Menendez Opening Statement in USAID Hearing

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Excerpt from today's opening statement by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during today's FY'15 budget hearing with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah:

Chairman Menendez: You come at a time when USAID is making headlines for, in my mind, doing nothing more than the job you were appointed to do.

Let me say for the record: When it comes to the issue of Cuba or your work in any closed society, I do not believe that USAID’s actions – as clearly articulated in your mission statement – to promote “resilient, democratic societies that are able to realize their potential” are, in any way, a “cockamamie idea.”

I believe it is exactly what the people of Cuba, Iran, Burma, Belarus, North Korea and other authoritarian nations need to help them communicate with each other, to help them achieve USAID’s stated mission of a “free, peaceful, and self-reliant society with an effective legitimate government.”

So, I commend you for helping people have a less-controlled platform to talk to each other, for helping them to find a way to connect, and to share their views.

Global internet freedom programs, U.S. International broadcasting, and support for human rights activists are all fundamental components of our country's longstanding efforts to promote democracy overseas.

For more than 50 years, the U.S. has had an unwavering commitment to promote freedom of information in the world.

Our work in Cuba is no different than our efforts to promote freedom of expression and uncensored access to information in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Iran, China or North Korea.

It should be noted that in the FY14 Senate Foreign Operations bill there is 76 million dollars set aside to promote global internet freedom and democracy in closed societies like Cuba, where the regime allows no independent press and limits access to the internet. It also states that “with respect to the provision of assistance for democracy, human rights, and governance activities” that these programs “shall not be subject to the prior approval by the government of any foreign country.”

It is common sense that we shouldn’t ask the Government of Iran or Egypt or China for permission to support advocates of free speech, human rights, or political pluralism or to provide uncensored access to the internet or social media.

At the end of the day, just giving people the opportunity to communicate with the outside world and with each other is, in my mind, a fundamental responsibility of any democracy program.