STATEMENT BY SPECIAL ENVOY FOR BELARUS JULIE D. FISHER
Efforts to Hamper U.S. Development Assistance and Public Diplomacy Programs in Belarus
On October 20, 2021, the Belarusian authorities informed the United States of new measures designed to impede the functioning of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk by forcing the closure of the Embassy’s Public Diplomacy and USAID offices, including the American Center in Minsk. The Belarusian authorities are forcing the Embassy to terminate the employment of more than 20 Belarusian members of our staff.
These actions reflect the Belarusian authorities’ deep insecurities about the role of diplomacy, people-to-people ties and independent civil society. The United States will not be deterred from its commitment to helping advance democracy and human rights in Belarus and to supporting the aspirations of the Belarusian people to build a more promising future in a free and independent Belarus, nor will these recent measures cause us to abandon the outreach and engagement that have benefitted the Belarusian people and which have advanced the relations between our citizens.
The U.S. government’s development assistance implemented in Belarus by USAID since the 1990s has benefitted the Belarusian people. These funds have supported entrepreneurship and the expansion of small-to-medium private enterprises, creating new high-paying jobs and enhancing the standard of living in a country dominated by a stagnant state-owned sector, and they have provided key COVID-19 relief when Belarusian authorities were dismissive of the pandemic and its impact on the health and well-being of the Belarusian people. In addition, the U.S. government has targeted funding to assist families living in radiation-affected areas of Belarus and helped to increase the quality and effectiveness of tuberculosis prevention, diagnosis, and treatment programs, helping improve the long-term health and wellbeing of Belarusian citizens. Since 2006, more than 36,000 orphans and vulnerable people received USAID assistance. USAID programs have promoted at-home family care for Belarusian orphans and vulnerable children, helping to lower the nationwide level of institutionalization of children from 29.4 percent in 2005 to 16.5 percent in 2014. The U.S. government has implemented civil society development programs in Belarus to facilitate Belarusian grass-roots initiatives to build mature, sustainable organizations to help solve social and economic issues at the local and national level. American support has provided millions of Belarusians with access to objective sources of information about pertinent domestic and international issues and promoted understanding between our two peoples.
Over the past 30 years, U.S. public diplomacy engagement in Belarus has focused on expanding the personal and professional links between the Belarusian and American people. The American Center in Minsk has provided Belarusians access to information, STEM education, American arts and culture, and English language training. State Department cultural and educational exchange programs have provided over 5,000 Belarusians the opportunity to pursue academic and professional development in the United States. The Embassy’s programs have supported women’s entrepreneurship, helped promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities, underpinned the expansion of Belarus’s IT sector, and buttressed Belarus’s civil society and independent media.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude to all colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk and all partners in Belarus.