Mr. Benoni Wilfred Urey, one of the notable Liberians on the US assets freeze and sanctions list, has told the Daily Observer that delisting him and others is “indeed a great day for democracy in Liberia.”
Mr. Urey, who now heads one of the opposition political parties, said that he and others worked for the Liberian government, and not for former Liberian President Charles Taylor. It is widely believed that it was for some alleged misdeeds of Mr. Taylor that Mr. Urey and others were placed on the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals’ (SDN) sanctions list.
According to the US authorities, anyone, group or business on this OFAC SDN list, will see their assets in the US blocked and with US nationals generally prohibited from doing business with them.
But with the delisting and removal of the sanctions placed against them since 2004, it is expected that their assets be returned and American citizens can now do business with them.
Mr. Urey, speaking to this newspaper via telephone, commended the American government and President Barack Obama for removing him and others from the list.
He stated that he and other Liberians delisted were singled out and misrepresented to the international community, leading to the sanctions against them.
“It is time for some Liberians to stop misleading our friends in the international community about their fellow Liberians. The people have now found out that everything they say everyday about people like me is all lies,” Mr. Urey, who is the founder of the All Liberian Party, said.
“In Liberia, we have the culture of talking about everything but knowing very little about anything. Too often, people will lie on others just to get their aims accomplished.”
Asked to give the names of those who might have told lies against him, the famous Liberian businessman turned politician said, “You know them and I know them; they were involved with the execution of the 13 men on the poles. They were involved with the removal of the [Samuel K.] Doe regime. They were involved with the removal of the Charles Taylor regime. But the time for them to continue lying to the Liberian people has passed and the people can no longer be fooled by the lies they will still want to tell.”
When the news broke that their first partisan has been removed from the US’ sanction list, there were hundreds of jubilant supporters and sympathizers seen at the Careysburg residence of Mr. Urey. They sang, danced and congratulated him.
One told the Observer, he sees it as the most positive thing the US government has done in recent times for the development of Liberia.
In the White House press release announcing the delisting of Mr. Urey, former President Taylor and others, US President Obama said, “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) (NEA), Section 5 of the United Nations Participation Act, as amended (22 U.S.C. 287c) (UNPA), and Section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, find that the situation that gave rise to the declaration of a national emergency in Executive Order 13348 of July 22, 2004, with respect to the actions and policies of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and other persons, in particular their unlawful depletion of Liberian resources and their removal from Liberia and secreting of Liberian funds and property, has been significantly altered by Liberia’s significant advances to promote democracy and the orderly development of its political, administrative, and economic institutions, including presidential elections in 2005 and 2011, which were internationally recognized as freely held; the 2012 conviction of, and 50-year prison sentence for former Liberian President Charles Taylor and the affirmation on appeal of that conviction and sentence; and the diminished ability of those connected to former Liberian President Charles Taylor to undermine Liberia’s progress.”
The US President thereby terminated the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13348 and ordered that his decision be transmitted to the Congress and published in the Federal Register.
Other Liberians delisted along with Mr. Urey and President Taylor are: Charles R. Bright, Former Minister of Finance; Kaddieyatu Darrah (Dara), Special Assistant to former President Taylor; Jenkins Dunbar, Former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy; Juanita Neal, former Deputy Minister of Finance; Charles Taylor, Jnr. (alias Chuckie), advisor and son of former President Taylor, and; Benjamin Yeaten, former Director, Special Security Services of Liberia.
The US leader also removed businesses and other nationals that they (US government) said were associated with Mr. Taylor’s action or policies.
Meanwhile Information Minister Lewis Brown told the Voice of America (VOA) that the lifting of the sanctions should inspire confidence that Liberia is a country open and ready for development. He also said it shows that Liberia is a shining example of what a country, once considered a failed state, can achieve by a united people under a decisive leadership that is dedicated to strengthening the tenets of democracy.
“Since the end of our conflict, we’ve worked as a government and as a people to deepen our democracy, to rebuild our institutions, to get our economy back on track. And so we’re pleased by this development, especially in the light that it takes into account the enormous progress that this country has made,” he said.
Brown said Liberia’s sense of freedom is best tested by the wave of freedoms of speech, of the press and of worship that Liberians enjoy under the government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
But the Obama administration said much remains to be done in Liberia, including transferring security responsibilities from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to Liberian forces next year and holding national elections in 2017.
Brown expressed appreciation to UNMIL for providing the necessary training and mentoring, saying Liberia is ready to take over its own security.
“Each day we take a step toward being ready, each day we take a step toward achieving those milestones, and that is all that anyone can ask for – that each day Liberia remains steady toward making progress in deepening its democratic institutions, deepening its aspirations to become a society that is free, a society that is secure not necessarily by armament but by shared values of commitment to the rule of law, commitment to transparency, commitment to an open government that is responsive to the needs and aspirations of its people,” Brown said.
The U.S. government and the United Nations’ assets freezes and travel bans were imposed against individuals considered dangerous to Liberia’s security. But two months ago, the United Nations lifted its assets freeze and travel ban.
According to one Liberian government source, President Sirleaf personally lobbied both the United Nations and the U.S. government to lift all sanctions.
The source, who requested anonymity in order to speak about the matter, said there has been concern that if all sanctions are not lifted and elections are held in 2017, some candidates or their supporters may claim that the atmosphere was not conducive for free and fair elections.