The White House
Office of the Vice President
August 23, 2017
Remarks by the Vice President on Latin America
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
4:56 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Governor Scott, Senator Rubio, Congressman Diaz-Balart, thank you for those stirring words. These are three great leaders and three great champions of freedom. (Applause.)
To Miami-Dade County Mayor Gimenez, Mayor Bermudez, distinguished guests, it is my great honor to join you here today in this beautiful place of worship, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I’m deeply humbled to be here at this church which is a model of Christian ministry and charity and a beacon of hope for so many of our Venezuelan brothers and sisters.
Would you join me in thanking Archbishop Wenski and Father Mago for their leadership in this community and for being the hands and feet of Christ? (Applause.)
And to all of you: I bring greetings from a champion for freedom in the Western Hemisphere, across the wider world, and for all the good people of Venezuela, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President sent me here as he sent me to Latin America last week with a very simple message for all of you and for the people of Venezuela: We are with you and we will stand with you until democracy is restored in Venezuela. (Applause.)
Now the last time I was here I joined President Trump when he took another decisive step to keep his promise to the American people when he canceled the last administration’s one-sided deal with Cuba. (Applause.)
The President announced a new policy to support the Cuban people’s nearly six-decade struggle for liberty that will ensure that U.S. dollars will no longer prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses them.
Under President Donald Trump, it will always be “Kay viva Cuba libre!” (Applause.)
And as President Trump said that day, under his administration, we know it is best for America and best for our hemisphere to have freedom for all of our people and a future where all the people of this hemisphere in each our countries can live out our dreams.
This is the spirit that we bring to our partnerships across the Western Hemisphere.
Last week, President Trump sent me to Central and South America, as the first member of our administration to visit the region, to deliver a message — under President Donald Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first. But America First does not mean America alone. (Applause.)
And as the President has said, in his words, “America stands with all of the people in our great hemisphere yearning to be free” — and our administration is working hand-in-hand with free nations across Latin America to make this vision a reality.
The United States stands with our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere because our security and our prosperity are inextricably linked. Our interests are aligned. Our values are the same, and the birthright of freedom belongs to all of our people in this New World.
A prosperous Latin America means a prosperous United States. A secure Latin America means a more secure United States.
And the advance of freedom and democracy in Latin America benefits the cause of freedom everywhere. (Applause.) Because when free peoples stand together, there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish. And today as we look across Latin America, the winds of progress are at our back.
Last week, I saw an opening all across Latin America of new pathways to prosperity creating new opportunities for progress. And we welcome this. We’re confident that our nations’ leaders can go even further in the days ahead.
In Colombia, I challenged President Santos to consolidate peace in that great country and offered America’s support as they walk this road.
In Argentina, I praised President Macri for his bold reform, which is restoring Argentina’s economy and renewing their leadership around the world.
In Chile, I met with President Bachelet, and I thanked her and her country for their continued example of free-market reforms.
And I concluded my trip in Panama, where I visited that great pathway of prosperity, the Panama Canal and thanked them for all of their cooperation in security and commerce. (Applause.)
But for all the progress in our economies, we must never forget that security is the foundation of our prosperity. And here, too, Latin America has made important strides to ensure the safety of the region’s citizens.
As so many in this room know, the most immediate threat to Latin America’s security is the menace of transnational crime and the drug trade that sustains it.
The drug trade is a wellspring of violence, crime, and corruption — victimizing people of all walks of life in every corner of our hemisphere. It carries not only illegal drugs; it also spurs illegal migration as families flee the chaos in search for a better life.
The people of South and Central America live with its consequences every day, and here in the United States, illegal drugs have poisoned our children, torn apart our families, and devastated too many communities.
The cancer of crime, corruption, and drugs will continue to stifle Latin America’s progress as long as it exists. But as I saw on my trip, the nations and the people of the region are committed to action. And even now governments across the region are taking important steps to protect their people and provide them with real opportunities that will benefit the security of us all. (Applause.)
And let me assure you, the United States is firmly committed to Latin America’s security. And working with our allies in the region, we’ll confront and overcome all who dare to threaten our well-being, and together, we will bring about a new era of safety and security for our people and all who call our hemisphere home.
As I told each of these leaders I met with last week, under President Donald Trump, the United States will continue to take decisive steps to address our nation’s demand for illegal drugs. We’ll continue to strengthen our borders, step up internal enforcement, and renew our effort to remove dangerous criminals, gang members, and drug dealers off the streets of America. (Applause.)
And to protect the people of the United States, we’ll also continue to work with all the nations across our region to combat drug production and transnational criminal syndicates. We’ll support efforts to strengthen judicial systems to deal with traffickers more effectively.
My friends, my trip to Latin America strengthened my confidence that our future is bright. But it also convinced me that our future could and should be brighter still if every nation in the Western Hemisphere fully shared our heritage of freedom.
The past half-century has seen so much of Latin America follow down the road to freedom and progress. Yet as we speak, Venezuela has gone in the opposite direction toward dictatorship, not democracy; toward oppression, not freedom; toward the past, not the future.
As everyone here knows all too well, in Venezuela we are seeing the tragedy of tyranny play out before our very eyes.
Just last week, in Cartagena, Colombia, my wife, Karen, and I met with brave Venezuelans who had fled the horrors of their homeland. At Calvary Chapel there, we breathed a prayer with them, and we listened to the heartbreaking stories of families.
I spoke to a grandmother who had just rescued her grandchildren from Venezuela a week earlier. She told me with tears in her eyes how the children would have to rise at 4:00 in the morning in Venezuela in her hometown just to get a ticket that they could wait all day to use to buy one piece of bread.
Everyone we talked to told us the same heartbreaking story of grinding poverty, families unable to find the food and medicine they need, and innocent children who are literally perishing every day from starvation and deprivation.
This is not the fate the Venezuelan people would have chosen for themselves. No free people has ever chosen to walk the path from prosperity to poverty. No free people has ever chosen to turn what was once and still should be one of South America’s richest countries into its poorest and most corrupt.
But such is the plight of the Venezuelan people today. They’ve been brought to this point by the brutality and the barbarism of the Maduro regime.
Just a few moments ago, I spoke with some of those who are here today who’ve either suffered themselves or seen their families suffer at the hands of the Maduro regime.
I met with Daniela Schadendorf, whose stepfather, Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, was thrown into prison just a few weeks ago for courageously opposing Maduro’s regime to undermine democracy. (Applause.)
I spoke with Alejandro Rebolledo and Antonio Marval Jimenez, two Venezuelan judges who’ve been driven into exile for supporting the rule of law, and others who’ve fled their homeland and faced detainment for their beliefs.
Would those who I met with today mind standing briefly? Would you join me in thanking these heroes of freedom in Venezuela who have sacrificed much but will continue to fight for freedom in their homeland? (Applause.)
The stories will never leave me. I listened to the tragic story of Maria Eugenia Tovar, who brought a picture of her daughter, Genesis Carmona, who was murdered by the Maduro regime.
This mother grieves for her every day. And all of us who cherish freedom grieve with you, Maria. (Applause.) We grieve for the more than 130 brave Venezuelans who died in the fight to restore democracy in their homeland — these men and women are heroes. They are martyrs in the cause of freedom, and we will never forget them. (Applause.)
The Venezuelan people are suffering every day. But as I told the men and women I met with today, they can know with confidence that under President Donald Trump, we hear you, we stand with you. (Applause.)
And as the President said we “will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.” (Applause.)
The United States will continue to stand with free nations across the hemisphere until democracy is restored for the Venezuelan people.
Allow me to take a moment to thank Governor Rick Scott for his strong leadership for the people of Venezuela and the actions that he took just last week here in Florida. (Applause.)
And let me also thank Senator Marco Rubio for being such a — and eloquent champion for freedom in our hemisphere and around the world. (Applause.)
As I saw firsthand on my trip, Latin America is essentially united in condemning the Maduro regime and calling for the restoration of democracy for the Venezuelan people. But there’s more work to be done.
Country after country has taken concrete steps to isolate and punish the Maduro regime. The four members of Mercosur unanimously voted to suspend Venezuela from their trade organization.
And no fewer than 12 nations from across the Western Hemisphere joined together to sign the Lima Declaration, sending a powerful message that the free peoples of the Americas will stand with the Venezuelan people and stand up to their oppressors. (Applause.)
And just yesterday, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced a new policy in support of our efforts to require Venezuelans to obtain a visa before entering Panama. This is a strong step by Panama to further isolate the Maduro regime for its brutal tactics to undermine democracy, by denying safe haven to its corrupt and criminal inner circle.
The President and I are grateful for Latin America’s strong stand for liberty, but we urge the countries of the region to do more — much more. (Applause.)
And you may be assured: Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the United States of America will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela. (Applause.)
At President Trump’s direction, the United States has already issued three rounds of targeted sanctions against Maduro and his inner circle. And there’s more to come. (Applause.) And we’ll continue to act until the Maduro regime holds free and fair elections, releases all political prisoners, and ends the repression of the Venezuelan people. (Applause.)
Our resolve is unwavering; our conviction is clear. And while President Trump has said that “we have many options for Venezuela,” we remain confident that working together with all of our allies across Latin America we can achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing the Venezuelan people.
We do this because it’s right. The birthright of the Venezuelan people has always been and will always be libertad! (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Libertad! Libertad! Libertad!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We do this because, as President Trump has said, a “stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of our entire hemisphere.”
We share the same value. We share the same heritage of liberty. We share the same future. The collapse of Venezuela will affect us all.
It will drive more illegal drug trafficking, with its murderous criminal consequences radiating outward. The collapse of Venezuela into dictatorship will drive more illegal migration, corroding our borders, burdening our economies. And the collapse of Venezuela will ultimately endanger the well-being of all who call the Western Hemisphere home.
We cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen. (Applause.) Because them people of Venezuela are our brothers and sisters in liberty, their plight burns in our minds and in our hearts.
We all live in the same neighborhood. We succeed when our neighbors succeed. We struggle when our neighbors struggle, and so we will continue to act together with our partners and allies across this region in the fight for liberty for Venezuela. And I believe with all my heart that Venezuela will once again be free. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Libertad! Libertad! Libertad!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As Simon Bolivar himself declared for all the ages, “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.” (Applause.)
My friends, freedom is the heritage and the legacy of all the peoples of this New World. In the long annals of liberty, names like Bolivar, San Martin, Marti stand with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
They each held high the torch of freedom in their time. And now it has been passed to us, to carry, to keep lit in this hemisphere and to kindle to new brightness that it might illuminate and comfort all in its glow and inspire the world.
This, then, is our task, and under the leadership of President Donald Trump, I know we will succeed because I have faith. (Applause.) I have faith in the good peoples of Central and South America. I have faith in the timeless principles that bind us together. And I have faith in God — (applause) — whose word promised long ago that, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (Applause.)
I felt that spirit as we prayed with those courageous Venezuelans in the Calvary Chapel just one week ago. In that moment I witnessed the power of faith to bring hope to the hopeless, to bring joy to the downtrodden. I saw men and women who by rights should be despairing but instead were confidently holding to the belief that there are better days for their families and their people.
And as we stood holding hands and offering petitions from our hearts, I can only think of another promise, in that Old Book that reads: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope, and a future.”
The people of Venezuela have a hope, and the people of Venezuela have a future of freedom. (Applause.)
So I close with a prayer that God would bless all of you, many of whom are far from home but have never forgotten those who are struggling behind; a prayer for the American people who cherish and uphold freedom not just for ourselves but for all of our neighbors, and we inspire the world.
May God bless the people of Venezuela. May God bless the people Latin America. May God grant us the wisdom and the resolve to see our way to freedom in this New World and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
5:21 P.M. EDT