U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems' 2018 Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awards Dinner


For Immediate Release

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

Four Seasons Hotel
Washington, DC
September 24, 2018

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, my saving grace tonight might just be the old adage that you are judged by the company you keep. Tonight, that makes me a very lucky man. In addition to Ken Blackwell, a great inspirational voice in the conservative movement, I'm sharing the spotlight tonight with Senator Chris Coons, a democracy warrior, a good friend, and fellow Africa hand. I mean, how often do you walk into Senate offices and get greeted in Kiswahili?

And of course, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Both living history and a symbol of what Africa can be -- so many achievements. We celebrate how she restored peace in Liberia. We celebrate how she restored hope for the new generation across the continent. She is a (inaudible) rebuke to those occasional voices which implied that democracy only works in the West. A view that Ronald Reagan once called, cultural condescension, or worse.

And of course, my friend Bill Sweeney. I have seen him in action in the halls of the Capitol. I have seen him in action in places like Burma and Ukraine. Putting it politely, he is a bulldog for free and fair elections.

A few thoughts on the occasion of tonight. I'm always amazed how quick pundits are to pronounce the decline, if not the demise of democracy in much of the world. Now, in fairness, there's little doubt that authoritarian forces are doing everything they can to unwind freedoms' gains. It's also true that their tactics are more sophisticated and perhaps more devious, than ever before. These days, few authoritarians would actually dispute the virtues of democracy head on. They've tried that before and they failed. Instead, what they seem to do is to redefine the term and hope that nobody would notice. One approach they take is to publicly embrace democracy while working to rig the next elections before they can even get underway.

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, may be the best-known disciple of this approach. Well in advance of this year's so-called elections, his handpicked supreme court effectively absorbed all of the powers of the country's National Assembly. He then created a new assembly, a Constituent Assembly, which quickly stripped the National Assembly of any remaining power. It soon set about rewriting the constitution to give him unlimited powers.

Two of the most popular election officials, opposition members, seeing that the elections were a sham, dropped out. But that wasn't enough. For good measure, right before election day, Maduro changed the location of hundreds of polling places in opposition strongholds. Surprise; he won. He loves democracy.

Another tactic they use: phony election observers, zombie observers, as many of us call them. Many of them come from China, who's only too happy to help its clients. In advance of this year's elections, Cambodia's Hun Sen took numerous steps to extinguish the political opposition. He not only dissolved the main opposition group and banned them from politics, he even arrested and held in jail its leader.

And then, at the same time, he announced that he actually wanted election observers and international observers. They would see how smooth elections can be. And especially when you don't have any opposition. Traditional democratic voices, U.S., Canada, Europe, refuse to take part. China, which also purchased the election equipment for those elections was, of course, only too happy to oblige. The Chinese praised the election as orderly.

And yet, another tactic authoritarians use is to so restrict civil society, and independent media, that the party line propaganda is the only voice their citizens can hear. And Iran's seven journalists were recently jailed and flogged for covering a protest. In Venezuela, a freelance photographer was recently whisked away to military prison. And in just the last day or so, Nicaragua's regime forces shot students as well as the journalists covering them. Forty-one journalists were imprisoned in China at the end of 2017.

So, in other words: my friends, I can understand why some fret about the challenges that the global democracy movement is facing. Our opponents are increasingly sophisticated in the ways that they seek to frustrate the will of the people. But what I don't understand is the gloom that too many have over the future. They act as though authoritarianism is an unstoppable force, as though democracy is in irreversible decline; that its best days are past. In the Trump Administration, we simply do not agree. The only way democracy will fall away is if we let it. If we surrender. And I promise you, this Administration and my agency will never surrender.

To adapt a phrase from my friend Secretary Mike Pompeo: this is a time for democracy to get its swagger back. Tonight; right now. Let's be clear: the activists, the grassroots champions, those partners that Bill Sweeney was talking about; they have never lost theirs. Despite the threats and violence, Las Damas de Blanco -- Cuba's Ladies in White -- still gather every Sunday and then peacefully walk through the streets of Havana to protest human rights violations. Despite Ortega's brutal crackdown, his regime's shoot-to-kill policy against students, the defiling of churches, the attacks on priests, Nicaragua's citizen activists continue to protest peace and free elections.

What keeps these and other brave souls going is they realize something that too many people back here seem to have forgotten -- those anti-democratic tactics that I've described aren't signs of strength: they're proof of weakness. The authoritarians are not motivated by courage, they are driven by fear. Quite simply, tonight, let's remember the authoritarians are afraid. They're afraid of students and women and priests. They are afraid of reporters and cameras and bloggers. They are afraid of their own people and their dreams for the future. They are afraid of freedom.

According to recent reports, Chinese censors are busily scrubbing the internet of images of Winnie the Pooh. That's right. The bear of very little brain, because some apparently believe he bears a subversive resemblance to President Xi Jinping. I ask you, is that a sign of strength or weakness and self-doubt? We should celebrate tonight because there are leaders like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. There are brave students and priests in Nicaragua, Cuban wives and mothers who march to highlight the plank of political prisoners. There are journalists who, despite the floggings, the imprisonment, the threats, they will do whatever it takes to bring voters the truth.

We should celebrate tonight because there are people like the great team IFES and Bill Sweeney who work tirelessly to ensure that citizens have a chance to shape their future. We should celebrate tonight, not because democracy is flourishing in every corner of the world, but because it remains the highest and best hope for people everywhere. And we, USAID, and all of you, we will never surrender that hope. I am truly grateful for this award, all that it represents, and I salute every one of you for what you are doing. Thank you.

Last updated: May 22, 2019

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