Administrator Samantha Power at the Commemoration of Uzbekistan’s 30th Year of Independence

Speeches Shim

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good evening everybody. I can’t tell you how honored I am to be a part of this really, really important happy birthday celebration—30 years of independence for Uzbekistan.

Thank you, Ambassador Vakhabov, for this invitation to speak, it’s really, again, a very special occasion.

I have to confess that I have personally yet to travel to Uzbekistan. But my parents, my mother and my father, travelled to your country when I was younger and they told me about their travels—and they painted this picture in my imagination about the atlas scarves and the dresses of Samarkand, the turquoise-blue domes of the Kalan mosques—and especially the melons. I heard a lot about the melons. All shades of yellow and green, orange flesh that is sweeter than honey, and some melons that are large enough to feed an entire family. And I’m Irish, so we think a lot about what it takes to feed a whole family.

So after all of this, needless to say, I am overdue for a visit to Uzbekistan. And as the Ambassador indicated, I have the best excuse to do so because a truly important sign of the deepened and deepening relationship between our two countries is in fact, the fact that USAID has just opened, last year, a mission in Uzbekistan. And, again, this is just one symptom, I think, of many, about where this relationship is going.

For now, before my visit, I want to celebrate with you, the generation that’s passed since Uzbekistan’s independence, and I want to celebrate the stunning changes that have occurred in the country in just a few years.

Since the establishment of the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent in 1992, and even just since the establishment of the USAID mission last year, America has taken really meaningful steps to extend our partnership in this moment, these moments, of profound opportunity for the Uzbek people.

This year isn’t just the 30th year of Uzbekistan’s independence—it is the 580th year of Alisher Navoi, the great poet and founder of Uzbek literature.

Navoi’s poetry struck through with vivid imagery and passionate emotion, but he was also a poet of optimism. And here, just two lines that stand out to me, a newcomer to his writing: “The sun issues out its rays of sadness;” he wrote. “And we, like planets, revolve around hope.” Around hope.

Uzbekistan has long felt rays of sadness fall on its valleys and it’s plains, from centuries of foreign domination, imperial conquests, to decades of Stalinist purges, and Soviet repression.

But the Uzbek people have always revolved around hope, and recent strides toward freedom and good governance have been extremely encouraging and inspiring.

The United States welcomes President Mirziyoyev’s vision for a “New Uzbekistan.''

Uzbekistan has moved really quickly to embrace bold economic reforms so that the Uzbek people can improve their livelihoods, build businesses, and create sustainable economic opportunity for their communities. We are hopeful that these reforms will have real impact for real people on the ground.

Impacts in the lives of Uzbek farmers like Abdugaffor; let me tell you a little about him. For most of Abdugaffor life since independence, he worked on other people’s orchards while dreaming of having one of his own. But access to the land and money needed to start a farm were barriers that kept his dream out of reach.

When the Government of Uzbekistan began providing plots of land to its citizens through its land liberalization program, Abdugaffor signed up and received an underutilized orchard. He quickly went from being a farmhand to being an entrepreneur, hiring people from his own community in the process. But, the boom-and-bust cycle of the industry made it difficult for Abdugaffor to turn a profit. What he needed was simple—refrigerators and freezers so he could preserve his farm’s grape and pomegranate yields until prices rose.

A USAID program helped him acquire and learn to use his first cold storage unit, allowing him to sell for-profit at market prices. Better prices for his business meant he could hire four year-round employees and another 20 people during the harvest, creating opportunities and livelihoods right in his own backyard.

The Uzbek Government, as you know, has also liberalized its foreign exchange and cut red tape by digitizing its export paperwork. Abdugaffor has thus been free to export his products to Kazakhstan, Latvia, and the Kyrgyz Republic. He has hired more people, doubled the number of seasonal workers, and earned enough money, finally, to fulfill a lifelong dream: to send his parents to Mecca for the Hajj.

USAID is continuing to work with the Government of Uzbekistan to further improve trade throughout the region, cut red tape, and push through reforms that attract foreign investors to the country.

We’ve also ramped up our partnerships with textile producers, trying to draw more investment to that industry. An industry that once had been tarnished by it’s reputation for child labor, but has since taken steps to accelerate the fight against exploitation.

Democracy, as we’ve heard, is the ultimate goal, the ultimate destination. And we know first hand here in the United States that democracies are not born overnight. And they do not thrive simply when people prosper.

The people of Uzbekistan have made clear their aspiration for a government that is responsive to their needs. Uzbeks know that in order to thrive, press and civil society must be free to report; corruption must be rooted out so foreign investment can flow; and free and competitive elections must reflect the people’s will.

We have seen much progress over these past few years, and now is the time to build on these positive developments, to advance Uzbekistan’s democratic transformation as quickly and as wholeheartedly as its economic transformation. And here again, USAID stands ready to help.

Given developments in the region, I also want to note that in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has supported humanitarian relief and partnered with the United States, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and others during the recent, difficult, evacuation operation.

Let me close, if I may, by simply congratulating the people of Uzbekistan, all of its people. I just spoke with the Ambassador, he was eleven at the time of independence. I spoke with the political counselor, he was seven years old. The next generation is coming up. Thirty years of independence has been lived by young people in Uzbekistan who have these enormous ‘sky is the limit’ aspirations for themselves, and for their country, and for the next generations to come.

So happy birthday on this 30 year anniversary. Let me pledge to you that you will always have a strong partner in the United States. We look forward to working with you to ensure that a generation from now, those rays of sadness are just a distant memory, and that we can gather together, not only to celebrate Uzbekistan’s sovereignty in the future, which is now so well established, but the fulfillment of the Uzbek people’s aspiration for freedom and for prosperity.

Thank you so much.

Last updated: September 09, 2021

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