Bogota, Columbia - Remarks by Vice President Pence to the Lima Group:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: President Duque; President Varela; President Morales; and especially the Interim President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, President Juan Guaidó; Vice President Mourão; Your Excellencies: It’s an honor to address this gathering today at a momentous hour for the people of Venezuela and for the progress of freedom in this hemisphere.
And before I begin, allow me to bring greetings from a great champion of freedom, of liberty, in Venezuela and across this hemisphere. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
Just days ago, as the world watched, the tyrant in Caracas danced as his henchmen burned truckloads of food and medicine, and murdered civilians. Saturday was a tragic day for the families of those who lost their lives. And we mourn with those who mourn. It was also a tragic day for the suffering people of Venezuela. But it was also just one more day in Venezuela’s long and inevitable journey from tyranny to freedom.
As President Trump said one week ago today, so I say to all of you: Despite the brutality that the world witnessed this weekend, “a new day is coming in Latin America…In Venezuela and across the Western Hemisphere, socialism is dying, and liberty, prosperity, and democracy are being reborn” before our eyes.
And, President Guaidó, President Donald Trump asked me to be here today to deliver a simple message to you and to the people of Venezuela: Estamos con ustedes. We are with you 100 percent. We stand with you in America, along with all the nations gathered here today, and we will keep standing with you until democracy and your libertad are restored.
As President Trump said, in his words, “There will be no [turning] back.” And the events of the last two days have only steeled our resolve.
Two years ago, leaders from 12 nations across the Western Hemisphere gathered in Peru and took a bold stand for freedom when they signed the Lima Declaration and created this group that now bears its name.
The Lima Group has proudly led hemispheric efforts to call out the Maduro regime for its slide into dictatorship. And today, thanks in large part to the leadership represented here today, more than 50 nations have joined us in recognizing Interim President Juan Guaidó as the only legitimate President of Venezuela.
You’ve heard the voices of Venezuelan patriots crying out for freedom. You’ve supported their courageous effort to face down the brutal dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro. And for that, to all those gathered here, I say you have the thanks and the greatest respect of the United States of America, and I know you have the gratitude of the Venezuelan people.
To the countries represented here today, and especially to our friends, Colombia and Brazil, the United States is grateful for the way you’ve stepped forward to help the Venezuelan people in their hour of need.
President Duque, your country has accepted more than a million Venezuelans with open arms and fought the drug smugglers, gangs, and human traffickers that have overrun your sister republic. And for your country’s leadership, you have the deepest gratitude of the United States.
And let me take this opportunity to say to all those who would threaten our friend for taking a bold stand in defense of democracy in Venezuela, know this: Colombia is our strongest partner in the region, and any who would threaten her sovereignty or security would do well not to test the commitment to our ally or the resolve of the United States of America.
Vice President Mourão, as I saw firsthand in Manaus, the Brazilian people as well, have shown great compassion in providing aid to the Venezuelan people. And that compassion was, again, on display this weekend in the midst of the tragic events that unfolded before the eyes of world. And you have our thanks.
What brings us together today is the recognition, by all the nations gathered here, that Nicolas Maduro is a usurper with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolas Maduro must go.
The struggle in Venezuela is between dictatorship and democracy, between oppression and freedom, between the suffering of millions of Venezuelans and the opportunity for a “new future” of freedom and prosperity.
It was utterly unconscionable that Maduro blocked hundreds of tons of aid from reaching impoverished people across Venezuela. But he literally danced while truckloads of aid with food and medicine burned.
The reality is that, today, more than 9 out of 10 people in Venezuela live in poverty. The average Venezuelan has lost 20 pounds through deprivation and malnutrition, and the economy has shrunk by half. Thousands of children are starving this very hour. And, for months, food, medicine, and other supplies provided by the United States and our allies across this hemisphere have piled up along the border, even as Maduro sent aid to his puppet masters in Cuba. The Venezuelan people continue to suffer deprivation.
By contrast, the Venezuelan people’s true leader took decisive action to put an end to their suffering. Interim President Juan Guaidó issued a direct order to the armed forces of Venezuela to allow all humanitarian aid to enter the country on Saturday, February 23rd. And he called on the Venezuelan people to show their resolve by holding peaceful protests outside military bases across the country.
In response, thousands of Venezuelans gathered outside La Carlota Air Base in Caracas to raise their voices in support of liberty. And many of the military’s rank-and-file showed their loyalty when they refused to fire on their fellow countrymen. So far, nearly 200 members of the armed forces of Venezuela have chosen to stand with the citizens of Venezuela, and defected from the Maduro regime. And even in the midst of the tragic events of this last Saturday, some aid was able to cross the border into Venezuela from Brazil.
As one of the servicemen who defected to President Guaidó’s government said this weekend, and I quote, “It’s millions versus 30 or so of them.” Thirty usurpers must not be allowed to deny liberty to 30 million people. As President Trump has said, “The fight for freedom has begun.”
But Maduro’s loyalists turned on their own people. As the world watched, they set fire to trucks loaded with food and medicine desperately needed by the Venezuelan people. Cuban-trained thugs in ski masks, known as “colectivos,” went roaming about border towns, shooting randomly at innocent civilians. More than 300 people were injured, and at least five Venezuelans lost their lives, including members of the Pemon indigenous tribe.
What we’ve seen in the last two days wasn’t a bold stroke by a triumphant leader; it was the desperate act of a tyrant clinging to power with violence and intimidation.
Since day one of this administration, I’m pleased to report that the United States has recognized the threat that Nicolas Maduro posed to the Venezuelan people and to nations across the region, including ours. And our administration has taken decisive action to stand with the people of Venezuela as they seek to reclaim their freedom.
The United States has imposed sanctions on more than 50 top officials, as well as on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, to stop Maduro’s cronies from enrichening themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people.
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly in 2017 and in 2018, President Trump called on all nations to stand with us in condemning and isolating Maduro’s dictatorship.
And on January 23rd, when the Venezuelan people took to the streets to march for freedom and democracy, the United States was proud to be the first nation on Earth to recognize Juan Guaidó as the rightful President of Venezuela.
It’s been my honor to travel to Latin America five times, on the President’s behalf, to strengthen the coalition of support for a free Venezuela, to strengthen the ties that bind freedom-loving people all across this hemisphere. And I’m proud to report that America has kept our promise to stand with the suffering people of Venezuela. We’ve stood with resolve and generosity, and so we will continue to stand.
Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has provided more than $139 million in aid to the people of Venezuela already — the most of any nation on Earth. Just in the last two weeks, we’ve sent five military transport aircraft with 400 tons of food and medicine to Colombia and Brazil.
And as President Duque and I discussed today, our efforts to date will not only continue, they will be increased. Despite Maduro’s brutality, we will press on. As we speak, we are identifying new areas along the border where we can pre-position additional aid for the struggling people of Venezuela.
Today, also, it’s my privilege to announce that the United States will provide an additional $56 million to support our partners in the region as you come to the aid of the Venezuelan people fleeing from the deprivation and oppression of the Maduro regime.
In the days and weeks ahead, the United States will continue to deliver life-saving food for the hungry, medicine for the desperately ill, and shelter for those displaced by the brutality and deprivation of the regime.
And while we stand with the Venezuelan people, we will also continue to stand up to all of those who would oppress them. Many of your countries — such as Panama, Canada, and Colombia — have frozen the assets of military officials still loyal to Maduro, and we commend their action. These are important steps — cutting off the regime from the millions that they’ve stolen from the Venezuelan people — and we urge other freedom-loving countries to do the same.
But as we stand here today, for all that we have done before, it’s time to do more. Many of your countries have pledged to crack down on the regime’s money-laundering and other corrupt activities, and to cut off the worst offenders from the financial system completely. As the people of Venezuela take to the streets to reclaim their liberty, it’s time to make good on those promises.
And so, today, with great respect, the United States calls on all the nations gathered here to intensify efforts to deny the Maduro regime access to financing and take the following actions to isolate the Maduro dictatorship.
First, we call on all Lima Group nations to immediately freeze the assets of PDVSA.
Second, we urge you to transfer ownership of Venezuelan assets in your country from the Maduro’s henchmen to President Guaidó’s government, and to do so immediately.
We also urge all nations present to restrict visas for Maduro’s inner circle, and vote to recognize President Guaidó’s representative at the Inter-American Development Bank.
These are important steps that the members of the Lima Group should endorse today and your nation should implement tomorrow. It’s time.
And to support you in these efforts, at President Trump’s direction, effective today, the United States will impose additional sanctions on regime officials, including three border-state governors implicated in last weekend’s violence and a member of Maduro’s inner circle. These men worked to block aid for people in need and suppress peaceful protests while their tyrant danced in Caracas. Their actions will not go unpunished.
In the days ahead as well, the United States will announce even stronger sanctions on the regime’s corrupt financial networks. We will work with all of you to find every last dollar that they’ve stolen and work to return it to the Venezuelan people.
As we continue to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on the Maduro regime, we hope for a peaceful transition to democracy. But as President Trump has made clear, all options are on the table.
And to those members of Venezuela’s armed forces who continue to back Maduro, I have a message from the President of the United States. In words he first spoke one week ago, I say to the members of Venezuela’s armed forces: “You can choose to accept President Guaidó’s generous offer of amnesty, to live your life in peace with your families and your countrymen.” But if you “choose the other path: continuing to support Maduro,” you ultimately will be held accountable. And as the President said one week ago to those same military, “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything.”
President Guaidó does not seek retribution against you, but to be clear, neither does the United States of America. To all of those in the armed forces of Venezuela today, we say: If you take up the banner of democracy, President Guaidó’s government and the United States government will welcome your support and grant relief from the sanctions that have been placed.
Now, we know that what’s holding many of you back is not loyalty to Maduro, but fear — fear for your families whom Cuban-trained secret police have kept under constant surveillance.
But the truth is, after years of oppression and poverty, after this weekend’s unspeakable brutality, Maduro’s regime grows weaker by the day.
So again, to those members of the Venezuelan armed forces, for yourselves, for your families, for your country, we say: Make the right choice. Accept President Guaidó’s sincere offer of amnesty and an inclusive transition to democracy. As President Trump said last week, “Now is the time for all Venezuelan patriots to act together as one united people.” And so it is.
And to the leaders around the world, we also say, “It’s time.” There can be no bystanders in Venezuela’s struggle for freedom. The United States calls on every freedom-loving nation in this hemisphere — including Mexico, Uruguay, and the nations of the eastern Caribbean — to join with us in recognizing Interim President Juan Guaidó and his government, and join us by stepping forward to support the Venezuelan people’s struggle to reclaim their libertad.
And to those nations that have been supporting the Maduro regime, in the wake of the brutality that the world witnessed this weekend, we urge you to reconsider. Reconsider your support for the tyrant. Join nations around the world to stand with the Venezuelan people. Withdraw your support for the Maduro regime. Those who continue to endorse this regime will only isolate themselves further on the world stage.
We gather here to reaffirm our commitment to freedom in this hemisphere. And as President Trump said, “The people of Venezuela are standing up for freedom and democracy, and the United States of America is standing right by their side.”
As the people of Venezuela prepare to take to the streets again, we say, from our hearts, to the freedom-loving people of Venezuela: Know that you do not go alone. You go with the support and the prayers of the American people, the people of the nations gathered here, and with freedom-loving people all across the world.
And I also believe that, as you stand for freedom, you go with the grace of the author of freedom who said, in those ancient words, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…for where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Freedom springs from the hearts of all the people across this new world. And as Simón Bolívar said, “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.”
And with faith in that great promise and in all who have joined us in the cause of freedom in Venezuela, faith in the resolve of our President and the American people, and faith in the courage and strength of the Venezuelan people and those who have stepped forward for her freedom, I believe with all my heart the day is coming soon when Venezuela’s long nightmare will end, when Venezuela will once more be free, when her people will see a “new birth of freedom” in a nation reborn to libertad.
To the good people of Venezuela: Seek your freedom. We will go with you. You go with God. Vayan con Dios.