Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at the 2013 Democracy Award

Thank you and I’m going to keep my remarks brief because there’s nothing worse than a former something (laughs). We have the current Chairman of the Foreign Relations committee in the US Senate, Bob Menendez, here with us: a great defender of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Bob and I are so thrilled to be here for this 30th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy and I am awed when I see these wonderful young ladies and what they represent. I’d like to commend Carl, everybody’s friend, the President of NED, for his tireless commitment, for his dedication to advancing democratic principles and supporting the voices of those living under repressive regimes.

We’re gathered here to present the 2013 Democracy Awards to young activists from Zimbabwe, from Pakistan, from Russia, and from my native homeland of Cuba, who are leading the effort to help bring freedom and democracy to their nations. Unfortunately, one activist cannot be with us today. Harold Cepero was one of the leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba and almost exactly one year ago today, on July 22nd 2012, Harold was killed under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in Cuba alongside another great democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, whose daughter Rosa Maria is joining us today. Thank you, Rosa Maria, for everything that you are doing. We are fortunate enough to have her with us. She’s a brave young woman. She’s so young- all of these girls are amazing. Rosa Maria, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a little bit longer than these other 3 champions of freedom, has called for numerous investigations into the suspicious deaths of her father and Harold, even though her family has been threatened repeatedly by the thugs in Cuba.

In Russia, it was disappointing to see the verdict last week, posthumously, of Sergei Magnitsky. Sergei, as we know, was an advocate who was detailing what was going on with corruption in Russia. After beating him to death, they then tried him and found him guilty. This unjust action by Vladimir Putin and his cronies proves yet again that individuals can get away with blatant human rights abuses in Russia. The US must be on the side of the Russian people and add more names immediately to the Magnitsky List to hold these corrupt officials accountable and stand side by side with the pro-democracy activists, such as Vera, who is with us today. She’s a journalist who fights for transparency at the local level.

Last week, I led a bipartisan letter in the House addressed to our Secretary of State John Kerry expressing concern over the escalating violence and intolerance toward religious minorities in Pakistan. And that’s another country whose young heroine we are honoring. Gulalai, thank you for helping young women in Pakistan be involved in the political process because they will soon be the future leaders of your country.
I also would like to thank Glanis for her role in helping women reach their full potential in financial and agricultural fields in Zimbabwe. What an amazing group of young ladies we have. I agree with you that we have to do more to strengthen democracy and have free elections in Zimbabwe, to reach our goal of a free, transparent, and more open society.

These four brave women are role models who truly illustrate the hard work and the dedication that are vital to improve today’s world. They make the choice to be engaged. They make the choice to be active. They make the choice to lead the cause for freedom and democracy that many of us take for granted every day. Through the work of NED- and I cannot say enough wonderful things about all the people involved with NED- we will stand united in solidarity and support your courageous efforts for democracy.