Has the U.S. Contributed to the building of a prison in Mauritania?
I wanted to revisit a question from my first interview to provide clarification because there have been some questions raised about my previous response. The United States Government has never contributed to the building of a prison in Mauritania. As I stated in my previous interview, the United States Government also has no military bases in Mauritania. However, upon request of the Mauritanian authorities, we sometimes assist with infrastructure projects on Mauritanian military bases, such as the runway extension in Bassikounou that was requested by the Mauritanian government and coordinated with the World Food Program.
We want to know from you your assessment on the following points:
Do you think – frankly – that Mauritania is now a democratic country?
The human rights situation in Mauritania?
Mauritanians have chosen a democratic form of government. Mauritania holds democratic elections to choose its leaders. Democratic rights such as media freedom are practiced. When problems occur in the consistent application of democratic principles, people in democratic countries work together to identify the problems and fix them. Democracy requires constant care and consultation to remain viable and relevant to the issues of the day. Are there problems in observance of the full range of human rights as listed by international human rights treaties that Mauritania has signed? Yes, just as there are problems elsewhere in the world, including in the United States. The United States Justice Department recently released a report on systematic abuses committed by the authorities of Ferguson, Missouri, against the rights of citizens there, particularly of the town’s black citizens. The authorities are now correcting those problems, including the dismissal of several senior officials. The United States is a democratic country, even if at certain times in certain places we do not fully adhere to our democratic principles. I would say the same about Mauritania.
What is your position on the political dialogue which people are increasingly talking about?
In my initial months in Mauritania, I made introductory courtesy calls on religious and civil society leaders, parliamentarians, and leaders of political parties from both the majority and opposition coalitions. I listened carefully as they offered their opinions on a variety of issues. It is good for Mauritanian leaders to discuss among themselves the most important issues the country faces, prioritizing the urgent needs of the Mauritanian people. The terms of such a dialog are for Mauritanian political leaders to decide.
Mauritanian constitution amendment?
The United States has amended its constitution 27 times through the legally established democratic process. Amendments made through legitimate constitutional processes are normal. For any change to a governing document, the primary question should be, “Does the proposed amendment solve problems, or create new ones?” That judgment is for the Mauritanian people to make. As a friend of Mauritania, the United States may choose to offer a viewpoint on a particular proposal at the appropriate time and through the appropriate channels, just as our Mauritanian friends comment on issues of governance in the United States. In my own life, I benefit from considering the views of my friends, but in the end my life decisions are mine alone. Among friendly countries, the same principle applies, with the added factor that commitments made in formal treaties must also be upheld.
Economic situation in Mauritania?
Many investments being made now by the government will contribute toward broad-based economic growth over time, for example, more and better roads and improved ports. At present, economic growth is strong, but it remains vulnerable to international commodity price fluctuations. The benefits of this growth are overly concentrated. Drought and other issues have caused a rise in food insecurity. Diversifying the economy, adding value through processing and manufacturing, and encouraging small producers and investors can all help with these problems. Government efforts to expand Mauritanian artisanal fishing, for example, and to encourage the transformation of raw products into finished or semi-finished products, as I recently discussed with the Commerce Minister, can contribute toward stable, broad-based growth, which would benefit more Mauritanians.
Mauritanian prisoners in Guantanamo?
The policy of the United States government is to close the Guantanamo facility as soon as this can be accomplished in a responsible manner. To that end, since President Obama came to office in 2009, the United States government has released hundreds of detainees from the Guantanamo detention facility, while adding none. These efforts will continue. I am in close contact with senior U.S. government officials and senior Mauritanian government officials about the two remaining Mauritanian detainees. I have also met and heard the concerns of several Mauritanians on this issue. I delivered their concerns to these same senior U.S. government officials.