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Pelosi Remarks at National Endowment for Democracy Awards Honoring Min Ko Naing

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the National Endowment for Democracy Awards honoring Burmese democracy leader Min Ko Naing.  Below are her remarks:

“Thank you very much Carl, for your generous words of introduction and for putting this in context from September 20th, which was a very special occasion for us when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to the Capitol, received the Congressional Gold Medal, and then we went down to make other recognitions from the National Endowment for Democracy.  I am very honored to be with you today on this very, very special occasion, when you gave the 2012 democracy award to Min Ko Naing – I welcome you to the Capitol with great respect and admiration – thank you for your courage and your leadership.  And also to thank all of you for being here as well.

“This statue that was in Tiananmen Square is also in San Francisco, downtown in Chinatown, where it was received, shall we say, by some with more excitement than by others, but nonetheless a commitment to all of those who make sacrifices for human rights, respecting the dignity and worth of every person.  The National Endowment for Democracy really deserves so much credit for keeping all of the flame alive – keepers of the flame they are, it’s very hard.

“We lose all moral authority to talk about human rights in any country in the world if we are not willing to talk about it in a country as big as China.  We lose all authority to talk about it with any country in the world if we say economic interests in Burma prevent us from doing this.  And so, it is with respect for you – and you deserve a great deal of credit for keeping this flame alive by making it the award.  Thank you National Endowment for Democracy.

“Now, I’m sticking a little bit with my notes because as Carl knows, I have a tendency to speak all day on human rights – China, Burma, you name it.  It is notable that just 24 years ago today, we were getting word on what was happening.  I did not realize that at the same time you were having a similar event in Burma, although, because I am blessed in my district with a large Burmese-American population – we have been well aware of the challenges that Democracy has faced there.  Inside the Bay Area, Burmese community is – indeed the Bay Area Burmese-American community is the largest, largest, community in the nation.  So, we take great pride with that. 

“When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came there after receiving the gold medal, she was received so magnificently, so royally, there would be no facility that could contain the crowd or the enthusiasm.  She talked about inviting help for people to help democracy in Burma.  Some of the questions from the audience related to: ‘Well, I have been very well educated in the United States, so I think I can go and help in Burma, I’ve started a business here so I think I can help.’  And then she sort of called a halt to that and said: ‘We know what we need to do in Burma, if you want to help us do what we know that we need to do, you are welcome.’  But it was almost condescending what they were saying: ‘We learned a lot here, we can teach you a lot in Burma.’  Not so, she dispelled that.  In fact, I was speaking with her privately afterward and I said: ‘Tell me some of the ways we can be helpful.’  And she said: ‘Well, we need help with economic development as well as democracy.’  For example, she said, ‘We have a lot of tomato, a big tomato crop in Burma and I think that we can, we can have tomatoes for export.’  I said: ‘Well, do you have food processing?’  She said: ‘No, here is what we have: a tomato crop, we have roof tops, we have sunshine, we have sundried tomatoes for export.‘

[Laughter]

“That simple, that simple.  In any event, that is all to say that the relationships that have been built up over the years by the parliament in exile over time, and the rest, have been warm, personal, and very sad about how long it has taken.  So when – I was listening attentively when you were asked the question: ‘What do you say to the Prime Minster when he comes?’  And I was thinking about -- I know Joe Crowley probably shared this with you.  Joe Crowley, Nita Lowey, Rush Holt, and I – and a few others met with the President when he was here and we had the opportunity, shall we say, to courteously and diplomatically, but forcefully convey our concerns about what we thought would be appropriate constitutional reforms to occur before the 2015 elections so that Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League of Democracy could fully participate in the democratic process – run for president, run for president.  We were assured that there was a process for all this.  We could have a national referendum, or you could have a vote of the Parliament which required, what, 75 percent, or something like that to make the change but nonetheless that’s all to say; we got into some of the nitty-gritty and they understood our concern about the obstacles to true democracy that existed, even honoring the Constitution.  We presented – Joe Crowley I’m sure told you he presented a list of political prisoners who’ve been, who should be immediately released and discussed our opposition to the violence in Kachin State and against the Muslim community in parts of Burma.  We were assured that there was absolutely no dangerous situation any place in Burma.  We insisted on calling it Burma but, I know – and there was no violence anywhere, everything was ok.

[Laughter]

“Everything was ok.  Well, anyway, come visit and we will show you.  So we we’ll come visit and we will see.

“But I want to congratulate you Min Ko Naing for your courageous efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Burma.  I don’t know if you know this but you are very famous in San Francisco.  You know that?  San Francisco Bay Area.

“And it is also an honor to be with Ko Ko Gyi.  Thank you for being with us.  Another critical figure in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma.  It was the most, one of the most – you two are both some of the most influential leaders in Burma and the ‘88 generation that worked to achieve peace and an open society.

“Again we wish you much success in the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and both, all of your pro-democracy work, thanking you for what you have done, wishing you success as you go forward and really so pleased to see so many people here today for this award ceremony.  It really is a tribute to you for sure, the struggle that we appreciate you had, the endless work that remains to be done, and the great leadership of the National Endowment for Democracy for making, placing before the eyes of the American people the courage and plight of the people of Burma.  It was really clear, made clear, I believe, to the President and his official delegation that they would never be, again, be able to – we thought, in all of those years when we were banging the drum out here that we were making it clear to them that this is not going away.  And if you think that the names of these prisoners will be forgotten, don’t even think of telling them that because they will not be and if that means we have to read them on the floor of the House, or in a public venue, whatever it takes they will, you will never be able to inflict the pain on them to say that: ‘nobody even remembers you, nobody even knows that you are here’ because we certainly do and one of the reasons we certainly do is because of our honoree today and to you.

“Now are these paintings for sale? 

[Laughter]

“Aren’t they beautiful?  All of that and creative talent as well.

“But I am very, very honored to speak on behalf of so many of my colleagues who share the passion for what you are doing in Burma specifically.  And again, it is my honor to be here with you and I thank the National Endowment for Democracy for that privilege. Thank you.”