Remarks by Vice President Pence at SOUTHCOM Press Conference
U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Comfort
June 18, 2019
12:52 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Admiral Faller. Thank you for the introduction. And thank you for your great, great lifetime of service and leadership in the United States Navy. Would you join me in thanking the Commanding Officer of SOUTHCOM?
And to Colonel Azubuike, and to all the men and women here at SOUTHCOM, thank you for hosting us for this important event in the life of our nation and in the life of this hemisphere.
To Secretary Azar, to Mayor Suarez, and to Ambassador Vecchio, and especially to all of the freedom-loving members of the Venezuelan community here in the United States of America, it is an honor be with you all.
To Captain Diebold, to Captain Buckley, and the Officer Corps and crew who will literally embark on a lifesaving mission. It’s my privilege to be here at the Port of Miami for the departure of the USNS Comfort, bringing the compassion of the American people to those suffering here in our hemisphere and around the world. Let’s hear it for the crew of the Comfort.
And allow me to bring greetings, but also gratitude, from your Commander-in-Chief and a great champion of liberty not only in this country, but all across what he calls this hemisphere of freedom. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.
We’re gathered here today because when the USNS Comfort pushes off tomorrow, she will be embarking on no ordinary mission. Her departure from this place will be their second deployment to Latin America in the last six months. And we want to express our great appreciation to the incredible men and women who are serving aboard.
For the next five months, the crew of the USNS Comfort will continue America’s effort to bring desperately needed medical care to those in need, especially the men and women and children who are suffering under the unprecedented crisis and oppression in Venezuela.
Tomorrow, the generosity and the compassion and the care of the American people for the struggling people of Venezuela will set sail again aboard the USNS Comfort. We are with our neighbors, and we will stand with them with care and strength.
It’s remarkable to think that, for six long years, the people of Venezuela have suffered under the heavy hand of oppression. The policies of Nicolás Maduro and his socialist regime have shrunk Venezuela’s economy by nearly half. In what was once one of the wealthiest countries in our hemisphere, now 9 out of 10 people now live in poverty.
The average Venezuelan has lost more than 20 pounds through deprivation and malnutrition. Thousands of Venezuelan children are starving, and many are dying for lack of basic medical care. At this very hour, it grieves my heart to say that, in hospitals across Venezuela, children are dying.
Under Maduro, crime, violence, and lawlessness have spread like a virus. Vicious gangs and notorious colectivos have turned the streets, literally, into warzones. Venezuela now has the highest murder rate in the world, as more than 70 people are murdered every single day.
As Ambassador Vecchio said, “This must end.” Nicolás Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power. And Nicolás Maduro must go.
But American efforts in the region, the economic sanctions that we’ve imposed, and the compassion that has sailed and will sail again abroad the USNS Comfort is all reflective of our deep concern for our neighbors in Venezuela. But the truth is, the Maduro regime is not only a threat to the people of Venezuela, it’s a threat to peace and security across our hemisphere.
The rising desperation in Venezuela has fueled a mass exodus, the likes of which we literally have never seen in the Western Hemisphere. As I stand before you today, more than 4 million Venezuelans have abandoned their homeland, including more than 1 million in the last seven months alone, fleeing deprivation and fleeing oppression.
Today, more than 1.3 million Venezuelans are sheltering in Colombia. Nearly three quarters of a million sought refuge in Peru, and 260,000 have fled to Ecuador. And hundreds of thousands more are scattered throughout Latin America.
When Karen and I traveled through the region, we actually spent time at some shelters with families who had fled the oppression and deprivation with small children. And we’ll never forget it.
We talked to a grandmother who told us that her grandchildren in the small town in which they lived, in western Venezuela, that the children were required to get up at four in the morning to get a single ticket to purchase a piece of bread at four in the afternoon.
I remember speaking to a father who had taken refuge in a border town in Brazil, and he told me — as his two young boys stood next to him looking up — he said, “It’s a very hard thing to come home after a long day and tell your children ‘We’re not eating today.’” And when their father said it, the two little boys nodded with harsh memories of days that they’d lived.
I’m proud to report, under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has taken action. We’ve positioned more than 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the Venezuelan border to help address this crisis. We’ve provided nearly $260 million in aid to nations that are supporting displaced Venezuelans.
And, frankly, many of the Venezuelan families need more than just food; they need medical care. And in too many cases, their host nations are not able to meet their needs.
That’s why, at President Trump’s direction, we announced last month the USNS Comfort will deploy once again throughout the region of Latin America to address the suffering people of Venezuela.
In the coming months, the Comfort will make 14 ports of call in 13 partner nations, providing medical care to those that are suffering and especially the displaced people of Venezuela.
The Comfort has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States Navy: dozens of X-ray machines, CAT scan unit, pharmacy unit. Karen and I just walked through the ship and we marveled at its facilities and what it will bring to the region in medical capabilities.
And nearly 1,000 extraordinary, dedicated men and women in uniform, and those in private and professional life, will deploy aboard this ship tomorrow. Many of them will serve as medical professionals in the Navy, but they also include the United States Army, Air Force, representatives of American universities, and several nongovernmental organizations.
And while this mission will be led by the United States of America, we’re proud to report the support of friends across this hemisphere, in the mission of the Comfort — the crew of the Comfort includes professional from Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica. And we thank you for your partnership and compassion.
But let me say to all of those serving aboard the USNS Comfort in the months ahead, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief: You’re embarking on a vital mission, and we’re grateful for your service.
You are fulfilling this nation’s “Enduring Promise” — the very mission of SOUTHCOM — to improve public health, strengthen security, and grow prosperity throughout this hemisphere of freedom. And you’re doing it at a time of great duress and great challenge not just for the people of Venezuela but for what is happening in Venezuela. You’re doing it at a time of great burden on many of our neighbors — freedom-loving people across Latin America.
To our partners in this hemisphere, we thank you for joining with us to give relief to those that are in need. To all the people — to all the people of Venezuela and all who call Venezuela home, know this: Under President Donald Trump we will continue to stand strong until freedom and democracy and the rule of law are restored.
As we have said before, we say again: Estamos con ustedes. We are with you and we will stay with you until your libertad is restored.
So thank you all for being here for this momentous occasion. It’s humbling for me to think of those who will embark on this five-month mission of compassion.
The Maduro regime often tries to blame others for the oppression that they’ve inflicted on their own people. Today, the world, once again, will see that even as America stands strong for freedom, that we extend the hand of compassion and care to our neighbors. And that compassion and care will sail aboard the USNS Comfort.
So God bless the USNS Comfort with fair winds and following seas. God bless the people of Venezuela. And may God bless America.
COLONEL AZUBUIKE: We’ll now open it up for a few questions from the media.
First question over here.
Q Mr. Vice President, Willard Shepard with NBC here in Miami.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q Obviously, this ship is going to provide great comfort to people there. And we have many people in our audience here today who have loved ones in Venezuela.
In terms of the administrative aspect of this — and you talked about the aid that’s on the borders — Peru took a step the other day in terms of demanding passports and visas, which basically is impossible for those Venezuelan residents to get. What’s going on under the Admiral’s command and also with State to try to deal with that administratively so that people can get to the aid?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, let me say we’ve been working very closely with all of our allies in the region to make the aid that’s been positioned along the border of Venezuela, available. But the world saw just a few short months ago, when Interim President Juan Guaidó made an effort to bring aid into Venezuela, that, literally, the dictator, Maduro, danced while food and medicine burned on the bridge coming in from Colombia.
I want to assure you — and I can ask the Secretary to step up — that we’ll — we’re continuing to position medical supplies and food along the border. We’re continuing to work closely with our allies to facilitate the ability of Venezuelans to access that aid.
But we’re also, most importantly, going to continue to stand with the only legitimate President of Venezuela, Interim President Juan Guaidó — (applause) — and stand with him as he seeks to bring back aid into the Venezuela itself.
SECRETARY AZAR: I would just like to comment that — let no one fault the government of Peru. They have been unbelievably generous in receiving over — as the Vice President said, over 700,000 refugees of the Maduro’s — the illegitimate Maduro regime’s corruption.
Just imagine that. Imagine, in Lima, a system already stressed and over-stretched in terms of healthcare delivery to their own people; 700,000 additional people flowing into four public hospitals. Imagine that stress on that system.
So let us thank Peru for what they’ve been doing. And we are grateful that the USNS Comfort will be going to be able to provide extra support for the care of Peruvians, and Colombians, and Ecuadorians, and others, as well as the Venezuelan refugees. And the United States is working to help bring our Western Hemisphere partners together.
One of the steps that we’re taking is to help the flow of the Venezuelan refugees through South America — for instance, the universal vaccination cards so that when individuals leave Venezuela, and they go to Colombia or into Brazil, they can be vaccinated. Because remember, the Maduro regime and the Chávez regime before, for many generations, has not vaccinated their people. So measles is becoming endemic. Measles, diphtheria, malaria are now being carried and spread with people that have not received basic public health for decades now.
And that’s what these neighboring countries are trying to do. So we commend the generosity. We commend the welcomeness of all of these neighboring countries that are trying to deal with the largest refugee crisis in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Excellent.
COLONEL AZUBUIKE: Next question.
Q I’m David Rodríguez from Telemundo 51, here in Miami. Good afternoon, Vice President Pence. Welcome to Miami.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Bienvenido. My question is: When will it be reality that TPS — temporary protection status — for Venezuelans here in the United States?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know — well, what I can is that we’ve had discussions at the White House about temporary protected status. The objective of our administration is to see democracy and the rule of law restored in Venezuela so Venezuelans can go home to a free nation.
I will say that we’ve been working with members of Congress. I want to commend Senator Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio for their efforts in this regard. And we’re addressing this through issues related to administration and enforcement.
But, again, we want to be very clear: The objective of the United States of America is to continue to call on the entire world community to join more than 50 nations in recognizing the government of Interim President Juan Guaidó to make it possible for democracy to be restored.
But let me be clear: It is the position of the United States of America and our allies that, for democracy to be restored, Nicolás Maduro must go. And once he’s gone, there can be a pathway toward free and fair elections.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. Vice President. Internal factions in Venezuela are signaling Juan Guaidó as a culprit of the United States’ lack of decisive military intervention in Venezuela. Is this because he has not asked for a U.S.-led military intervention to defeat Nicolás Maduro? Or does the U.S. consider that this is maybe not the right time for such an intervention? Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The United States of America was proud to be the first