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First Person: The Role of the Peace Corps in Promoting Democracy
Tuesday, July 30, 2019

By Gabriel Cortez,
Charles B. Rangel Fellow & Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Ukraine 2016-2019

Getting a high five has never felt as satisfying as it did in rural Ukraine. Even after three years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer I cannot help but smile every time I remember one of my students extending their hand out for a “dye pyat.” I grew up in a large Mexican-American family in small-town California. Removed from the centers of international politics, the only diplomacy I knew was my brothers and sisters deciding who could use the family TV and when. Even as a kid I knew I wanted to be a part of something greater, to explore not only the United States but the other countries around the world, the ones they talked about in the news. The Peace Corps gave me and thousands of others that opportunity.

For 58 years, the Peace Corps has sent Americans young and old to live and work in communities worldwide. Over 235,000 volunteers have served in 141 countries, ranging from Mongolia and Albania to Morocco and China. Volunteers commit to 27 months of service in the country they serve, working in several sectors including education, health, agriculture, community development, and youth development. As of July 2019, there are around 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 62 countries. Montenegro, an OSCE participating State, is the newest addition to the Peace Corps family, with volunteers slated to launch the program in 2020.

The promotion of democracy is one of the central tenets of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Helsinki Final Accords. To that end, the Helsinki Commission has monitored aspects of the transition to democracy throughout Europe, including challenges to the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the impact of corruption. Peace Corps volunteers work concurrently in this field to demonstrate the strength democracy brings and help promote civic engagement in their sites.


Schoolchildren from my site participating in an English Language Summer Camp in Krasyliv, Ukraine.

When President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, the program was designed for large groups of Americans to live abroad and promote the American way of life, including the best aspects of democracy. That mission continues today in the OSCE region, with volunteers serving in Ukraine and eight other OSCE countries, including Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia.

My Peace Corps service began in September 2016 but was inspired years prior. In 2014, when the Maidan Revolution occurred, I watched it on TV with amazement, drawn by the images of Ukrainians from all walks of life marching on their capital to advocate for a better future. Already eager to work with the Peace Corps, I knew from that moment that Ukraine was the country I wanted to serve in as a volunteer.

Peace Corps Ukraine, which began in 1992, is the largest Peace Corps program operating anywhere in the world. Nearly 300 volunteers have served in the education, youth development, and community development sectors, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programs. When volunteers arrive, they dedicate the first three months to training, learning the Ukrainian and/or Russian languages, discovering local culture, and exploring Ukraine’s history. After training, volunteers move to their permanent sites where they live and work for two years, tasked with the three goals of the Peace Corps.

The first goal of Peace Corps is “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.” For Ukraine, this translates to projects focusing on English education, combatting corruption, and working with youth to develop healthy lifestyles. Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has made progress in reorienting itself to the West; a strong partnership with the U.S. has been crucial in this journey. Peace Corps volunteers contribute to this mission every day. Whether it is through teaching English at schools, organizing a summer camp on gender rights, or helping a local NGO secure a grant to fund health projects, Peace Corps volunteers have a tremendous impact on the communities they live in. Volunteers ultimately help promote entrepreneurship and civic engagement, critical facets of the Helsinki Accords.

The second goal, and perhaps the most important in Peace Corps Ukraine, is “to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.” As a former Soviet country, Ukrainians were disconnected from the world for over 70 years, learning about the United States through the limited movies, newspapers, and clothes smuggled past the Iron Curtain. Today, Peace Corps volunteers act as a bridge between both countries, promoting a positive image of the U.S. and bringing back a better understanding of Ukrainian culture. In communities like the one I served in, a small town with no other Americans, a volunteer’s presence is truly felt. I led discussions on race and gender, hosted events highlighting different American groups, introduced my students to American holidays, and much more. Acting as a cultural ambassador is an honor for any Peace Corps volunteer, and a role the program is founded upon.

The third and final goal of the Peace Corps is “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Volunteers return from service eager to share their experiences with their friends and families. This may include organizing a speech at a local school, attending a Ukrainian-American event, or even joining an organization that focuses on Ukrainian issues. This allows returned Peace Corps volunteers the chance to talk to Americans about their experience in the country: their successes, challenges, memories, and more. In turn, Americans learn about Ukraine and other countries they have never had experience with or knowledge of.


Teacher training at the Window on America in Kharkiv, Ukraine

The Peace Corps is a unique agency that continues to change lives all over the world and receive bipartisan support in Congress. On the 49th anniversary of the Peace Corps, Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission Senator Roger Wicker (MS) noted, “The Peace Corps invests time and talent in other countries, but it pays dividends back here in the United States as well.”

Helsinki Commissioner Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) reaffirmed his support of the Peace Corps on its 55th anniversary, stating, “Peace Corps volunteers represent the best qualities of American foreign policy. They come from all walks of life and from across the country [and] are saving lives. I could not be more proud of these Americans.” The introduction of the bipartisan H.R.3456 - Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2019 demonstrates Congress’ commitment to the Peace Corps. Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Gwen Moore (WI-4) are co-sponsors of the bill, which would increase support for current and returned Peace Corps volunteers.

Peace Corps volunteers work every day to develop the foundational tenets outlined by the Helsinki Accords. From promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, to developing education programs, to confronting corruption, Peace Corps volunteers exhibit the strength of the partnerships between OSCE participating States and work to improve the lives of others.

True progress is rooted in the sustainable and long-term projects of Peace Corps volunteers and their communities. In Ukraine, I saw firsthand the impact the Peace Corps can have in developing communities: a summer leadership camp for middle school students, a newly built community center with music and dance classes in a small village, and an accounting transparency workshop that reduced corruption in several city management offices. Substantive changes are happening every day in villages, towns, and cities across the country and throughout Peace Corps-partnered OSCE countries. Peace Corps volunteers exemplify the foundations of the Helsinki Accords, promote democracy abroad, and help bolster OSCE participating States and other nations like Ukraine build a bright, hopeful, and prosperous future, one high-five at a time.

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Mr. Nix, while noting that IRI’s election observation mission found that the elections “broadly met international standards,” nevertheless urged the Ukrainian parliament and election officials “to address the quality of the voter lists to ensure their accuracy for the next national election.” He also called upon Ukraine’s leadership to take steps “to resolve the constitutional issues that were the very reason these elections were called.”

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • The Ukrainian Elections: Implications for Ukraine’s Future Direction

    This briefing focused on Ukraine’s September 30 elections that stemmed from a longstanding political dispute between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, which resulted in a political crisis earlier in the year. While the elections were generally free and fair, Ukraine must still form a new government, consolidate democratic institutions and strengthen the rule of law, which will enhance Ukraine’s aspirations for full integration with the West.  Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including H.E. Oleh Shamshur, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States; William Miller, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; and Stephen Nix, Director of the Eurasian Division of the International Republican Institute – discussed democratic aspects of the elections and further developments for the future of Ukraine’s political processes.

  • Parliamentary Perspective of Challenges Facing Today’s Europe

    Mr. Göran Lennmaker, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly testified about the current challenges facing the OSCE region and the work the OSCE PA is doing to address them.  He highlighted the work that the OSCE had done on the Nagorno-Karabakh and praised the cooperative efforts of Russia, France and United States. Mr. Lennmaker highlighted the need for increased engagement with Central Asia and supported the idea of Kazakhstan chairing the OSCE in the next year.

  • Introduction of Resolution Congratulating the Ukrainian People on the September 30, 2007, Parliamentary Elections

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I rise to introduce a resolution congratulating the Ukrainian people for the holding of free, fair and transparent  parliamentary elections on September 30, 2007. These elections were held in a peaceful manner consistent with Ukraine's democratic values, and in keeping with that nation's commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. While there were some shortcomings, these elections stand in contrast to the vast majority of elections that have taken place in the countries of the former Soviet Union over the course of the last 15 years. Tone Tingsgaard, the Special Coordinator of the short-term election observers for the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) and Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, stated that these elections were conducted ``in a positive and professional manner.'' The OSCE-led IEOM's preliminary statement concluded that the elections confirmed an open and competitive environment for the conduct of the election process and that freedom of assembly and expression were respected. IEOM observers assessed the voting process as good or very good in 98 percent of the nearly 3,000 polling stations visited, notwithstanding some shortcomings, notably with respect to the quality of voter lists, and the vote count was assessed as good or very good in 94 percent of the IEOM reports. These pre-term elections did not come about easily, coming on the heels of a political crisis that engulfed Ukraine's president, prime minister, and parliament for several months earlier this year. These  political disputes were rooted in weak constitutional delineations of the powers of the president and prime minister. After weeks of tense standoff, however, agreement was reached on May 27 stipulating new parliamentary elections for September 30. Now that the elections have concluded, it is my hope that Ukraine's political leaders will form a government reflecting the will of the Ukrainian people as expressed by the results of the elections; a government that advances political stability and democratic development. It is my hope, too, that the new parliament and government will focus on the constitutional framework, especially the question of separation of powers, in order to avoid the  political uncertainty that we witnessed earlier this year. Ukraine also needs to further undertake the hard work of strengthening the rule of law, including an independent judiciary, and fighting corruption.  Madam Speaker, the conduct of these elections is a testament to the Ukrainian people's determined path towards the consolidation of democracy as Ukraine advances its integration with the Euro-Atlantic  community. As such, Ukraine serves as a model for the post-Soviet countries, all too many of which have unfortunately retreated to heavy- handed authoritarianism. This House can pride itself on having been a staunch supporter of freedom, human rights and democracy in Ukraine for many years--even before the restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991. As this resolution underscores, it is important to continue our efforts to the further development of a democratic system in Ukraine based on the rule of law, a free market economy, and consolidation of Ukraine's security and sovereignty. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution.

  • U.S. Delegation Initiatives Win Wide Approval at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meetings in Kyiv

    By Robert Hand, Staff Advisor More than 200 parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region, including 13 members of the U.S. Congress, assembled in Kyiv, Ukraine from July 5 to 9, 2007 for the convening of the Sixteenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). Also in attendance were representatives from several Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation countries, and delegates representing Afghanistan, the newest country designated by OSCE as a Partner for Cooperation. The U.S. Delegation was led by the Chairman of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a past president of the OSCE PA serving as President Emeritus. Commission Co-Chairman, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) co-chaired the delegation. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), a past Commission chairman and the highest ranking Member of Congress ever to attend an annual session, also participated, joined by the Commission’s Ranking Republican Member, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Reps. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Michael R. McNulty (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Gwen S. Moore (D-WI). The designated theme for this year’s Annual Session was “Implementation of OSCE Commitments.” Assembly President Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) opened the Inaugural Plenary Session which included an address by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who stressed Ukraine’s commitment to democratic development. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, also addressed the plenary and responded to questions from the parliamentarians. Starting Off at the Standing Committee At the start of the Annual Session, Chairman Hastings participated in the meeting of the OSCE PA Standing Committee, the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations of the 56 OSCE participating States and the Assembly’s officers. He presented a summary of his activities as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, including his visits in June to Israel and Jordan. During the Kyiv meeting, he also convened a special meeting on the Mediterranean Dimension of the OSCE, attended by approximately 100 parliamentarians from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the participating States. Ongoing Committee Work Members of the U.S. Delegation were active in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. The committees considered their respective resolutions as well as nine “supplementary items,” additional resolutions submitted before the session. Senator Cardin introduced a supplemental item on “Combating Anti-Semitism, Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance against Muslims and Roma.” Seven other U.S. delegates introduced and secured passage of a total of 25 U.S. amendments to the various committee resolutions and supplementary items, including Chairman Hastings and Majority Leader Hoyer on OSCE election observation; another Hastings amendment on past use of cluster bombs; Smith and McIntyre amendments regarding trafficking in persons; another McIntyre amendment on Belarus; Solis amendments on migration; Moore amendments on the use of “vulture funds,” and a Butterfield amendment on human rights. The U.S. Delegation was also instrumental in garnering necessary support for supplementary items and amendments proposed by friends and allies among the participating States. The supplementary items considered and debated in Kyiv, other than Senator Cardin’s, included “The Role and the Status of the Parliamentary Assembly within the OSCE”; “The Illicit Air Transport of Small Arms and Light Weapons and their Ammunition”; “Environmental Security Strategy”; “Conflict Settlement in the OSCE area”; “Strengthening OSCE Engagement with Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions”; “The Ban on Cluster Bombs”; “Liberalization of Trans-Atlantic Trade”; “Women in Peace and Security”; and “Strengthening of Counteraction of Trafficking Persons in the OSCE Member States.” Guantanamo Bay Raised Following her appearance before the Helsinki Commission in Washington on June 21 during a hearing on “Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership,” Belgian Senate President Anne-Marie Lizin, the OSCE PA Special Representative on Guantanamo, presented her third report on the status of the camp to a general Plenary Session of the Assembly. This report followed her second visit to the detention facility at Guantanamo on June 20, 2007 and provided the Assembly with a balanced presentation of outstanding issues and concerns. Senator Lizin concluded the report with a recommendation that the facility should be closed. Engaging Other Delegates While the delegation’s work focused heavily on OSCE PA matters, the venue presented an opportunity to advance U.S. relations with OSCE states. During the course of the Kyiv meeting, members of the U.S. delegation held a series of formal as well as informal bilateral meetings, including talks with parliamentarians from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, parliamentary delegations from the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Israel, and Afghanistan. The U.S. Delegation hosted a reception for parliamentary delegations from Canada and the United Kingdom. Electing New Officers and Adopting of the Declaration On the final day of the Kyiv meeting, the Assembly reelected Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) as President. Mr. Hans Raidel (Germany) was elected Treasurer. Four Vice Presidents were elected in Kyiv: Anne-Marie Lizin (Belgium), Jerry Grafstein (Canada), Kimo Kiljunen (Finland), and Panos Kammenos (Greece). Rep. Hilda Solis was also elected, becoming the Vice Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, which is responsible for addressing humanitarian and-related threats to security and serves as a forum for examining the potential for cooperation within these areas. She joins Senator Cardin, whose term as Vice President extends until 2009, and Congressman Hastings as OSCE PA President Emeritus, in ensuring active U.S. engagement in the Assembly’s proceedings for the coming year. The OSCE PA concluded with adoption of the Kyiv Declaration which included a series of concrete recommendations for strengthening action in several fields including migration, energy and environmental security, combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance throughout the OSCE region and promoting democracy in Belarus. The declaration also addresses a number of military security concerns, including an expression of regret at the lack of progress in resolving so-called “frozen conflicts” in the OSCE region based on the principal of territorial integrity, especially those within Moldova and Georgia. For the full text of the Kyiv Declaration, please visit http://www.oscepa.org. The Seventeenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Astana, Kazakhstan. Other U.S. Delegation Activities While in Kyiv, the U.S. Delegation met with Ukrainian President Yushchenko for lengthy talks on bilateral issues, his country’s aspirations for further Euro-Atlantic integration, energy security, international support for dealing with the after affects of Chornobyl, and challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic development. The President discussed the political situation in Ukraine and the development of the May 27 agreement that provides for pre-term parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, 2007. The Delegation also visited and held wreath-laying ceremonies at two significant sites in the Ukrainian capital: the Babyn Yar Memorial, commemorating the more than 100,000 Ukrainians killed during World War II – including 33,000 Jews from Kyiv that were shot in a two-day period in September 1941; and the Famine Genocide Memorial (1932-33) dedicated to the memory of the millions of Ukrainians starved to death by Stalin’s Soviet regime in the largest man-made famine of the 20th century. Members of the delegation also traveled to the Chornobyl exclusion zone and visited the site where on April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chornbyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in the world’s worst nuclear accident. While in the zone, the delegation visited the abandoned city of Prypiat, the once bustling residence of 50,000 located a short distance from the nuclear plant. Members toured the Chornobyl facilities and discussed ongoing economic and environmental challenges with local experts and international efforts to find a durable solution to the containment of large quantities of radioactive materials still located at the plant. Advancing U.S. Interests Summarizing the activities of the U.S. Delegation, Chairman Hastings commented on the successful advancement of U.S. interests. Specifically, the Chairman noted the delegation “represented the wonderful diversity of the United States population” and “highlighted a diversity of opinion on numerous issues.” Moreover, he concluded it advocated “a common hope to make the world a better place, not just for Americans but for all humanity,” thereby helping “to counter the negative image many have about our country. “In a dangerous world, we should all have an interest in strengthening our country’s friendships and alliances as well as directly raising, through frank conversation, our concerns with those countries where our relations are stained or even adversarial,” Chairman Hastings asserted. In order to put the recommendations of the PA into action, the members of the U.S. delegation wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rice, asking that the State Department press several issues within the OSCE in Vienna in the run-up to the November Ministerial Council meeting. First, the State Department should ensure that the role of the Parliamentary Assembly is increased in the overall activities of the OSCE. Second, the OSCE should increase concrete activities to fight anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, including against Muslims and Roma. Third, The OSCE should strengthen its work on combating trafficking in persons and fighting sexual exploitation of children. Fourth, the OSCE should support and protect the work of human rights defenders and NGOs. Lastly, the OSCE should step up dialogue on energy security issues.

  • Introduction of Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I rise to introduce a concurrent resolution which addresses the current political uncertainty in Ukraine, a country of strategic importance to the United States. My resolution urges all sides to abide by the agreement signed by Ukraine's leadership on May 27th, providing for a new round of parliamentary elections to be held on September 30th, and encouraging the holding of these elections in a free, fair and transparent manner in keeping with Ukraine's commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  I have just returned from Ukraine which hosted the 16th annual Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. While in Kyiv, I met with President Yushchenko and other prominent Ukrainian officials. My colleagues and I received assurances from Kyiv that Ukraine would not backtrack on the path to political reform and good governance.  Ukraine's current political conflict is the result of the ongoing power struggle that President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich have been engaged in since Yanukovich became Prime Minister last August. Rooted in hastily conceived constitutional reforms, the ongoing power struggle threatens to undermine Ukraine's hard-fought and substantial democratic gains, especially those won since the 2004 Orange Revolution.  On April 2nd, President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, asserting that the Prime Minister was attempting to monopolize power by forming a veto-proof parliamentary majority through illegal means, and called for new parliamentary elections. The parliament refused to disband and questioned the legality of the presidential decree. After several weeks of tension and standoff, violence was averted and an agreement was reached: President Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yanukovich and Parliamentary Speaker Moroz came together in support of holding pre- term parliamentary elections at the end of September.  Madam Speaker, it is important to recognize that Ukraine has made genuine democratic gains since the Orange Revolution. The December 2004 presidential vote was hailed as a stirring example of the triumph of peaceful protest and democratic ideals. Just over a year ago, as head of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission to Ukraine, I was pleased to declare that country's parliamentary elections were also free and fair. I am pleased that Ukraine has once again invited  the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to observe the September 30 elections. Moreover, Ukraine for the last two years has been designated by Freedom House as a ``free'' country, in contrast to the ``partly free'' assessment it held during its first 13 years of independence.  Nevertheless, democratic institutions and the rule of law in Ukraine are still emerging and lacking in their ability to safeguard democratic gains. It is this fragility, especially the lack of constitutional  clarity in delineating the separation of powers that made it possible for the power struggle to ripen into a full-blown political crisis in recent months. However, it is heartening to see that more serious  turmoil was averted through careful and constructive dialogue and capped by an agreement involving the country's leading political figures.  First and foremost, my resolution calls for the leadership and political parties of Ukraine to abide by the May 27th agreement and conduct elections as scheduled for September 30th. The dispute between the president and prime minister must be resolved in a manner consistent with Ukraine's democratic values and national interest, and in keeping with its OSCE commitments.  Madam Speaker, prolonged political uncertainties regarding the government's delineation of powers is clearly not in Ukraine's interest, and that nation's political leaders need to stand together in support of free, fair and transparent elections as a way out of the current impasse. While democratic elections will not, in and of themselves, resolve all of the challenges facing Ukraine in strengthening the rule of law and delineating power among the branches of government, they are a critical stepping-stone in Ukraine's democratic consolidation and should serve as a further testament of Ukraine's commitment to a democratic future.  As this resolution underscores, Congress has been a staunch supporter of the development of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine since the restoration of that nation's independence in 1991. The consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine will further strengthen that country's independence and sovereignty, enhancing Ukraine's aspirations for full integration with the West and serving as a positive model for other former Soviet countries. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution as a demonstration of Congress's interest, concern, and support for the Ukrainian people.

  • Hastings and Cardin Link U.S. Energy Security to Need for Democracy in Oil-Rich Countries

    Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), made the following statements at a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing entitled “Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?” The hearing examined whether the development of democracy is incompatible with the development of a country’s energy resources. The hearing further addressed the issue of how energy kleptocracy impacts U.S. energy security. Six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are ranked by Transparency International as some of the world’s most corrupt countries. Corruption and kleptocracy often lead to political instability and subsequently higher oil prices, which have the potential to impact the economic and national security interests of the United States. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings Statement: “Today’s hearing is the second of three hearings the Commission is holding on the topic of energy security, an issue that spans the security, economic and environmental, and human dimensions of the Helsinki process. This hearing series is designed to give the Commission a comprehensive picture of this complex issue and highlight areas where the Commission, the U.S. Government and the OSCE can take effective action. “At today’s hearing we are going to hear from our distinguished panelists about the development of democracy and civil society in countries with abundant energy resources—and why that matters to U.S. energy security. I mentioned at the last hearing the remarkable fact that only two of the world’s top 10 oil exporters are established democracies—Norway and Mexico. What is wrong with this picture? Top World Oil Net Exporters 2006 1 Saudi Arabia 2 Russia 3 Norway 4 Iran 5 United Arab Emirates 6 Venezuela 7 Kuwait 8 Nigeria 9 Algeria 10 Mexico Source: EIA: International Energy Annual (2000-2004), International Petroleum Monthly (2005-2006). “When we look at countries that are situated on oil and natural gas reserves, we think these countries have won the global version of the economic lottery. They have a built-in revenue stream that can fuel not only their own economy but also be an export commodity. But what economists have found by studying these resource-rich countries is that they often do worse than their resource-poor neighbors, both economically and politically. This problem is often referred to as the “resource curse.” “Each of the countries we are focusing on today—Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan—face some aspect of this resource curse. And while the situation in each country is unique, we can generalize and say that the lack of transparency in politics, and in oil and gas deals, is at the root of the problem. “It’s a well-known, and well-bemoaned, fact that the United States is becoming more and more reliant on imported energy to fuel our economy. We are the world’s largest consumer of oil—we account for an astounding 25 percent of global daily oil demand—despite having less than 3 percent of the world’s proven reserves. And we source that oil from some unstable and unfriendly places in the world such as Nigeria and Venezuela. “In the context of today’s hearing some of you may wonder why the United States should care what is happening in Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan, when we actually don’t rely on these countries for a significant portion of our energy supplies. Russia is only number nine on our list of oil suppliers and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan don’t event make it into the top twenty. “The answer is that unlike natural gas, oil is a commodity, so regardless of where we source our oil, what happens in other oil-rich countries impacts the stability of our price and our supply as well. As the National Petroleum Council reported last week, “There can be no U.S. energy security without global energy security.” “Oil is the tie that binds us all and threatens to choke us at the same time. “So take a minute to think about how drastically different our interactions with these countries would be if we did not rely so heavily on these countries’ resources. I think it goes without saying that we would have more leverage to promote democracy and civil society. Clearly oil constrains, if not drives, our foreign policy. “So while it is imperative that we work to limit our dependence on foreign oil and change the dynamic of supply and demand, it is just as important to create more stable and reliable sources of energy. One of the key ways the international community has sought to counteract the political and economic instability inherent in the resource curse is through programs that seek to instill transparency and accountability into the resource payment system,” said Hastings. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin’s Statement: “I am pleased that the Commission is now turning its focus to the nexus of energy and democracy. As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, we must address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. “In the search for energy security in the OSCE region and beyond, democracy is an important contributing factor. Endemic corruption is an impediment to democracy. Last year the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution I authored on limiting immunity for parliamentarians in order to strengthen good governance, public integrity and the rule of law in the OSCE region. Just recently Chairman Hastings and I met with the President of Ukraine who told us that this was one of the first things he would like to see accomplished once a new parliament is elected this September. This is an important step forward for Ukraine. “Broad immunity for parliamentarians can serve as a cover for corruption. I believe that good governance is the key to a properly functioning democracy. In many of the oil-exporting states, corruption and kleptocracy have become the norm and prevent democratic ideals from flourishing. The United States must consider the impact of its dependence on these types of states for energy security. “Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability, and in some cases violent attacks on pipelines and refineries. “Not only does political instability threaten the physical ability to export oil and gas, but it also has created a poor investment climate. If we are to support development of energy resources, U.S. policy should certainly take into account the investment incentives in these countries. Corruption not only weakens those incentives, but also prevents those investments from producing real results in terms of security of supply. There is clearly a positive link between development of democracy and development of energy resources, which can be seen in some of the recent improvements to both in countries such as Azerbaijan. Additional steps are absolutely necessary to increase transparency in oil-exporting governments, but initiatives such as the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,” and “Publish What You Pay,” are moves in the right direction and need U.S. support. “In order to achieve energy security, not only must we work towards our own energy independence, for which I have introduced legislation, but we must also ensure that the countries from which we import oil and gas are reliable sources. Combating corruption and increasing transparency are part of the process of democratic development and must be supported by U.S. policy if we are to attain long term energy security,” said Cardin. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?

    As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, the Commission will address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability.

  • Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region

    This hearing focused on the security of supply and transit of oil and gas and its role in conflict prevention.  Those testifying identified important factors for ensuring the reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and natural gas. This hearing also discussed the United States’ role in its own energy security, and in Eurasian energy security.

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