A Hemisphere of Freedom
As a principal author of the Declaration of Independence wrote to a friend nearly a century and a half ago: “America, north and south, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe. Our end goal must surely be to make our hemisphere a hemisphere of freedom.”
The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mark Green, quoted Jefferson at a Center for Strategic International Studies round-table discussion on November 30. “I think that even today, we all realize the urgency of that message.”
Authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba today are suffering sociopolitical turmoil, economic disruptions, and human rights abuses. The round-table discussion featured Mr. Green’s announcement of new USAID grants totaling more than $18 million to assist victims of oppression in those three countries.
The grants will be used for relief to people who have fled their countries, to pay for exchanges of information among them and to reinforce support from abroad in making their quest for relief.
A Catalog of Injustices
Venezuela: From March 2017 to June of this year, over 800,000 Venezuelans have fled to neighboring Colombia and others to Brazil amid political and economic chaos in Caracas under President Daniel Ortega’s leadership.
Nicaragua: Nearly 8,000 asylum claims from Nicaragua were registered in neighboring Costa Rica between April and July of this year. Some of these have moved on as part of the throngs now seeking entry into the United States across the southern U.S. border.
Cuba: About 23 percent of Cubans in the U.S. have arrived here in the last eight years. The situation hasn’t improved since the last of the Castros recently relinquished power in Havana. “In Cuba”, according to USAID chief executive Green, “Raul Castro is still pulling the strings of the Communist Party. His brother Fidel’s legacy of oppression continues unabated.”
According to Freedom House’s annual report in 2018, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba are three of the least free countries in South America and the Caribbean. In Mr. Green’s view, “it is well past time that we establish support for the dispossessed in Central America and the Caribbean.”
The CSIS round-table participants included:
- Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
- Former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), who will retire at the beginning of 2019 after a 30-year career in Congress.
- Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy.
- David Smolansky, former mayor of a neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, who lived with oppression in that country.
According to Mr. Smolansky, a total of four million Venezuelans have fled — that’s 5,000 a day over several years. But, he added, “Now is a key moment for the key opposition groups to get united, to restore democracy in Venezuela and elsewhere.” He added that 350 to 500 opposition figures have been murdered by the regime in Nicaragua. However, he reports, the survivors have been greatly encouraged by the new cooperation among pro-democracy advocates across the region since 2015.
NED President Gershman lauded the Organization of American States (OAS) for recently creating a tribunal to support victims of oppression in five hemisphere countries, including Nicaragua. He regrets, however, that the Cuban regime has insisted in a referendum slated for next February 23rd that the communists are the sole legal political party on the island. In fact, Senator Menendez noted, “We need a robust U.S. strategy to reinforce reformers in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua,” what another panelist termed “the troika of tyranny.”
General Approaches Ahead
What might be the principal points of such a strategy? The panelists suggested some key questions to frame future investments such as USAID’s generous new investment:
- How important is education of the electorates in “the troika of tyranny?”
- Are there any signs of breakthroughs to strengthen free elections in the hemisphere?
- Raul Castro’s continuing control in Cuba — are there any options to change this?
- How do we strengthen the pillars of democracy to build a true hemisphere of freedom?
Lots of work ahead, but the high note of the panel was USAID’s pledge of nearly $18 million to enhance human rights in our most troubled neighbors to the south. Small wonder that CSIS has was recently ranked as the leading defense and national security think tank for the sixth consecutive year.
Its latest November 30 round-table, in fact, was dedicated to the human rights contribution of soon-to-retire Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. USAID administrator Mark Green paid tribute to her with these words: “She wielded an iron hand in a velvet glove. She inspired the next generation, and never hesitated to be a champion of freedom and democracy.” He drew applause when adding a light note, as well, “She was great on Twitter, too.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 236 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More