Sen. Cruz: ‘For Decades Chavez, Maduro, and Their Thugs Have Used Foreign Aid as a Political Weapon’

Participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee review of FY 2020 budget request for USAID

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday participated in a hearing to review the FY 2020 budget request for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with testimony from USAID Administrator Mark Green. During Sen. Cruz’s exchange with Administrator Green he raised USAID’s mission in Sudan, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

There, Sen. Cruz questioned the role of development assistance to strengthen institutions in Sudan, following the recent removal of former President al-Bashir from power.

Sen. Cruz underscored his concern about the political trends in Nicaragua, questioning USAID’s strategy to promote civil society engagement, to which Administrator Green identified USAID as a “crucial lifeline” to the people of Nicaragua, noting “our voice has been consistent in calling for justice, rule of law, and a restoration to democratic order. We won’t back down. Just as the young people of Nicaragua will not back down.”

Finally, Sen. Cruz acknowledged Venezuela’s track record of exploiting foreign aid as a political weapon.

Sen. Cruz’s exchange with Administrator Green may be viewed here. A full transcript is below:

Sen. Cruz: “Thank you Mr. Chairman. Welcome. Let’s start by talking about Sudan. As you know, last month in Sudan, President al-Bashir was removed from power after three decades of brutal repression. There are worrying signs, however, that Sudan’s new rulers are going to drag out any transition to true democracy, perhaps indefinitely. In your judgement, what is the role of development assistance in building up Sudanese institutions?”

Administrator Green: “We are obviously very supportive of a transition to a peaceful and democratic Sudan. We think that the people of Sudan have spoken loudly and clearly, they want a return to civilian government. We look forward to, hopefully, the day where we’re able to support and strengthen just that.”

Sen. Cruz: “Do you anticipate any significant problems distributing aid or promoting USAID’s mission under Sudan’s current governance?”

Administrator Green: “We do provide humanitarian assistance now. We are the largest donor to the people of Sudan, in terms of humanitarian. We provided over $250 million of humanitarian assistance in 2018. But again, as I’ve said before, humanitarian assistance is treatment, not cure. That obviously is not the long-term answer. The long-term answer is fostering citizen-responsive governance, and we think that’s what the people of Sudan have been protesting for. And we’re all very, very hopeful, but also deeply concerned, as you characterized. We need to see that transition occur. I think it’s important for Sudan. It’s important for all of us.”

Sen. Cruz: “I agree. Let’s shift to Nicaragua. I’m also deeply concerned about the political trends in Nicaragua and the Ortega regime. Last year I passed legislation along with Senator Menendez and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen to impose targeted sanctions and restrictions on loans to Nicaragua, and mandate a civil society engagement strategy. The legislation was signed into law December 2018. Assistance plays an important role in our Nicaragua strategy, including democracy assistance. What is USAID’s strategy for ensuring that our development assistance to Nicaragua is used in a way that promotes our priorities and values?”

Administrator Green: “Thank you, senator. And thank you, quite frankly, for raising the issue of Nicaragua, and focusing on it. We agree with you very strongly. Ortega is a brutal tyrant who has clearly shown no regard whatsoever, not only for democratic rights, but for the wellbeing of his own people. First, I think we all need to salute the extraordinary courage of young Nicaraguan activists and democracy voices. Under the harshest of crackdowns, they have continued to be loud and clear in calling for democracy. We see ourselves as a crucial lifeline to them. And so, in the last year we provided support directly to the Nicaraguan people; $17.6 million for Nicaragua through OTI, as we call it, Transition Initiatives – to promote – first off to provide some civil society support and reinforcement, but to provide some relief for these folks. Also, our voice has been consistent in calling for justice, rule of law, and a restoration to democratic order. We won’t back down. Just as the young people of Nicaragua will not back down.”

Sen. Cruz: “The history of development assistance in Venezuela has been a complicated one. For decades Chavez, Maduro, and their thugs have used foreign aid as a political weapon. Meanwhile the country has spiraled into catastrophe, which has required USAID to coordinate with other agencies and assets in the region, including SOUTHCOM. In your judgment, what steps can USAID take, both in Venezuela and elsewhere, to ensure that badly needed aid is not diverted by regimes like the one in Venezuela?”

Administrator Green: “Thank you. As to Venezuela and assistance, I guess I’d offer a couple of things. First, I want to thank all of you. I want to thank members of this committee and this body for its support for our democracy assistance work for Venezuela over the years, on both sides of the aisle. The first time that I met Juan Guaidó face to face, I had spoken to him once on the phone, but face to face he thanked me for that. That’s what he thanked me for. He thanked me for the support that we had provided to civil society, but in particular the National Assembly, he is of course the leader of the National Assembly and thus the Interim President. That is a reminder to all of us of just how important these investments are. We need to stay engaged and support democracy, civil society, young democratic voices. First and foremost, we wouldn’t be here if not for those investments, and I’m grateful.

“On the humanitarian side, it is an extraordinarily difficult situation, obviously. We have mentioned that we prepositioned assistance in a number of places. We welcome the announcement by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, that they are trying to find ways to see that assistance can be delivered in country, not subject to diversion from Maduro and his regime. I can tell you more in a different setting, but we will make sure that our assistance does not get politically weaponized, as assistance has too often in the past by Maduro. He’s used it to punish enemies, to reward friends, and obviously we’re not going to let that happen in terms of our assistance.”