By Tigran Avetisian
The United States has again extended the suspension of some of its additional economic assistance to Armenia, saying that the authorities in Yerevan have still not addressed U.S. concerns about the “status of democratic governance” in the country.
Armenia was due to receive $236.5 million under the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program designed to promote political and economic reforms around the world. Most of the sum was earmarked in 2006 for the rehabilitation and expansion of the country’s battered irrigation networks.
Another $67 million was set aside for the reconstruction of about 1,000 kilometers of rural roads. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency managing the scheme, blocked the launch of this project last year, expressing serious concern about the Armenian government’s post-election crackdown on the opposition and its broader human rights record.
MCC’s governing board reiterated those concerns late Wednesday at a quarterly meeting in Washington that was chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and attended by Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner. It decided not lift the hold on road construction funding.
“The Board’s decision today signals to the government that it has failed over several years to address concerns raised not only by MCC and other U.S. Government agencies, but the international community as well,” Rodney Bent, the acting head of the corporation, said in a statement.
“It’s now incumbent upon the government of Armenia to restore the Board’s confidence to its commitment to democracy and good governance. MCC has given the government of Armenia every opportunity to make meaningful reforms and will continue its direct communication about its expectations moving forward,” added Bent.
MCC decided at the same time to continue to finance the irrigation project, the main component of its compact with Armenia. The corporation has disbursed more than $25 million for that purpose since the launch of the five-year aid package in September 2006.
The Armenian government declined to immediately comment on its latest decisions. A spokesman told RFE/RL that the government will officially react on Friday.
The MCC’s decisions came on the heels of the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report that criticized the Armenian authorities’ handling of the February 2008 presidential election and its ensuing crackdown on the opposition. “The government's human rights record deteriorated significantly during the year, with authorities and their agents committing numerous human rights abuses, particularly in connection with the presidential elections and the government's suppression of demonstrations that followed,” concluded the 67-page report.