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Public Statements

Cut to Foreign Aid to Unfriendly Nations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 5, 2011, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Gohmert) is recognized for 30 minutes.

Mr. GOHMERT. Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to my dear friend Dan Burton. He is a patriotic American. He stands for what he believes in. And if we had a lot more Dan Burtons in Washington, the country would be that much better off. So we're grateful to him and his service.

It is an honor to serve in this body. It's been rather frustrating lately, and one of the things I wanted to mention was that another good friend, former fellow judge as I was, a district judge--I lost credibility as far as some of the district judges believed when I became chief justice of the Court of Appeals--but my friend Ted Poe from Houston is pushing a bill that I'm sure glad to cosponsor with him. I'm glad he's doing it. It goes a bit hand-in-hand with a bill that I've been pushing ever since I've been here.

But Congressman Poe's bill would allow an up-or-down vote on all the different countries that we provide foreign assistance. It's a good idea. I mean, for all of the years that I've been here in each Congress, three times we have filed a U.N. voting accountability bill, and my friend Ted Poe has been on that bill cosponsoring with us, and I'm glad to support his bill.

My bill simply says any country that votes against us more than half the time gets no foreign assistance the following year. We know there's sometimes when there are emergencies, there are things we need to do, and so there's an exception for that in the event of an international emergency, but otherwise, we're not going to tell foreign countries how they vote in the U.N., but you can tell a lot about who is your friend and who isn't by who stands with you during difficult times and on difficult issues, and you're able to discern who has the same moral beliefs as you do.

For example, there are countries where sharia law is the rule of the land, and life does not have the value that we in America believe that God gave life to have. So it's okay. In fact, you can find your way to paradise, some believe, and not all Muslims believe this, but there are those who believe that you can find your way to paradise and differing number of virgins waiting for you if you die while you're killing infidels, people that don't believe in the same things you do. Well, that's fine, but if you believe in torturing, killing, taking a life, taking innocent lives for nothing, or just because of someone's religious beliefs, then we should not be financing that.

It's deeply troubling to see that in Egypt, one account said that President--or king, whatever you want to call him--Mubarak had $70 billion in the bank. Another account said he had $7 billion in the account. Either way, can't help but wonder if that couldn't be a whole lot of U.S. taxpayer dollars back when we weren't having to borrow to give away money like we are now. We were giving $2 billion or so a year, and it wouldn't be surprising if most of that money were United States dollars that had been given to Egypt.

On the other hand, we know that there are despots, there are dictators, there are corrupt leaders of countries around the world who believe that it's fine to even force women to have abortions. As my friend and I both believe, abortion is wrong. It is wrong. It is taking innocent life. Yet, we are just handing money out around the world hand over fist, and people taking innocent lives, the unborn of others.

We know that there was about to be a hanging of a man who converted from Islam to Christianity over in Afghanistan, and we're still just pouring money into Karzai's regime. There are issues about him and his brother, whether or not there is corruption there, and we're just pouring money in there that we don't have. And we're having to pay, 40, 42 cents in interest of every $1 on loans because we don't have the money to do that.

In any event, my friend Chris Smith is here, and I would be happy to yield to him.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I thank my very good friend and colleague for yielding.

I do raise my voice today, and I join my friend from Texas and others in a bit of a celebration--although it needs to be a cautious celebration because the tyranny on the island of Cuba continues unabated for so many others. But Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Oscar Biscet of Cuba, one of the bravest and brightest human rights defenders on Earth, was released on March 12 from a wretched Cuban prison where he had endured 8 years of torture with periods of solitary confinement for his exemplary human rights work. It was Dr. Biscet's second long-term, totally unjustified incarceration by Cuba, by Castro, totaling almost 12 years in prison. According to his wife, Elsa Morejón, he was arrested at least 27 periods and jailed for short periods of time between 1998 and 1999 alone, yet he persisted and has an indomitable will that continues to this day. Dr. Biscet's release and that of other prisoners of conscience was negotiated and announced by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana.

Yesterday, I had the high honor and the privilege to speak by phone with Dr. Biscet who is still in Cuba. And I conveyed my and, I would say, our collective respect, admiration, and abiding concern for his welfare and well-being as well as that of his wife. He said during the conversation that she was pleasantly shocked and very happy to finally have him home. I let him know that he and his amazing work was never and will never be forgotten.

Awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, Dr. Biscet suffered the depravity of Castro's infamous gulag in order to bring the rule of just law, respect for human rights, and a robust democracy to Cuba.

In our phone conversation, he absolutely insisted that freedom will and must be procured only through peaceful means, and of course that work is far from finished. He said that faith in God was paramount and that "prayer is of utmost importance." He is truly a man of God.

Dr. Biscet, an OB/GYN, told me that the truth about what Castro has done to his people and continues to do must reach--these are his words--the truth must reach the Cuban people, and he singled out Radio Martí as a valuable means to that end.

"Were you tortured?" I asked him. He said last night, "Yes, yes." And his multiple serious health conditions that must now be addressed obviously are testimony to the cruel and severe mistreatment that he suffered. He told me that in prison, he had to eat putrified food and rice that was laced with worms. He endured solitary confinement with a mentally ill person, survived a dungeon with a knife-throwing criminal, and withstood burns all over his body from the prison's kitchen exhaust pipe that emptied into his cell. The Cuban Government even attempted to take him for shock therapy at a mental institution in order to rid him of his passion for human rights. None of it worked. And by the grace of God, he has persevered with unparalleled bravery.

Freedom House has ranked Cuba as one of the least free countries in the world. The only country which ranked lower on the freedom scale than Cuba was the nightmare gulag of North Korea. Yet in an insane paradox, the Cuban tyrants remain romantic heroes for many in the United States, including some Members of this Congress who in 2009 visited Cuba and gushed with admiration for the dictators Fidel and Raul Castro, showing no compassion for the pain their courting and their enabling of Castro gave to all those suffering under his dictatorship.

Castro has not succeeded in crushing the spirit of Dr. Biscet. That same spirit and vision animates the so-called ladies in white, Las Damas de Blanco, the wives and relatives of imprisoned political dissidents like Dr. Biscet who attend mass each week and march through the streets dressed in white to symbolize peaceful dissent. Cuban police have detained and beaten these women for their peaceful protest.

And lest anyone construe Dr. Biscet's release as the harbinger of immediate peace and respect for human rights in Cuba, consider this: Yesterday Amnesty International published an alert that noted that "the repression of Cuban dissidents persists despite the releases." I will put the entire statement in. But they point out that numerous, numerous activists, new activists, men and women who are speaking out for human rights are now being rounded up, put under house arrest, and some held in detention.

They pointed out that on February 23, on the 1-year anniversary of a great man named Tamayo's death, according to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, the authorities placed over 50 people under house arrest before freeing them hours later. And the president of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy was arrested after organizing an activist meeting. Where? Inside his own home. And he now has been arrested.

Dr. Biscet hopefully will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As my friend and colleague knows, we have really orchestrated an effort all over the world--parliamentarians were gladly writing in letters, including the Prime Minister of Hungary, asking the distinguished body that gives out the Peace Prize to consider Dr. Biscet and hopefully the other Cuban dissidents for that prize. Liu Xiaobo got it last year. He couldn't travel. They put the Peace Prize on the empty chair. Dr. Biscet is out of prison, and it would be a great lifting of spirits and hopes for the people of Cuba for that Peace Prize committee to award him.

Repression of Cuban Dissidents Persists Despite Releases

The Cuban authorities are continuing to stifle freedom of expression on the island in spite of the much-publicised recent wave of releases of prominent dissidents, Amnesty International warned ahead of the eighth anniversary of a crackdown on activists.

Hundreds of pro-democracy activists have suffered harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest in recent weeks as the Cuban government employs new tactics to stamp out dissent.

Of 75 activists arrested in a crackdown around 18 March 2003, only three remain in jail after 50 releases since last June, with most of the freed activists currently exiled in Spain. Amnesty International has called for the remaining prisoners to be released immediately and unconditionally.

"The release of those detained in the 2003 crackdown is a hugely positive step but it tells only one side of the story facing Cuban human rights activists," said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher at Amnesty International.

"Those living on the island are still being targeted for their work, especially through short-term detentions, while repressive laws give the Cuban authorities a free rein to punish anyone who criticises them."

"Meanwhile, three of the prisoners detained eight years ago still languish in prison and must be freed immediately."

In one recent crackdown the authorities detained over one hundred people in one day in a pre-emptive strike designed to stop activists marking the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died following a prolonged hunger strike while in detention.

On 23 February, the one-year anniversary of Tamayo's death, according to the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the authorities placed over 50 people under house arrest before freeing them hours later.

Activist Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, was recently named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International after being detained without trial for over three months.

The president of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy was arrested after organizing an activists' meeting inside his own home.

"Cubans are still at the mercy of draconian laws that class activism as a crime and anyone who dares to criticise the authorities is at risk of detention," said Gerardo Ducos.

"In addition to releasing long-term prisoners of conscience, to properly realize freedom of expression the Cuban government also has to change its laws."

Seventy-five people were jailed in a massive crackdown against the dissident movement around 18 March 2003 for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Most of them were charged with crimes including "acts against the independence of the state" because they allegedly received funds and/or materials from US-based NGOs financed by the US government.

They were sentenced to between six and 28 years in prison after speedy and unfair trials for engaging in activities the authorities perceived as subversive and damaging to Cuba.

These activities included publishing articles or giving interviews to US-funded media, communicating with international human rights organizations and having contact with entities or individuals viewed to be hostile to Cuba.

Mr. GOHMERT. I certainly thank my friend from New Jersey. Chris Smith, you are a leader. You are a man of conviction who cares deeply about those who have suffered for no good reason and standing for freedom. You are a true patriot, and it's an honor to serve with you as a friend here.

I don't know if you were aware; but in the discussion about all the foreign aid to countries who do not have the same abiding love and desire for freedom for all people and the same value of human life, I didn't know if my friend was aware of the fact that in 2008--I don't have the 2009 and 2010 numbers in front of me--but for 2008, this country, the United States, provided $45,330,000 in aid to Cuba. And you can't help but wonder over the years, like with Dr. Biscet, how much American money might have ever been used to help restrain heroes of this whole Earth that should have been praised and appreciated. Yet we're giving money to brutal dictators who treat the best that humanity has to offer in this manner. Does the gentleman has some thoughts?

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. The gentleman from Texas makes an excellent point. When you provide foreign aid, when you provide economic lifelines to dictatorships, it enables them to continue their repression. Years ago, we took a very principled stance against South Africa because of that abomination known as apartheid. And when the world united and said, No more, it did lead to an end to that racist regime.

Now Cuba, for some reason--and China would fall into this category as well. But Cuba, to keep on point, has had trade with Canada and with the European countries and the European Union, and there's been no matriculation from dictatorship to democracy at all. If anything, Cuba has gotten worse in many cases, clearly underscoring that when a brutal dictatorship is given the money and wherewithal, they will continue their repressive ways.

I believe, and I asked Dr. Biscet this last night, about lifting the travel ban and lifting the trade embargo, which are two things that the Obama administration is seeking to do. And he said don't do it unless there are conditionalities, human rights, democracy, free and fair elections. Otherwise, the secret police, the neighborhood block committees, and those who repress every person in Cuba who, especially those who articulate the vision of freedom and democracy and human rights, are given additional power.

Hard currency, as Dr. Biscet said on the phone, the Cuban Government runs everything. So when you lift the trade embargo, when you have people traveling to Cuba bringing hard currency, you throw a lifeline. Better condition it, all of it, to human rights conditions.

Again, had it worked, if that was the answer, as he said in the conversation last night, having a travel ability from Canada, and trade, and from the European countries, we would have seen a change towards democracy. It has not happened. It has gotten worse.

I appreciate you bringing up that very good point.

Mr. GOHMERT. Well, thank you.

And what an anomaly to have a country that believes in freedom and liberty and human life and human value, and yet at the same time we demean it--whether it's giving money to entities that take unborn lives or whether it's giving money to brutal dictators who certainly don't believe in freedom of religion but are willing to take the lives of people because of their religion or who repressively say, We told you you could have one child, so we're going to kill your other children.

It is just a mind-boggling thing, as Bo Pilgrim used to say. I'm sure he still does. But it's mind-boggling. How do we think that we're helping the world when we give massive amounts of money to people that are the very antithesis of the things that Americans have given their last full measure of devotion to preserve and protect?

I yield to my friend.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. You know, the date we lost China, in my opinion, was May 26, 1994. On that date, President Bill Clinton completely severed and de-linked human rights with Most Favored Nation status, after getting accolades when he linked it a year before. He said, unless there's significant progress in human rights, we're going to condition our trading relationship, and we will only look at performance. He shredded his Executive order. We had the votes to take away MFN that year, which dissipated over time.

I met with the human rights groups. I even went to China and realized that we were talking out of both sides of our mouth, like Janus, the Roman god, saying two things, you know, like some in diplomatic circles often do. And the foreign ministry in Beijing told me, We're getting Most Favored Nation status. We don't care what you think about human rights.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago when Hu Jintao, the unelected President of China, visited with President Obama; not a single public statement on human rights. It was so bad that when there was a press conference with Hu Jintao and President Obama at the White House, the President defended Hu, President Hu. When asked about human rights by an Associated Press reporter, President Obama said, "Well, they have a different culture and they have a different political system."

That was an outrageous statement that undermines all of the peace and freedom loving people of China, tens of thousands of whom are in the laogai or the gulag system suffering for peace and human rights and religious freedom. And it's as if to say somehow the Chinese people don't get it or they don't understand human rights. They sure do, and they want it. Ask Wei Jingsheng, Harry Wu, Chai Ling and all the great human rights defenders, many of whom have spent years in the gulag system.

It was so bad that The Washington Post did an editorial, and it said, President Obama defends Hu, Hu Jintao, on rights, and took the President, rightfully so, you know, a very liberal newspaper, The Washington Post, to task for being so silent.

Here it is, President Obama, 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Liu Xiaobo, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the man who put him in prison, Hu Jintao, and they're at a State dinner, first at a press conference, all kinds of other meetings, and not a single word about Liu Xiaobo. He should have said, Mr. President, Release the dissidents. He did no such thing, kept it all to himself even if he had those thoughts.

And in China, because I went on People's Daily because I read it often. I read it the next day. Filled with accolades from the American President for a dictator. It demoralizes people in the laogai, just like people in this Chamber, just like the President I believe is demoralizing those suffering in the gulags all over the world, including in Cuba.

So the gentleman is absolutely right. We need to be very serious and use--what if it were I or my wife or my family that were suffering this? Would we just then look askance and embrace these dictators? I don't think so. I would hope not.

I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. GOHMERT. I appreciate the gentleman's insights. But, unfortunately, based on our modern history in this country, the indications are if you were being tortured and held in prison, it doesn't appear that this government would do anything different than what we've been doing.

And the point that you make is so important. We've heard it from those who suffer and have suffered in gulags, who have been later released, and when we hear whether it was those held in Poland or in the Russian gulags or Chinese or Cuban, for example, when Ronald Reagan said this is an evil empire, what we've heard in the more recent years is that gave us hope. Somebody was willing to stand up and call it what it was. And at the time, that kept them going.

And our colleague here in the House, Sam Johnson, when he was a POW for 7 years in North Vietnam, being tortured daily, one of the most difficult things to endure was the information that our country did not care.

Now, it's heartbreaking to think about our friends who were suffering in horrible prison conditions, and we gave--not only gave the impression we didn't care, we had people running around blaming those very people for their own troubles when all they were trying to do was keep horrible, repressive regimes from taking over and killing millions, as they did when we left.

And so one of the great attributes of Reagan was he called things like he saw them, and it gave hope to the world.

And I don't know if my friend from New Jersey has heard me mention this, but last year, around Easter, I was in West Africa and met with some of the West Africans who were Christians. And the oldest said he wanted to make sure that I knew that they were so excited when we elected an African American president, that that was thrilling to them, until they began to see that his policies were weakening America. And this elderly, wonderful, wise gentleman, with others younger, all in agreement, said, You have got to make sure people in Washington understand. If you keep becoming weaker, we lose hope in this life. We know where our hope is in the next life. But as far as our hope for having a peaceful life in this world, it will be gone when you become too weak. Please tell your friends in Washington, do not let America grow any weaker.

And here we overspend. We give monies to countries who hate us, who hate the things we stand for, who hate the fact that we believe in freedom, because they believe freedom leads to debauchery, and so they believe you should have some dictator, caliphate, somebody that tells you everything you can do and what you can't do because freedom, they believe, corrupts; whereas, we know in our hearts, it's in our Constitution, it's in our Declaration of Independence, God gave us freedom to make choices.

And it is one of the greatest things that America has done that I think has helped cause this Nation to be blessed. We have stood for those freedoms. Not just for America. There is no country in the history of the world that has ever given treasure and life of that country's people to get freedom for other countries and other people of whom we ask nothing in return. That is unheard of in the history of the world, and yet this Nation has done it over and over. We have done it to help protect Muslims and give them freedom of choice, Christians, Buddhists. It did not matter. It was all about human rights, human dignity, and human freedom. And we see that slipping away every time we prop up some brutal dictator, every time we look the other way and pat cruel, evil people on the back and say, "Oh, we're so proud of you; we're glad to be your friend," when those like who have been repressed by Cuba say, "Please, do not give more credibility to the oppressors."

I yield to my friend for any final thoughts.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Well, I think you just made an articulate defense of why a consistent, transparent human rights, pro-freedom, pro-democracy foreign policy is absolutely essential if we want a world that is free of tyranny.

Pope John Paul II once said: If you want peace, work for justice. Then he said: If you want justice, work on behalf of the disenfranchised, unborn child, which I feel is a very good connection of human rights from womb to tomb.

But you made an excellent point about Ronald Reagan. Yesterday, Natan Sharansky, the great dissident--and Frank Wolf and I actually got into the prison camp, Perm Camp 35, where he spent so many horrible days and nights in the ShiZO, which was the punishment cell. We were there in the late eighties right after he got out. And you remember, he didn't just walk in a straight line when the KGB said you walk right across. He did a zigzag, his ultimate final act of defiance to the KGB.

But he said just what you brought out, Judge Gohmert, and that was that when Ronald Reagan talked about the Evil Empire, he said it again yesterday, they knew that we got it, that there was hope. And it gave him hope. It gave the other political dissidents hope. Jewish, Christian, whatever their denomination or religious belief, they said America understands the inherent failure of communism, the militant atheism which it represents, as Solzhenitsyn said it in his books, and he had hope.

Wei Jingsheng correspondingly, who is the father of the democracy war movement in China, a great leader, he told me when they let him out to get Olympics 2000--not the one they just had, Olympics 2000, and the Olympic committee didn't give it to them because they were such violators of human rights. Unfortunately, they capitulated some years later. He said,
"When you kowtow, when you enable, when you pander to dictatorship, including the Chinese dictatorship, especially the Chinese dictatorship, they beat us more in prison. But when you are tough, transparent, you look the dictator in the eye and say we are not kidding; we want these people released, they beat us less." That is from a man who spent 20 years in the Chinese laogai. Harry Wu and all the others have said the exact same thing.

So when President Obama kowtowed for the better part of a week in front of Hu Jintao, it was, in my opinion, a shameless exercise of lack of commitment to human rights and they beat the dissidents more because, "They will tell us, America has abandoned you."

Thankfully, in a bipartisan way--because when Hu Jintao came right here on Capitol Hill, it was our Speaker, Speaker Boehner, who raised human rights and raised the inherent violation of human rights in the one child per couple policy, the missing girls, 100 million missing girls in China, the result of a one child per couple policy where brothers and sisters are illegal. And over the course of 30 years, since 1979, when that horrific policy, the worst crime against women ever, went into effect, they have systematically exterminated the girl child, and now many of them are not here even as young women.

Forty million men won't be able to find wives by 2020 in China because women have been forcibly aborted as part of this one child per couple policy. It's a huge gender disparity, which raises problems about potential war. There is a book called "The Barren Branches" that talks about this restless male population that can't ever get married because women are not there. It is also a magnet for human trafficking.

Our President should have stood boldly, I say diplomatically. Frank Wolf and I met with Li Peng when he was Premier. We had a list of political prisoners. We talked about the one child per couple policy. We talked about religious freedom. We looked him right in the eye. Almost no one ever does that. You will do it. I will do it. Our President should do it. President Bush did it. He raised religious freedom robustly with the Chinese Government on his trips. Mrs. Clinton on her first trip to Beijing said, I am not going to let human rights, quote, interfere with global climate change issues and the issue of debt.

So it really is a very serious abandonment of the people who need it most, who will be the next Lech Walesa or Harry Wu or Wei Jingsheng. You bring up an excellent point, and I thank you for your leadership on human rights and the peace agenda, which is really the freedom agenda.

Mr. GOHMERT. It is certainly an honor to serve with you. And I don't know if you are aware, our friend Ted Poe, our colleague, has a bill that is trying to force all foreign aid to come to a vote country by country. That would give us the chance to discuss these very things on each country, on whether or not we should give them assistance. Isn't that wonderful? So I look forward to that in the time to come.

Mr. Speaker, we appreciate the time to discuss this very important issue, and especially now that money is so critically needed and that we should not be wasting it to help those who repress others.

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