Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
March 11, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. I want to make some brief remarks about the situation, an update on the situation in Venezuela, an update on U.S. activity related to Venezuela. Over the past few days, Venezuelans have been thrown literally into darkness thanks to a massive electrical blackout. Patients awaiting treatment in hospitals are dying, food is rotting, telecommunication networks are entirely collapsing.
It’s worth spending just a minute on how we got here. Nicolas Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life in a socialist paradise, and he delivered on the socialism part, which has proved time and time again is a recipe for economic ruin. The paradise part, not so much. Just consider the facts. The World Bank ranks Venezuela’s business environment 188th out of 190 countries. Only Somalia and Eritrea are worse. The United States did not do that. The expropriations of land and industry and an end to the rule of law did that. Agriculture production is down 70 percent since 2006, manufacturing down by 75 percent, oil production down by half since Maduro took power in 2013. The United States didn’t do all that. Maduro did that.
One month of food today for an average Venezuelan costs a family more than 100 times the monthly minimum wage. Nearly 70 percent of Venezuelan hospital lack basic medicines. More than 90 percent of Venezuelans live below the poverty line. All of this brought to you by the socialism of Maduro.
But this story – this story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare.
First, Cuba. No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela’s military and their families, than the communists in Havana. Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela. The Cuban government of Miguel Diaz-Canel provides political cover for Maduro and his henchmen so that they may stay in power. It’s Cuba that has offered Maduro its unwavering solidarity. It’s Cuba that calls Venezuela’s true government, led by Interim President Juan Guaido, which 54 of the world’s democratic nations recognize as a legitimate government – the Cubans call this a puppet government of the United States.
Yet it’s Cuba that’s trained Venezuelans’ secret police and torture tactics, domestic spying techniques, and mechanisms of repression the Cuban authorities have wielded against their own people for decades. Members of the Cuban military and intelligence services are deeply entrenched in the Venezuelan state. Cuban security forces have displaced Venezuelan security forces in a clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. I even hear that Maduro has no Venezuelans around him. Many of his personal security and closest advisors are acting not at the direction of the Venezuelan people, and frankly, perhaps not even at the direction of Maduro, but rather at the direction of the Cuban regime. They provide physical protection and other critical material and political support to Maduro and to those around him. So when there’s no electricity, thank the marvels of modern Cuban-led engineering. When there’s no water, thank the excellent hydrologists from Cuba. When there’s no food, thank the Cuban communist overlords.
Why is Cuba asserting so much influence in Venezuela? What’s in it for them? Follow the ideology, follow the corrupt elites, and perhaps most importantly, follow the money. Cuba’s communist revolutionaries share a natural affinity with Maduro’s socialists. They both disdain private property rights, the rule of law, and free and fair elections. The very same economic theories that have decimated the Cuban economy since 1959 have now turned Venezuela’s economy, one of the richest in Latin America, into a case of decline that economists study with amazement and horror. Both of these countries routinely violate the basic human rights of their peoples.
The two nations also share a feature: a deeply corrupt ruling class. Maduro learned from the Castros that the best way to stay in power is to buy enough generals to protect you and make sure that the only way to be rich, or even to avoid poverty, is to feed off the regime and stay in its good graces.
Lastly, there’s an economic relationship between Cuba and Venezuela as well. The Maduro regime sends up to 50,000 barrels of oil to Cuba per day, and Cuba needs this cheap Venezuelan energy to prop up its tottering socialist economy, while Maduro needs Cuban expertise in repression to keep his grip on power. That’s a match made in hell.
Russia, too, has created this crisis. It, too, for its own reasons is thwarting the Venezuelan people’s legitimate democratic hopes and their dreams. Moscow, like Havana, continues to provide political cover to the Maduro regime while pressuring countries to disregard the democratic legitimacy of the Interim President Guaido.
It’s Russia – it’s Russia that vetoed the UN-sponsored resolution on Venezuela in the Secretary Council on February 28th. This UN Security Council resolution called for unhindered access in delivery of assistance to all those in need and supported the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela. It’s Russia that chose, rather than supporting this noble goal, it instead put forward its own resolution that served no purpose other than to bolster the illegitimate Maduro regime.
Fortunately, the international community sharply rebuked Russia for this critical circus. Russia scrounged only four votes from the 15-member UN Security Council. Russia claimed at the UN that humanitarian aid deliveries were merely an attempted illegal border crossing for the delivery of unknown cargo. The world knows what was really going on that day.
Russia has also used its state-sponsored disinformation organs like Russia Today and Sputnik to divert attention from the humanitarian disaster of the Maduro regime. Russia has spent an enormous amount of money in Venezuela to support close ties with the regime. Russian loans and investments in Venezuela total more than $17 billion. Russian companies continue to this day to try to help the Maduro regime turn the country’s gold reserves into cash, further squandering the assets of the Venezuelan people, assets they will need to rebuild their future.
Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft continues to purchase crude oil cargoes from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company in defiance of U.S. sanctions. And Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, continues to throw a lifeline to the regime. Recently, Sechin ordered Rosneft to sell even more oil to the Maduro regime. You’ll recall that PDVSA was once known as the crown jewel of the Venezuelan people. PDVSA is today now a personal ATM for the Maduro regime and for Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats. And Russia too has provided the Chavez and Maduro regimes with large quantities of arms, including 5,000 portable air defense systems, and other forms of lethal assistance. The Kremlin is standing with its Venezuelan cronies against the will of the people of a sovereign nation to protect a Moscow-friendly regime.
It’s worth taking just a moment to compare Cuba and Russia’s malign actions with what the United States has done. The United States has recognized Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela and used diplomacy to convince other countries to do the same. Today, over 50 nations have made this proper choice and formally recognized Juan Guaido.
We’ve given more than 195 million to help Venezuelan refugees, including $152 million worth of humanitarian assistance and $43 million in economic and development assistance. We’ve made sure that wealth derived from Venezuela’s precious resources goes to the people instead of lining the pockets of the Maduro mafia.
The United States has revoked more than 250 visas for individuals responsible for undermining Venezuela’s democracy and those who benefit from the regime’s corruption. And just today, we sanctioned a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies that is helping perpetuate the misery in Venezuela by doing business with PDVSA.
The nations that support Maduro are, by the nature of this illegitimate regime, carrying out the very foreign interventionism of which they accuse others. Today, the United States is drawing a clear line between those who aid the forces of repression and those who give life to the Venezuelan people’s democratic dreams. There is no ambiguity here about the truth. Thank you.
Happy to take a couple questions.
MR PALLADINO: Okay, so we have time for two questions. Let’s go to Associated Press. Matt Lee.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. Mr. Secretary, I hope you have a good trip to Texas tomorrow.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.
QUESTION: You – so you mentioned that Russia was able to get only four out of 15 – four votes in favor of this resolution at the Security Council. But there – other people would point out that you’ve only gotten 54, or Interim President Guaido has only got 54 countries out of 195 or so at the – in the General Assembly. We’re talking roughly about the same. So are you satisfied with the pace of the momentum behind Guaido and his leadership? And secondly, you said “follow the money” when you were talking about Cuba, follow the ideology, and then mentioned oil. But there are a lot of people – you would probably call them conspiracy theorists – out there who say “follow the oil,” right, and say that this is all the U.S. trying to get Venezuela’s oil. And so I want to ask you: Is this about the U.S. getting Venezuela’s oil? And did the U.S. have anything to do with the power outage?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me try and take those in reverse chronological order. With respect to the power outages, those are a direct result of years and years of neglect to the Venezuelan energy system. You can talk to any international energy expert; they’ve seen it. The system has had problems for an awfully long time. Their ability to get it back online has always proven difficult, and over the past several years it’s gotten worse. That was the cause of the blackouts that are – that have taken place, and my guess, knowing a little bit of engineering, will continue to take place.
Second question was – what – Matt, remind me what the second one was? The first one was about were you satisfied with --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oil.
QUESTION: Can you --
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re trying to get the Venezuelan people.
QUESTION: Not for you, the U.S.
SECRETARY POMPEO: For the Venezuelan people. We are attempting to restore basic rule of law, transparency, democracy, and the wealth that sits in the property basin of Venezuela is for the Venezuelan people.
QUESTION: And then the pace of the --
SECRETARY POMPEO: And then the pace of – yeah, the first question’s the pace of change. We always wish things could go faster, but I’m very confident that the tide is moving in the direction of the Venezuelan people, and will continue to do so. It doesn’t take – Matt, it doesn’t take much for you to see what’s really going on there. The circle is tightening. The humanitarian crisis is increasing by the hour. I talked with our senior person on the ground there in Venezuela last night at 7:00 or 8:00 last night. You can see the increasing pain and suffering that the Venezuelan people are suffering from. It is democracy and the rule of law and the Interim President Juan Guaido that offer the best opportunity for the Venezuelan people to turn the tide and regain the greatness of Venezuela. And the OAS, the Lima Group, with the United States in support, aim to help them achieve that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PALLADINO: New York Times, David Sanger.
QUESTION: Your support of Juan Guaido was early, and I’m wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about what you’ve been doing since that time. First of all, are you providing him with any personal protection? I know that Mr. Bolton issued a warning when Guaido went back into Venezuela about his personal safety. I’m wondering if you’re doing for him what the United States did in past years in Afghanistan and elsewhere, where the U.S. was central to providing their protection. I’m wondering if you’re doing any other steps that could be viewed as ways of consolidating his power.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think your question – I’m not going to talk about particular actions that we may or may not be taking with respect to the security situation for the leadership in Venezuela, just like I don’t talk about the security situation for any leader around the world.
QUESTION: You certainly talked about it in the Afghan case.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’re not going to in this State Department. Maybe other administrations chose to do that; we’re not going to do that.
As for actions we’ve taken to support Juan Guaido, I think we’ve been very transparent about the activities we’re taking. We’re supporting every country who’s willing to get on the team and help us get to the right place. The American people have been enormously generous. If you looked at our budget, we’ve asked for up to $500 million to help Venezuela in the year ahead if we get to the right place where that kind of level of resources need a very significant level of American resources. We’re beginning to build out a coalition that will provide its resources as well, because it won’t be an America-alone proposition to restore the economy of the Venezuelan nation. And then we’ve done our best to help Juan Guaido build his team out as well by our team on the ground providing the same kind of services that we provide in every country to help other governments be successful. And we’ll continue – we’ll continue to do that as long as our team is there inside of Venezuela.
MR PALLADINO: Wrap it up there, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll take – I’ll take one more.
QUESTION: One more?
MR PALLADINO: Lesley Wroughton with Reuters.
QUESTION: Thanks. Hello, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: A couple of questions. One is, which other countries in the world are hiding Venezuelan assets? Number two, you met with the Indian foreign secretary today. Did he agree to stop buying – buying oil from Maduro’s government? They said they were going – they’ve told us that they were going to talk to you about this very issue. So what exactly are you asking of them and have they agreed?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so we’re asking the same thing of India as we are of every country: Do not be the economic lifeline for the Maduro regime. So we talked about – I certainly won’t characterize the conversations; they’re private conversations. But I’m very confident – in the same way that India has been incredibly supportive of our efforts on Iran, I’m confident that they too understand the real threat to the Venezuelan people. And so we had a good conversation around that.
And in terms of which other countries are hiding assets, I assure you that those countries will know. But I’m not going to share that with you today because if I mention them here today, goodness knows how many of them will end up inside of Russia. We do not want assets that are around the world taken and transferred to Russia, where they’ll be hidden in the very way that I described in my opening remarks today. We have a handful of countries that are providing aid and comfort to the Maduro regime at enormous expense to the people of Venezuela, and we want to make sure that the resources – resources that the Venezuelan people are going to need after Maduro leaves – we want to make sure those resources are available for the Venezuelan people and not shipped off to Cuba or to Russia or to Iran.
Great. Thanks, everybody.
MR PALLADINO: Thank you, everybody.