ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, Marcela for kicking us off and for your words! Before we get started, I’d like to thank Jennifer Graetz, who has served as our Acting Mission Director the last few months. She’s done such a wonderful job in the interim, and we are very excited for her to stay in Guatemala as our Deputy Mission Director.
I’d also like to thank Ambassador Popp for your remarks, and taking time to be with us today. You have been an indispensable advocate for USAID, and have continued to prioritize the needs of our Mission. I am grateful for the ways in which you’ve bravely stood up for the interests and values of the American people, never backing down, and never being afraid to take flack, or rise to a challenge. Over the past two years you’ve navigated a challenging and important relationship with the Guatemalan government with great poise and class during what has been a turbulent time to say the least.
We also have many friends and colleagues joining us, and we have quite the family affair today! We’ve got Haven’s father Grigsby, and the two women who raised him, Felice and Margaret. His siblings, Sage, Ladee, Taj, and Chris are joining us, as well as his amazing wife Mariela, who is a Youth Specialist with our Mission in the Dominican Republic. And, when I visited the Dominican Republic last year, she connected us with the world famous Vladimir Guerrero. Thanks to Mariela, my son thought I was a pretty cool mom after that trip. And Haven’s four children are watching as well, the triplets Kai, Khalil, and Mahalia, and his oldest daughter Maya. We’ll have to fact check, but this may be a record number of family members in attendance at a swearing-in ceremony. I’m personally delighted to welcome you as we swear in your father, your brother, your son, your husband, Haven Cruz-Hubbard as our newest Mission Director to Guatemala.
Growing up, Haven lived in the suburbs of D.C. on the Maryland side where he attended the Pan-Africanist “Watoto Shule,” meaning children’s school in Swahili. Normally one's preschool is not an education we consider applicable to their career, but it was there where Haven learned to speak Swahili. And, it was also where Haven realized how much he loved to talk.
One of Haven’s family members put it very elegantly, “he seemed to take inordinate pleasure in the sheer theater and musicality of language.” Quite a beautiful way to describe Haven’s love of conversation, but a characterization his teachers may not have agreed with. His teachers had a hard time keeping him quiet. The same family member said, “He routinely took being a verbal learner to inconvenient extremes. Neither age nor setting dampened his enthusiasm for conversation.”
Haven also took a more playful approach to learning. When he was learning the Swahili word for goodbye, “kwaheri”, Haven morphed the pronunciation into the phrase, “bye, Harry!” – something his teachers did not find quite as amusing as he did. But, despite the headache he gave them at times, his teachers did really enjoy Haven. His appreciation for not just conversation, but words, music, whistling – really noises of any kind – allowed him to explore and excel in new languages as he got older.
In high school, one of Haven’s hobbies was creative writing where he wrote not just in English, but in Spanish, Mandarin, and as one does, occasionally Arabic. And on top of all that, he speaks French as well. But Haven cemented his love for his favorite language when he traveled to Mexico in high school. While beefing up on his Spanish, Haven also realized how much he enjoyed spicy Mexican cuisine, telenovelas, and music from Luis Miguel.
After high school, Haven attended Amherst college to study political science and Spanish – to no one's surprise. In college, he also sang tenor in a traveling gospel choir that was so good they were featured on the Arsenio Hall show. Haven, you’ve done it on live TV so I don’t see why you can’t sing some bars for us today!
Haven also had quite an itch for travel during college. He spent a summer in Switzerland to take an international peace building course, went to the Dominican Republic – a trip that inspired his honors thesis on the Dominican Republic – and Haiti. And upon graduation, he went to China to improve his Mandarin.
With already quite the laundry list of qualifications, Haven then attended Harvard Law School. While taking classes, he worked at Harvard's Legal Aid Bureau where he helped clients receive disability benefits, social security checks, and prevented families from being evicted during cold Boston winters.
Maybe because of those winters, when Haven graduated from Harvard he left the East Coast and began his legal career in Los Angeles. After a few years, he joined the Foreign Service and became a legal advisor with USAID based in Lima, Peru. He put his Spanish to good use, and was a fierce advocate for our Foreign Service National staff in the region. For nearly two years, Haven fought the interagency to restore retirement benefits that were tangled in a bureaucratic mess for a few locally employed staff in Ecuador.
He then spent time in Dakar, Senegal, in a similar role, and after more than ten years overseas, Haven returned to Washington to serve as Assistant General Counsel for the Africa and Food Security Bureaus.
While in Washington, Haven kept a close eye on Afghanistan, and could not ignore the dire conditions for women and girls there. So, he volunteered to serve and became the Senior Resident Legal Advisor for our Mission. Haven quickly took on a charged, but critical task. After a series of assaults and harassment complaints from both U.S. and Afghan female staff, Haven’s team created a cross-cultural sexual harassment training that all Mission staff were required to take. The initial show of support prompted more women to come forward with complaints, which ultimately led to the necessary dismissal of offending staff.
Haven then went to the Dominican Republic, eventually serving as Mission Director. From the moment he stepped into the role, Haven was renowned for his camaraderie.
One colleague said, “With Haven, everyone got a fair hearing for whatever point of view they had. He was a good listener, but always decisive when it came time to make a decision. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.”
And another said, “Everyone understood Haven was in charge, but his informal approach brought out the best in people.” And everyone felt at ease with his booming laugh and his great voice impressions.
He carried this energy to South Sudan when he became Mission Director in August of 2020. Typically, only a one year posting, Haven decided that to make a difference he’d have to stay longer, so right away he extended for another year. During Haven’s time he oversaw the distribution of vital humanitarian assistance in a country where nearly two thirds of the population requires humanitarian assistance.
While in Juba, Haven also built new partnerships with the private sector to support agribusinesses, and worked with the NBA, and other private foundations, to launch a first-of-its-kind leadership and sport initiative – to train and empower youth leaders. This is a wonderful initiative that will benefit so many kids throughout South Sudan, but I’m curious if the real reason behind it was so that Haven could show off his basketball skills. One of his colleagues said, “Haven can really ball. He’s a monster in the paint and will back you up if you don’t put a body on him. I definitely prefer him on my team.”
As we welcome Haven to Guatemala, those watching from the Mission should heed that warning – as though you already didn’t have a reason, pick him first!
But, Haven isn’t just returning to Latin America to throw down in the paint; we need him to serve in this critical post, to a country with the largest population and GDP in Central America.
When I visited Guatemala last year, I conveyed to President Giammattei our desire to partner with his government to expand opportunity for the people of Guatemala, especially those in heavily indigenous areas like the Western Highlands that have suffered from decades of social and economic exclusion, and where USAID is rightly focused. But I also made very clear to him the premium that the Biden-Harris Administration places on rooting out corruption, and strengthening democracy.
Unfortunately, since that time we have witnessed a series of developments in Guatemala that weaken the rule of law, shrink civic space, and undermine the fight against corruption. While we enjoy productive working relationships with some in the Guatemalan Government – for example, the Ministry of Labor on expanding access to H-2 visas – we have also had to pivot away from working with institutions like the Public Ministry, which under the current attorney general has weaponized the criminal law against government critics, independent judges, and prosecutors.
As we navigate these challenges and prepare to support a free, fair, and inclusive electoral process next year, our support of the Guatemalan people will remain strong. Last year, when I traveled to Guatemala City, I announced our Guatemala Entrepreneurship and Development Innovation initiative designed to help women, young people, and Indigenous entrepreneurs access sorely needed capital. With an investment of just eight million dollars from USAID, 16 private sector partners followed suit and invested more than $59 million in small and medium-sized businesses throughout Guatemala. These are vital investments in a country where 150,000 people enter the workforce each year, but only 35,000 jobs are available to them.
Violence – especially gender based violence – also remains an enduring challenge. Guatemala has some of the world’s highest femicide rates, and extremely high rates of domestic abuse, while a majority of time, those who commit these crimes go unpunished in the courts. To fight this impunity we partnered with the judiciary to create specialized 24-hour courts for violence against women and sexual exploitation in each of the 22 Departments of Guatemala.
Many Guatemalans, left with few options in their own country, are making the dangerous trek north in search of a better opportunity. But the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to creating pathways of hope and opportunity within Guatemala and addressing the root causes of irregular migration.
Perhaps the most important investment we can make in Guatemala is in its young people. More than 60 percent of the population is made up of those under the age of 30, so we are prioritizing programs that will support their growth and development. For example, when kids were stuck at home during the pandemic we helped nearly 2.5 million primary school students access distance learning. And when they went back to school we supported the Ministry of Education in their plans to safely bring students back to the classroom.
We’ve also worked with nearly 30,000 young people through our workforce readiness programs, which creates professional experience through internships, entrepreneurial endeavors, and employment. And we are leading the charge to launch a National Youth Service Corps next year that will connect youth throughout the country to community service projects.
As we continue our engagement with Guatemala, Haven will lead our Mission, and manage our partnerships to root out corruption, create greater economic opportunities, prevent crime and gender based violence, and curb irregular migration. Haven will also continue our crucial work with Guatemala’s youth, so they can one day shape a freer, and more prosperous, Guatemala.
Everywhere Haven has gone, his mission has been to make those around him feel empowered. According to one colleague, “He’s obsessed with creating the right Mission environment so everyone can thrive.” I know you will, once again, do this in Guatemala, and I’m excited to see all that you accomplish there.
Before I wrap up, I’d also like to thank Haven’s friends and family for their support over the years. So much effort and sacrifice goes into supporting someone in this line of work. I’m sure Haven has already said this, but he truly would not be here without you all, and thank you for all that you've done so that he could be here today.