Vice President Michael R. Pence
Formal Remarks to the Lima Group
Palacio de San Carlos – Bogota, Colombia – February 25, 2019
President Duque, President Varela, President Morales, and especially President Guaido of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela – Vice President Mourao, your Excellencies – it’s an honor to address the nations gathered here at this momentous hour for the people of Venezuela and for the progress of freedom in this hemisphere.
I bring greetings from a great champion of liberty in Venezuela and across this Hemisphere of Freedom, the 45th President of the United States, President Donald Trump.
Just days ago, as the world watched, the tyrant in Caracas danced as his henchmen murdered civilians and burned truckloads of food and medicine destined for the people of Venezuela. Saturday was a tragic day for the families of those who lost their lives and for the suffering people of Venezuela. But it was 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.”
And President Trump asked me to be here today to deliver a simple message to the people of Venezuela: Estamos con ustedes. We are with you. 100 percent. We stand with you, and along with all the nations gathered here today, we will keep standing with you until democracy and libertad are restored.
And as President Trump said, “There will be no going 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.
Today, thanks in large part to the leadership of our partners in the Lima Group, more than 50 nations have joined us to recognize the only legitimate President of Venezuela, Interim President Juan Guaidó.
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, you have the greatest respect of the United States, and 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 have 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, 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 our commitment to our ally or the resolve of the United States.
Vice President Mourao, as I saw firsthand in Manaus, the Brazilian people have shown great compassion in providing aid to the Venezuelan people. And that compassion was on display amidst the tragic events of this weekend.
But 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 a “new future” of freedom and prosperity.
It was unconscionable that Maduro blocked hundreds of tons of aid from the United States and other freedom-loving nations. Today, more than 9 out of 10 people 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 at this very hour. And for months, food, medicine, and other supplies have piled up along the border, even as Maduro has sent aid to his masters in Cuba.
By contrast, the Venezuelan people’s true leader took decisive action to put an end to their suffering. President Juan Guaido issued a direct order to the armed forces of Venezuela to allow all humanitarian aid to enter the country on Saturday, February 23, 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 true loyalties when they refused to fire on their fellow countrymen. So far, over 100 members of the armed forces have chosen to stand with the citizens of Venezuela and defected from Maduro’s regime, and some aid was able to cross the border into Venezuela from Brazil.
As one of the servicemen who defected to President Guaido’s government said this weekend, “it’s millions versus 30 or so of them.” And 30 usurpers must not be allowed to deny liberty to30 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 people. More than three hundred people were injured, and at least five Venezuelans lost their lives.
What we’ve seen in the last two days wasn’t a bold stroke by atriumphant leader; it was the desperate act of a tyrant who’s impoverished his nation through oppression and socialism… clinging to power with violence and intimidation.
Since Day One, President Trump has recognized the threat that Nicolas Maduro posed to the Venezuelan people and nations across the region – and our administration has taken decisive action to stand with the people of Venezuela as they seek to reclaim their freedom.
We’ve 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 both 2017 and 2018, President Trump called on all nations to stand with us in condemning and isolating Maduro’s dictatorship.
And on January 23, when the Venezuelan people took to the streets to march for freedom and democracy, the United States was the first nation on earth to recognize Juan Guaido 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, and America has kept our promise to stand with the suffering people of Venezuela through resolve and generosity.
Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has provided more than $139 million in aid to the people of Venezuela so far—the most of any nation. 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. We are identifying new areas along the border where we can preposition additional aid for the Venezuelan people.
And today, it is my privilege to announce that the United States will provide an additional $56 million to support our partners in the region as they come to the aid of the Venezuelan people.
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 Maduro regime.
And while we stand with the Venezuelan people, we must also stand up to all 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. This is an important step to cut off the regime from the millions they’ve stolen from the Venezuela people – and we urge other freedom-loving countries to do the same.
But 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, 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. We call on all Lima Group nations to immediately freeze the assets of PDVSA. Secondly, transfer ownership of Venezuelan assets in your country from Maduro’s henchmen to President Guaido’s government. We urge all nations present to also restrict visas for Maduro’s inner circle, and to vote to recognize President Guaido’s representative at the Inter-American Development Bank.
And to support you in these efforts, at President Trump’s direction, effective today, the United States will impose sanctions on additional 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 – and their actions will not go unpunished.
In the days ahead, the United States will announce even stronger sanctions on the regime’s corrupt financial networks. We will find every last dollar they have stolen and return that money 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 another message from the President of the United States. “You can choose to accept President Guaido’s generous offer of amnesty, to live your life in peace with your families and countrymen.”
But if you “choose the second path: continuing to support Maduro”… you will ultimately be held accountable for your actions. As President Trump said, “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything.”
President Guaido does not seek retribution and neither does the United States. If you take up the banner of democracy, the United States will welcome your support and grant real sanctions relief.
We know that what’s holding many of you back is not loyalty to Maduro, but fear for your families – whom Cuban-trained secret police have kept under constant surveillance.
But the truth is, after years of oppression and poverty and this weekend’s brutality, Maduro’s regime grows weaker by the day.
So, to those members of the Venezuelan armed forces… for yourselves, your families, and your country, we say, make the right choice. Accept President Guaido’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 to leaders around the world, it’s time: There can be no bystanders in Venezuela’s struggle for freedom. The United States calls on every nation to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s President, and step forward to support the Venezuelan people’s struggle to reclaim their freedom and rebuild their democracy.
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 join freedom-loving nations around the world, stand by the Venezuelan people, and withdraw your support for the Maduro regime. If you continue to endorse this regime, it will only isolate your nations further on the world stage.
We gather here to reaffirm our commitment to freedom in this hemisphere. 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.”
And as the people of Venezuela prepare to take to the streets again, we say from our hearts, know that you do not go alone. You go with the support and 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 you go with the Author of Freedom, who said, “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 of this New World – and as Simon Bolivar said, “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.”
And with faith in that great promise, faith in the courage and strength of the Venezuelan people, faith in all who have joined us in this Hemisphere of Freedom, and faith in the generosity and resolve of the American people and our President, 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.
So to the good people of Venezuela: As you go to seek your freedom, we go with you. Go with God – Vayan con Dios.