Address to the Polus Center for Social and Economic DevelopmentRose M. Likins, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs
Prepared Remarks for the Polus Center 7th Annual Fundraiser Dinner
March 3, 2005
Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to honor the Polus Center -- a valued member of the U.S. Department of State’s public-private partnership program to reinforce humanitarian mine action for the last four years.
We invited the Polus Center to join our partnership program because of its effective work in Nicaragua and Honduras that benefits survivors of landmine accidents and other war related injuries, others with disabilities and vulnerable groups.
Note: Acting Assistant Secretary Likins then briefly spoke extemporaneously about her own disability with which she has coped since childhood and her subsequent success in pursuing a distinguished career as a Foreign Service Officer. She noted her understanding of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities, especially in developing countries, and congratulated the Polus Center on its community-based rehabilitation.
I know that those who live in less developed countries have a hard life. Those who have lost limbs or faculties in those countries -- be it from war or other causes -- have the hardest life of all.
Landmine survivors and other victims of war must deal with the trauma, the physical pain, and with coping and recovering from their injuries in an environment in which there are often few to no medical or rehabilitative facilities.
Their injuries usually result in the loss of a job, inability to go to school, and the impoverishment of their entire family. This is not just because of physical barriers. There are profound social barriers as well.
The burdens of persons with disabilities are not confined to Nicaragua and Honduras where the Polus Center has brought hope. This is a global problem that is made additionally daunting by the persistent landmines and other dangerous remnants of war that still litter so many countries.
When I served as Ambassador to El Salvador, a country that has suffered greatly in the past from conflict and from the infestation of landmines, these sad truths were all too evident.
El Salvador has largely cleaned up its landmines. Yet too many of its people still struggle with war-related injuries, a legacy that will last for decades to come.
So I fully appreciate the services and the hope that the Polus Center has brought to El Salvador’s neighbors through its Walking Unidos, Vida Nueva and Capa Dise prosthetic outreach programs in Nicaragua and Honduras.
Equally important are the Polus Center’s social and economic initiatives such as the Disabilities Leadership Center Access Project and Ben Linder Café that assist people with disabilities to enter universities, develop small businesses, and live in an accessible environment.
I should note that the Polus Center’s Vida Nueva Prosthetic Outreach Program was established with the generous help of two other wonderful partners in the Department of State’s humanitarian mine action program -- Grapes for Humanity and the Julia Burke Foundation.
The Polus Center has also been chosen by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund and by the Pan American Health Organization to implement programs in Central America that are improving the physical, social and economic status of people coping with landmine injuries and disabilities.
For example, the Polus Center has just received a major USAID grant to begin local production in Central America of appropriate wheelchairs.
Ladies and gentleman: when USAID and reputable international organizations select a non-profit group like the Polus Center to conduct vital work for them, that is a real stamp of approval.
Just as the Polus Center seeks to help restore self-sufficiency to persons with disabilities, we seek to help countries develop self-sustaining mine action programs.
The United States has also invested millions of dollars in humanitarian mine action assistance in Nicaragua and Honduras. Honduras successfully "graduated" from the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program last year -- more on that in a moment -- but we continue to render mine action assistance in Nicaragua.
Let me take this opportunity to briefly discuss humanitarian mine action. I should explain that the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program has three major components or "pillars:" mine clearance, mine risk education to threatened populations, and mine survivors assistance.
Some people are pleasantly surprised that the United States government is so involved in rendering humanitarian mine action assistance around the world. The United States has rendered mine action assistance to nearly 50 countries so far. At the moment we’re aiding about 30 countries to clean up their detritus of war.
Later this year the total United States investment in humanitarian mine action worldwide will reach the $1 billion dollar mark.
The European Union and other donor nations as well as international organizations such as the Organization of American States and United Nations have also been active in mine action.
All of this effort has reduced the rate of landmine casualties and returned much valuable land to productive use.
Thanks in large part to the U.S. taxpayers, Costa Rica, Djibouti and Honduras are now "mine safe." And we’re on the verge of being able to declare another victory against persistent landmines in a large African nation too: Namibia.
But for all of the progress that has been made against landmines and in reducing war-related injuries, so much remains to be done.
For example, even though those landmines that posed an imminent threat to Hondurans have been cleared, Hondurans who were severely injured by landmines continue to need our help.
That’s why the U.S. Department of State, through its public-private partnership program, reaches out to civil society, to groups like the Polus Center and to people like you who support them. We want to encourage the everyone’s involvement -- not just governments -- to work together to make the world "mine safe" and to help meet the needs of landmine survivors and other war victims.
Because governments cannot hope to do the job alone if we want to make a "mine safe" world a reality within our lifetime.
Civil society is not an abstract concept. It’s alive and well as exemplified by the Polus Center and you, the private citizens, here tonight who support this great organization.
So whenever the opportunity permits, members of my staff and I are happy to escape our desks and speak directly about our partnership program and the role that organizations such as the Polus Center have in restoring dignity, healing, mobility, opportunities and hope -- above all, hope -- to persons with disabilities.
I told you a little about me tonight and my personal as well as professional interest in supporting war victims in particular and all disadvantaged people.
I shared our Government’s admiration for the Polus Center. Gee, I hope that we weren’t supposed to roast the Polus Center at tonight’s event!
I gave you a snapshot of the United States major, long-standing commitment to eradicating persistent landmines.
And I described the convergence of interests between the Polus Center and our partnership program.
The United States is dedicated to humanitarian mine action and to war victims assistance over the long term. We’ll get to the finish line even sooner because of our partnership with non-governmental organizations like the Polus Center and people like you who support their good work.
Thanks again for inviting me to share this evening with you.