USAID Administrator Mark Green's Participation in a Fireside Chat with Concordia Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO Matthew A. Swift

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For Immediate Release

Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email:

Grand Hyatt Hotel
Bogota, Colombia 

MR. SWIFT: So we talked about a number of issues, including the work that USAID is doing in the region, in Colombia, and what is happening in Venezuela.  We heard a fantastic talk from you last September, at our summit in New York, presenting your pathway to self-reliance, which is really, I would say, the theme of your time as Administrator -- thus far, has been.  And I -- we've known each other for a long time, because you used to run the International Republican Institute, which is a non-partisan group that focuses on democracy and elections and combating corruption all around the world.  But, you're here in Colombia, first and foremost, because you signed a major agreement yesterday with President Iván Duque for an additional $160 million in aid.  But, before we go into some of those things, and specifically what you announced yesterday, it would be great to talk a little bit about Venezuela, and talk about how things seem to be continuing to deteriorate -- not just seem -- they are continuing to deteriorate.  Talk a little bit about the U.S. government's response and frankly, support of Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelans.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great.  Well, thanks, Matt, it's good to be with you again.  And, we were talking about it backstage, but Concordia has become your thing.  Congratulations.  It's wonderful.  It's a great gathering. 

So, yes, Venezuela.  So, you know, I think it's important to take a step back and remind ourselves where we are.  So, it's not just the U.S., 54 countries have recognized Interim President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state until free and fair elections can be held.  I think, more significantly, we're seeing that he has the mandate of the people, and we know that Maduro clearly does not.  You can see it in the crowds of protestors who have come out in Caracas and elsewhere, despite extraordinarily brutal crackdown measures by Maduro.  More importantly, you've got four million Venezuelans who have voted with their feet, and have fled the country.  That's a clear sign of Maduro's lack of legitimacy in ruling.  So, we recognize Juan Guaidó as the Interim President, and at his request, we have tried to do a number of things.

First, we have pre-positioned assistance -- along with our allies -- in a number of places for eventual delivery into Venezuela, and that's now nearly 550 metric tons of supplies.  On top of that, again, at Juan Guaidó's request, we have provided humanitarian and democracy assistance to a number of countries that are hosting Venezuelans who have fled -- particularly Colombia, but others, as well -- in an effort to try to work with our partners to ease the burden that they face as host communities. 

In a couple of weeks' time -- just to give you a preview -- we're going to announce a brand-new effort, using one of our innovative challenge mechanisms, to bring in new partners -- and partners who want to embrace creativity -- as we all look to find ways to supply relief to Venezuelans.  But, also, to begin to look toward Venezuela's very bright future, which we think is ahead.

MR. SWIFT: Are you optimistic that this is a return to democracy, or is it something else? What is it?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I'm an optimist by nature, and I'm a democracy guy by nature.  Yes, I am optimistic about the restoration of democracy for several reasons. Number one, take a look at the last time when Venezuelans were given the chance to vote. They voted for Juan Guaidó in the national assembly; I think they spoke loudly and clearly as to what they want.  They want citizen-centered, citizen-responsive governance. 

Secondly, again, I take a look at the courageous leadership of Guaidó and his team, who have been calling for democracy, despite the crackdown and brutality that they're facing. That makes me optimistic.  But more than anything else, it's the response of Venezuelans who have fled and continue to express their desire to go home, their desire to be part of the future, and their desire to restore Venezuela to greatness.  So, again, I am very optimistic.

MR. SWIFT: And to be clear -- and I think we've seen a lot of commentary on this as well -- this is not a coup.  This is not a revolution.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You can't have a revolution when we've already recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the country.  Again, us and 53 other nations, including important European powers.  So, Juan Guaidó is the legitimate ruler of Venezuela, pending free and fair elections, which of course, he very much has called for.

MR. SWIFT: And I should add, he'll be joining us via Skype a little bit later today.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: He's an impressive guy.  I've met him a few times by phone, and then, we met face-to-face in one of my recent trips down here.  I'm impressed with his courage.  I'm impressed with the team around him.  They know how difficult this is, but they also have very inspirational plans for the future.  It's real, and again, I think very much reason for optimism.

MR. SWIFT: So, the $160 million that you committed with yesterday's signing -- what does that mean, and what does that do?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: This is my fourth trip to Colombia since I've been Administrator, not just because it's a beautiful place --

MR. SWIFT: Which, how unprecedented is that, by the way?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You know, I'm not sure.  And I'm not done, so (laughter), but I've enjoyed my time here very, very much.  But you know, look, it's much more than a partnership; it's a friendship.  And it's a deep, abiding friendship based on shared values, which go all the way back to how each of our countries was born, fighting a revolution to -- a war of liberation, if you will.  You know, we believe the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist.  That's our philosophy, as an agency.  Where we find leaders, who are willing to do the difficult things, to take on the tough challenges, undertake the reforms that we believe are necessary for a journey to self-reliance and then, prosperity -- we want to walk with them.  President Duque has made that clear.  We're very impressed with the reforms he's undertaking.  We want to walk with him.  And so, that announcement was all about that.

Most of the countries where we work are not where Colombia is.  Most of the countries where we work are in much worse shape.  This is a country that is well along in its journey, though we all recognize, including President Duque, that there are challenges.  Too many communities have been left out or left behind.  There's a legacy of violence and illicit drugs that continues to, I think, haunt parts of the country --

MR. SWIFT: You're talking about Colombia?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Colombia.  And so, very much of that $160 million is to partner with Colombia to help take on those challenges.  One of the most interesting pieces of the work that we're doing, we talked about yesterday, and that's a land titling announcement that we made with the Mayor of Ovejas, which is going to become the first city ever in Colombia to have 100 percent land titling.  So, we're going to see formalization of all land ownership there, which is a way of taking on many of those challenges for communities that have been left behind, or left out, or marginalized.  So, we're very excited about it.  We think it's a great partnership for the future. 

And then, just one other note, to talk about this partnership -- again, this is a partnership based upon shared values.  You know, I remember a few years ago when flooding hit in Mocoa, here in Colombia.  We tried to help with some assistance, some emergency shelter. We felt it was our obligation as a good friend and a good neighbor.  I don't think it was three months later when Hurricane Maria hit the U.S., hit Puerto Rico, and among the very first countries to respond and send supplies was Colombia.


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, it's a great, deep partnership.

MR. SWIFT: So, you are the -- as we talked about earlier, the theme very, very much -- I think that you've been working through the entire Agency on, is the path to self-reliance. Because I think people think about aid -- well, first off, I think people immediately think "emergency response."  They think immediate food, immediate medical -- all of that.  But you talk about aid a bit differently than I think a lot of other people who have been in your position have talked about it, which is how it can empower, and how it can eventually stop. How is that going, as an Agency, for you, in sort of injecting that concept?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, you know, it's born of my own experience.  I lived in Africa a couple of times.  I started off as a teacher in Kenya, in a village.  I was always struck by, no matter how difficult things were -- lack of running water, complete poverty -- human dignity and the desire of human beings, communities, countries, to lead their own bright future.  Everything that we're doing is to try to build around that.  I believe in sovereignty and I believe in this instinctive need for people to want to lead themselves and shape their future.  And, that is at the heart of everything that we do.  We've built our programming around it, we build our conversations around it, and I have been thrilled at the response from our partners.  As I've traveled, I've heard more and more from countries all over the world saying, "Yes, that's it."  You know, "We don't want to come and ask you for assistance.  We look forward to partnering with you to getting to that day when we can join you as a donor." And, that really is what we're trying to achieve.

MR. SWIFT: All of your work, including your time at IRI, and now your time as a USAID Administrator, and all of your time as Ambassador, talk a little bit about how you feel about the region, about Latin America, as a whole.  I know you're a natural optimist, but there's an element that's a realist.  Right?  How are you feeling about the region, and do you think that we're entering a new phase where, perhaps, the global community will be spending more time focused on the region, than perhaps in the past?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I am an optimist.  When I look at the Western Hemisphere, I see that we're at a crossroads moment.  So, we see lots of signs of progress.  We look at the fact that Columbia's GDP has tripled in the last two decades.  We look at the rise of the middle-class in Latin America.  We look at the growth in Mexico, the GDP growth.  Those are all great signs of progress and hope.  On the other hand, eight of the 10 most dangerous, violent cities in the world are in Latin America.  So, we also recognize --

MR. SWIFT: Eight of 10?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Eight of the 10.  So --


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: -- We all recognize that there are real challenges, the challenges of illicit drugs and trafficking.  And, the challenge I think you're pointing to, as well, in some ways, the rise of authoritarianism.  And, I think it is a challenge for us.  It is a crossroads moment for us.  It's a challenge for those of us who are democracy guys, as I call myself. 

So, two things.  Over the years, what has changed?  Authoritarians have more tools than ever before.  They no longer oppose elections.  They steal them.  They bend them.  They take them over before election day comes.  What hasn't changed are the aspirations and courage of everyday people.  So, the ladies in white in Cuba who still, every Sunday, despite all the harassment, all the intimidation, they still march for human rights.  The Roman Catholic priests in Nicaragua who despite all the attacks, all the intimidation, are still standing up for a peaceful change in Nicaragua.  There are all kinds of signs of optimism in people.  And so, I do see it as a crossroad's moment.  But I believe if the U.S. continues to be engaged, if we continue to partner with reformers, I think this can be the Western Hemisphere's moment. 

I think this is -- as Vice President Pence has called for, a Hemisphere of Freedom, I think that's really what we have to look for, and I think the chances are brighter than ever before in some ways.

MR. SWIFT: I think at some point I really -- talking a little bit about this yesterday, as well as -- do a study on Columbia and Venezuela, the last 25 years and to see how important good governance is to everything.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It's the heart of everything.

MR. SWIFT: Somebody needs to do that study because it's unbelievable how --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Yeah.  I mean -- so, why am I optimistic?  Because you've got four million Venezuelans who have fled.  You've got the Venezuelans who have been left behind.  They see painfully what happens with authoritarianism, socialism, destructive policies.  They've seen the worst.  They can also look around and see the best.  And they can look around and say, "You know.  That can be us." 
That's why Venezuela will see change and that's why the Western Hemisphere (inaudible).

MR. SWIFT: One of the things that's been a constant subject, at this annual meeting here in Bogota, is I think, that public-private partnerships are seen at times as tools of vehicles of corruption, and we're working at Concordia to try and create a community where you can come into this space and have confidence that we are building public-private partnerships that are not vehicles of corruption.  Talk a little bit, just briefly, about your experience with public-private partnerships and why they're important.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, first I'm going to push back on one thing.  I don't allow my team to use the term "public-private partnerships," because I think in the past, it has covered for things that we don't necessarily think of as innovative as they need to be.  Instead, we saw -- we believe in collaboration, co-design, co-creation, co-financing.  There are opportunities now to involve the private sector upfront.

In the earliest days, where we look and say, "Hey, look.  We have some resources for this challenge.  We want to take on this cause.  What are your best ideas?  Come forward." The only barrier to entry is creativity.  So, I think that more opportunities for private sector engagement than I've seen in my entire career in development --

So, I say to the private sector, "Come on in.  Water's warm.  It's pleasant."  There are tremendous opportunities.  It's a chance to do well.  At the same time, that we all do good.

MR. SWIFT: That's great.  Well, thank you so much for coming, and thank you for yesterday's signing and announcement.  I know it's been a buzz around Colombia today.  So, thank you so much.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Oh, it's great.  Great to be with you, as always.  Thank you.

Last updated: November 23, 2020

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