U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at Myanmar Civil Society Summit

Monday, May 21, 2018

 

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Good morning, everyone. It's good to be here with all of you. Thank you, Teresa, for that kind introduction. As she mentioned, this is my third visit to Myanmar. Every time I come here, I am impressed both with the beauty of your country and the generosity and the optimism of your people.

As was also mentioned, I came to USAID from a democracy organization, IRI. IRI, together with her its sister organization, NDI, has proudly stood with many of the civil society groups who are represented here today.

And because of that experience, I know, I know first hand, how long and difficult Myanmar's struggle for peace and democracy has been. I also know the great courage that civil society leaders have shown during those dark and often challenging days.

It is that courage which has made today's discussion possible. It is that courage which enables your young people to dream, dreams of a brighter future, an even brighter, a more prosperous future, and yes, a more democratic future.

At USAID, we believe the purpose of our international assistance must be ending its need to exist. Not because we wish to retreat from our friends, but because we believe in our friends. We believe in your potential.

We believe in human dignity, we believe in the innate desire of every person, every community and every country to craft and lead its own bright future.

And because this spirit burns bright in the heart of Americans, when leaders are willing to take on the tough choices and the difficult challenges of that journey to self-reliance, we feel a special obligation to walk at their side, and to try to be as helpful as we can.

As part of that obligation, we hope to help these leaders build the capacities and shape the policies that our own journey as Americans tell us are necessary for people to rise up and to reach their full potential.

We're trying to use our own experience to help country partners construct a roadmap, a guide map on their journey to self-reliance. And we do that not necessarily because we have all the answers, but because, as I often point out, we have probably made all the mistakes in our own journey.

And so we say to our friends that perhaps you don't have to make the same mistakes that we made along the way. You can learn from our experience.

Our experience tells us that one of the most important elements in striving for self-reliance is democratic governance -- including the health of civil society. Now, you notice that I said democratic governance, not simply governance. Authoritarians are good at governance. It is democratic governance that matters, responsiveness to people, people organized through civil society organizations, like all of you.

The elections of 2015 in this beautiful country were a sea change. There is little doubt that the people of Myanmar, especially young people, rocketed ahead in their journey to self-reliance. I was here. I remember that day, that night -- I couldn't get to sleep because all the singing, and the dancing, and the car horns that were going on all night long. Sometimes I would complain about such things; on that night, I celebrated with all of you.

But our experience also tells us that one election does not make a democracy. One election by itself is simply a milestone in the journey to vibrant democracy, real democracy. And so we must say honestly to ourselves, amongst ourselves as friends, that the crisis in Rakhine state, and the continuing conflicts in the northern Shan and Kachin states, those tell us that the full promise of democratic governance and equal opportunity have not yet been realized.

There is work to do. There are miles to travel in that journey. Stories of corruption and the disproportionate influence of the powerful suggest to all of us that there is much work to do. As friends of Myanmar, we at USAID will continue to support your country's vibrant civil society as a way of continuing the journey to self-reliance, and, in particular, the pursuit of democracy.

We believe that the people of this country will only see their dreams met if organizations like those represented here today are strong, active, and yes -- loud. You must hold your government accountable. You must shine a light in dark places. You must protect the most vulnerable. You must be a voice for the voiceless. You must push back against corruption. You must push back against those who would divert public money from the people that it should serve. You must encourage changes to laws and administrative rules that weaken or hinder your opportunities to participate in the public arena. You must give hope to this generation of activists, who are not satisfied with just a single election, but who continue to push for economic opportunity, democratic values, and peace throughout the land.

I will say to you that America will help you in these things. We will work with you, we will support you, as long as you live up to the courage and the sacrifice that young leaders before you have shown.

This morning I have had a chance to meet with some civil society activists, and I said as I was leaving those meetings, that in my entire visit those are the most hopeful meetings that I have seen, because I see in the people that I met and the faces that I see here, I see the bright future of this country. There is a long way to go in that journey to self-reliance, but it is as noble a journey as there can be.

This is a country of unlimited potential. And the potential is not simply in the natural resources. Many countries have natural resources. The potential of the country is in the hearts, minds of your young people, from every corner of the land, from every background -- that's the great potential in this country. It is up to all of you to decide, not us, it is up to you to decide whether or not you are willing to make the sacrifices, make the tough choices, do the hard work of touching that potential, of reaching out and grabbing that future.

I can say to you as Americans, we believe in you. We want to assist you in getting there. I promise you we are cheering for you, because the world is watching. So congratulations for everything have that you have done. Thank you for that. Thank you for what you are doing. And far more importantly, thank you for what you are going to do for your fellow citizens, and for the potential of this country.

Thank you for the honor of being able to join you today. Thank you.

Lotte Hotel Rangoon, Burma May 19, 2018

Last updated: June 11, 2018

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