Chargé d’Affaires Rodriguez:
Good Afternoon! Thank you all for being here and thank you to Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Heath for visiting us here in Liberia. DAS Heath is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for West Africa in the Bureau of African Affairs. Previous assignments include Charge d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangkok, Thailand, as well as acting Deputy Chief of Mission in Canberra, Australia, and Consul General in Chiang Mai, Thailand. DAS Heath has also served in diplomatic assignments in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and worked in the Bureau of African Affairs during the development of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA.
This has been an extremely productive visit so far. DAS Heath has met with the Minister of Justice, the National Elections Commission, national and international election observers, as well as media and civil society leaders. All of this is to put into action what I noted just a few weeks ago in my first press roundtable: the eyes of the world are focused on Liberia’s elections and how they are managed.
And now let me turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Heath.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heath:
Thank you, Chargé d’Affaires Catherine Rodriguez. This is my first visit to Liberia, and I have had an energizing series of meetings with important stakeholders in this election.
I am here representing the Department of State and the U.S. Government’s desire for Liberia to have free, fair, and peaceful elections. We are committed to supporting Liberia’s democratic process.
I’m coming to you after attending the UN General Assembly last week in New York. I would like to commend President Weah for his remarks when he stood on a global stage and pledged his government’s commitment to ensure “a free, fair, transparent, peaceful, inclusive and credible elections.” He went on to say that “As a strong believer in democracy let me reiterate my call for the respect of constitutional governance and respect for the will of the people.” The U.S. government fully supports this commitment, and we continue to urge political leaders and parties in Liberia to keep their pledge to a nonviolent electoral process through their commitment to the 2023 Farmington River Declaration.
In my meetings with government officials, civil society leaders, political parties, and the NEC, I have appreciated the candor and focus on making the upcoming elections successful. I was pleased to learn more from our partners here about planning for the election. We had productive conversations on everything from security to the management and announcements of results. The frankness and openness of these discussions is a strong reflection of the special relationship and bonds between our two countries, and I was encouraged to see so many Liberians working so diligently to ensure the free, fair, and peaceful conduct of the elections.
To further support those efforts to advance democracy in Liberia and around the world, yesterday, as many in this room have already seen, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Liberia, including through manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; use of violence to prevent people from exercising their rights to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly; use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views; or engaging in any other activity designed to improperly influence the outcome of an election.
Certain family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.
The visa restriction policy announced today will apply to specific individuals and is not directed at the Liberian people or the Government of Liberia.
The decision to impose visa restrictions reflects the commitment of the United States to support Liberians’ aspirations to have free, fair, and peaceful elections that demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.
We are committed to promoting accountability for those who undermine democratic values.
I am happy to answer your questions.