that hemisphere of freedom. Thank you.

*Approximately 1 million people who have fled Venezuela are currently sheltering in Colombia.

Last updated: March 30, 2020

Share This Page