U.S. Cuts Millennium Challenge Aid To Armenia Over Worsening Democratic Practices

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States has effectively axed nearly one third of a $235.6 million aid program for Armenia, citing its government’s deteriorated human rights record and democratic practices.

The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) indicated late on Wednesday that the $67 million project to reconstruct and repair about 1,000 kilometers of Armenian rural roads will not be implemented anytime soon.

The agency, which administers the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program, froze the project following a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition sparked by the disputed presidential election of February 2008. The MCC board of directors has extended the freeze during quarterly meetings held over the past year.

In a statement issued after its latest meeting in Washington chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the board said MCC “will not resume funding for any further road construction and rehabilitation.” “The responsibility for this outcome remains with the government of Armenia, whose actions have been inconsistent with the eligibility criteria that are at the heart of the MCC program,” Rodney Bent, the corporation’s acting executive director, was quoted as saying.

“I do not anticipate that the Board will revisit this issue in the future,” added Bent.

The move came one day after the U.S. State Department reiterated its discontent with Yerevan’s human rights record in an annual report on U.S. efforts to promote freedom and democracy around the world. It again described the February 2008 ballot as “significantly flawed” and criticized the ensuing government crackdown on the opposition.

“Authorities used harassment and intrusive application of bureaucratic measures to intimidate and retaliate against government opponents,” said the report. “Police beat pretrial detainees and failed to provide due process in some cases … Courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch, with the selective prosecution of political opponents and absence of due process reflecting the judiciary’s lack of independence.”

“U.S. officials repeatedly have warned the government that MCC funding is contingent upon its progress in democratic practices and in meeting the MCC indicators,” added the report.

U.S. assessment of the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan promises to be just as negative. U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch said on Tuesday that U.S. Embassy officials who observed the vote witnessed irregularities “throughout the city.” Yovanovitch said a report based on their findings will be released shortly.

The U.S. aid suspension led the Armenian government in July 2008 to allocate about $17 million of its own funds to rural road construction envisaged by Armenia’s MCA compact. The current economic recession and a resulting major shortfall in tax revenues preclude more such funding this year. Instead, the government secured in February a $25 million loan from the World Bank for rural infrastructure rehabilitation.

The aid cut will not affect the main $160 million segment of the aid package approved by MCC in 2006. It is due to be spent on rebuilding and expanding the Armenia’s irrigation networks.

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5 Comments

  1. Yervant & Anoush said:

    The good ol State Department has made its position towards Armenia crystal clear…again…for those of you slow on the uptake…
    It was playing hard ball back then and nothing has changed today.
    Folks the battle continues and its uphill as usual…our specialty!

  2. Livid said:

    Democratic practices?! As demanded by the US!!! Promote freedom and democracy? whose style of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’? Can we step-back and look at what is happening with the US ‘economy’ as we speak and them perhaps decide as to whom should be exercising and practicing democracy. Is it actually possible that MCA needs Armenia more than Armenia needing MCA? Why do we not really look very well for whom are the ones behind MCA? MCA one would say is the mellow interface behind aggressive-style imposition of the expected status quo.

  3. Carl said:

    It is now very apparent that the MCC is a political tool used by the US. Look, they just cut funding to Nicaragua after Daniel Ortega was democratically elected and the elections were fair. If the US does not like the outcomes of the elections, they will use funding cuts as a method of punishment. The should be upfront about this in the first place if that is their intention.

    The recent Yerevan municipal elections were well regarded by European watchdog institutions, only the US complained {but still lodged no significant/substantial complaints that could be evidenced}. Furthermore, the US State Department trying to push Armenia to accept Ter-Petrossian as its leader and this again shows US hypocisy as Ter-Petrossian and his cronies were an unextermenly authoritarian and undemocratic nightmare for Armenia. How easily the US forgets…or in this case chooses to overlook.

    Armenia is much better off getting closer to Russia. Indeed Russia just gave Armenia $500 million in aid. In addition, Russia is a long-term player in the region and is slowly pushing the US out quite successfully, they have already stared down the US proxy state of Georgia with actions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia prevails in the Caucasus in the future. For Russia, the Caucasus is about security and for the US it is about oil.

  4. Carl said:

    I’d rather take $500 million from Russia with additional millions in military aid than take $267 from the US and all their meddling and pushing Armenia to bow down to the Turks and Azeris. Although it is wise to stay relatively close to the US and follow a complimentary foreign policy to a degree, we must realize that US intentions and their empty promises spell doom for Armenia.

  5. Mike said:

    Russia is trying to sell attack helicopters to Turkey, and Turkey is ready and willing. The Turks will use those to kill Kurds and, if Turkey ever attacks Armenia, they will be used to kill Russian and Armenian soldiers.
    Something to think.

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