Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-In Ceremony for USAID/Nicaragua Mission Director Michael Eddy

Speeches Shim

Friday, June 3, 2022

Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I’m really grateful, Ambassador Sullivan, for you to have joined us and to offer that great welcome to Michael. Marcela, thank you for your leadership and for emceeing here today.

It really is a great, great pleasure to get to swear in Michael Eddy, our new Mission Director for USAID/Nicaragua.

I want to start with just a few acknowledgments, starting again with the Ambassador.

Thank you for your leadership amid this worsening political crisis in Nicaragua—and particularly, your steadfast support for USAID/Nicaragua. It is very, very noticed back here in Washington, and above all by the people on the ground who work for USAID under your leadership and authority. These are dangerous times to support the legitimate Nicaraguan opposition, and yet our colleagues—particularly our Foreign Service Nationals, whom Michael and I were just speaking about at length—are demonstrating their courage to do just that. Your support has allowed our work to carry on and our colleagues to stay as safe as possible in these very, very tough circumstances.

Welcome as well to Nora Pinzon, USAID/Nicaragua’s Acting Mission Director. Over the last two years, Nora has led the Mission through some of its most turbulent waters—the outbreak and persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic, this disturbing, deteriorating political environment, and the repercussions of two major, back-to-back hurricanes in late 2020. Nora, thank you for your extraordinary service. I look forward to saying that in person at some point.

And finally, a big welcome to Michael’s family. His brothers Rob and Chris who are joining us virtually. His wife Sharane, also a longtime member of the USAID family. His two children, India and Isaac—India and Isaac, I hope your ears are burning, because Michael and I just spent a lot of time talking about respectively your acting and screenwriting prowess, India, and Isaac, your capacity to make games, which is something very, very special, up there in Burlington. And welcome also to Michael’s parents, John and June. Thank you so much for supporting Michael on this lifelong journey.

Michael’s family deserves that special mention. Many of you know that Michael loves being outdoors, and is a particular fan of water sports. And yet, adventurous and outgoing though he was as a boy, Michael was once petrified of the water—so terrified that he had to be coaxed into the deep end with the promise of Snickers bars. Snickers bars! Today, Michael is a strong and enthusiastic swimmer. So as we think at USAID about incentives—progress not programs—let’s think about candy as a powerful force for good.

Michael grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where he quickly gained a reputation among his grade-school teachers as a hardworking student, but also a bit of a class clown. He loved making people laugh—a quality that made him a hit as the anchor of the school news broadcast. And he loved making friends. You will note that this is a throughline in Michael’s life.

However, I’m told that his extroverted nature also sometimes got him into trouble. As a teenager, Michael got a job stocking shelves at Luedke’s grocery store. Unfortunately, he spent more time talking to coworkers and customers than actually doing that shelf-stocking. Therefore, his manager was not pleased. I do not know whether he was terminated, but that will be Michael’s secret that he will retain for himself.

But it was this gift for connecting with people that set Michael on the path that led him here to USAID. In junior high, he began taking Spanish lessons, inspired in part by his teacher, Señora Lind. She and Michael quickly developed a strong bond—one that fostered his interest in Spanish culture and inspired him to work hard at his language skills.

By his junior year of college, Michael’s Spanish was good enough to carry him through an entire year in Madrid, building his fluency through countless, endless conversations. Over the course of the year, Michael traveled to smaller towns and villages in the Spanish countryside that didn’t often feature as guidebook destinations. He discovered new cultures and histories—and of course, he made friends wherever he went.

Despite his small-town roots, Michael had always longed to see the world, to meet and connect with people different from him. His time in Spain didn’t satisfy that longing; it reinforced it and deepened it. He wanted to see more of the world, discover more new cultures, and meet more new people. It was a desire that would drive a more than thirty-year career in international development.

For most of the 1990s, Michael worked for the World Bank, the National Democratic Institute, and Management Systems International, a development firm. Then, in August of 1998, he arrived at USAID—and more specifically, at our Mission in Nicaragua.

Michael spent his first few months in Nicaragua with Sharane, driving around in their dark green Toyota Hilux, exploring every corner of the country. He sought out the same types of small towns and villages that he had discovered during his time in Spain. And everywhere this amazing couple went, they won the friendship of the people they encountered. Many Nicaraguans said Michael’s Spanish was just as good as their own—the ultimate compliment.

But four months after their arrival, Hurricane Mitch made landfall in Central America, hovering over the region for nearly a week. The storm was one of the deadliest to ever hit the region. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed. Around 4,000 Nicaraguans died. And five days of torrential rain sparked mudslides that destroyed entire villages in northwestern Nicaragua, already one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

In the wake of the destruction, Michael visited the site of the mudslides and organized donations for the communities. Progress, not programs. And at Christmas, he, Sharane, and his colleagues visited the area once again, delivering toys and gifts for children who had lost members of their families and breaking bread with hundreds of others in the community.

Michael’s time in Nicaragua was just the start of a long career at USAID—one that has spanned more than two decades. He has represented our Agency all over the world: in Thailand, Bolivia, North Macedonia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Brazil, and Sudan. And once again, everywhere he went, he made an impression, and left an impression—whether it was creating a groundbreaking biodiversity impact fund in the Amazon, or helping the newly formed Republic of South Sudan build its first democratic institutions.

But his impact stretches far beyond the accomplishments that line his resume. Michael is someone who dives into the culture of his new home, who seeks out the communities off the beaten path, and who finds ways to connect with those who are different from him. In Thailand, he coached youth basketball teams. In Brazil, he organized Halloween drives at the mission. And in North Macedonia, he fulfilled a dream of so many sports fans—this one included—when he was invited to do color commentary for the national Macedonian broadcast of the 2007 NFL Super Bowl. I have a past as a color commentator from my college basketball and baseball teams, so I am very jealous.

In fact, his love for the Green Bay Packers is the stuff of legends, and it may be contagious. His coworker in Nicaragua, Luis, once said that there was no amount of money he could have been paid to watch American football—something one hears across Latin America, I suspect. But thanks to Michael, today Luis is not just a fan of the sport—he’s an ardent Packers fan. So, again, achieving the impossible in Latin America. There’s hope for politics, too.

Michael’s ability to connect with people is part of why he’s the perfect person to head up USAID’s Mission in Nicaragua. And it’s no wonder that his past and future colleagues in the country are so excited to welcome him home.

And yet, Michael does take the reins at a really difficult time for Nicaragua—and an especially difficult time, as we’ve mentioned, for our Foreign Service Nationals in Nicaragua.

In 2018, frustrated with the government’s curtailing of pension benefits, Nicaraguans began peacefully demonstrating against the actions of the government led by President Ortega. In April of that year, Ortega ordered a violent crackdown against the protestors, leading to hundreds of deaths, injuries, and arrests.

Since then, Ortega has only become more draconian in his crackdowns against political opposition. Nicaraguan jails are filled with more than 150 political prisoners, including former presidential candidates. He has closed hundreds of civil society organizations and exiled NGOs, faith-based groups, and citizens who oppose or are critical of him. And he has rejected the overwhelming will of the Nicaraguan people by maintaining his grip on power through sham elections held this past November.

Yet it’s clear that despite President Ortega’s grip on power, many, if not most, of the country opposes him. And to this day, our Foreign Service Nationals live under threat of retaliation from the Ortega-Murillo regime, as do countless Nicaraguans.

And that’s all in addition to the devastating toll that COVID-19 has taken on the country. By the summer of 2020, hospitals were overflowing, doctors and nurses were getting sick due in part to a lack of protective equipment, and thousands of people were dying. And over the course of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of cases were likely unaccounted for.

But for all of these bleak features of the landscape in Nicaragua, it is really important to remember—as Michael can, and as so many of you can, gathered here today—that it was not always such.

In the 1990s, Nicaragua held democratic elections, and put in power the nation’s first female President. Censorship was lifted, the scope of military involvement was limited, and several industries run by the state were privatized. Her election generated among many a cautious hope for Nicaragua. It was a moment that showed the country’s potential for a democratic future.

Today, USAID is working to provide the support that Nicaragua needs to realize that future. That support includes humanitarian assistance to help Nicaragua rebuild from natural disasters and from the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes training and support for young people poised to drive change in their own communities. And it includes support for independent media and investigative journalism and widespread civic participation.

A lack of government support, paired with threats of retaliation, from the Nicaraguan government makes our efforts more difficult to undertake, particularly as we work to empower the legitimate political opposition, exiled civil society organizations, and migrants fleeing to neighboring countries like Costa Rica.

To continue that important work, our Mission in Nicaragua requires someone entrepreneurial. Someone creative. Someone who holds front and center the individuals and communities directly impacted by everything from natural disasters and democratic backsliding. Someone who doesn’t shrink from challenges, but dives headfirst into them. Someone who has gained, already, a deep understanding of the country’s language and culture, and who can connect with its people even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Throughout Michael’s more than twenty years at USAID, he has shown that he is not just a good fit for this position—he is the perfect fit.

As his coworker said, “the hands of God must have been involved in bringing Michael back to Nicaragua. Having him in charge is the best thing that could have happened to us.”

That’s pretty high praise. The hand of God was involved. I very much agree, and I think everyone here does as well. We couldn’t be more excited, Michael, for you to be taking up the helm as Mission Director, USAID/Nicaragua.

With that, it’s my pleasure to administer the oath of office.

Last updated: June 03, 2022

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