THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, and welcome to the reopened Foreign Press Center. After quite a break, we’re so happy to welcome you all back for our first briefing in our renovated space.
And to open it, we are honored today to have with us Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cuba and Venezuela Carrie Filipetti, who will be providing an update on U.S. policy in Venezuela. She’ll have opening remarks and then we’ll turn it over to Q&A. So without further ado, I will turn it over to the deputy assistant secretary. Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: All right. Thank you, Jean, for that introduction. It’s really an honor to be here at the inaugural event.
I really am appreciative of everybody’s ongoing coverage of the situation in Venezuela. It is, of course, a priority for the Trump administration to focus on a free and fair election within Venezuela. So seeing Venezuela return to a prosperous and free democracy is really the defining principle of our policy and has been since President Trump came into this administration. And I’m particularly excited to be speaking with you today, as it’s an important moment for the people of Venezuela and, by association, for our policy on Venezuela.
There’s a question that I thought I would answer today that we get a lot, which is: Where are we today? What’s changed? I think there’s a sense from some in the press, in the public, that perhaps we’re just seeing more of the same that we saw over the last few months. And it’s certainly true that over the last few months we have seen more of the same from the Maduro regime.
First, we’ve seen more of the same from the Maduro regime’s manipulation of resources to line its own pockets at the expense of the Venezuelan people. While the Venezuelan people have suffered from a lack of access to basic food and medical care, the Maduro regime has used the money it does have not to support them, but to pay back bad loans to bad people. They’re paying Russia for military support and equipment instead of buying food for the Venezuelan people. They’re sending free oil and gasoline to Cuba, while the Venezuelan people stand in lines for hours simply with the hope of filling their gas tanks. And of course, they’re prioritizing the delivery of surveillance equipment from China over delivery of much-needed humanitarian supplies.
And the little assistance that the Maduro regime does claim to provide is used as a tool for social control. I’m sure you’ve all seen the videos circulating on social media showing Maduro officials compelling desperate families to sign a political pledge, “No More Trump,” in exchange for food rations provided by international humanitarian donors. That action – trading food for political support – shows both the depths of Maduro’s evil as well as the depths of his desperation.
Second, we’ve seen more from the Maduro – more of the same from the Maduro regime’s continued abuse of human rights. Just 10 days ago, UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet presented a follow-up to her June 5th report, in which she detailed the continued abuses of power by the Maduro regime. Despite her calls, for example, for the dismantling of the Maduro regime’s Special Action Forces, the FAES, she highlighted at least 57 new cases of extrajudicial killings since the June report came out. That’s now added to the list of almost 7,000 killings from January 2018 to May 2019. And in the report, she also highlighted the regime’s continued use of forced labor, of trafficking, of exploitation of indigenous communities, and of recruitment of vulnerable populations into illegal armed groups.
And some of the worst treatment is reserved for the Venezuelan military. We’ve seen hundreds of them being detained for failing Cuban-imposed loyalty tests. I think Captain Rafael Acosta is perhaps the most-known victim of this abuse, his name now synonymous with regime oppression.
And third, we’ve seen more of the same when it comes to the Maduro regime’s manipulation of well-intentioned diplomatic processes for their own gain. Just as they did in talks in 2016 and 2017 to 2018, the Maduro regime used the pretext of a good-faith negotiation to undermine the very democratic principles that that negotiation was established to support. And if there’s any question as to the reason for the suspension of the Oslo process, I would suggest that you not ask me, but that you ask Juan Requesens, who has been detained for over a year, arbitrarily. I would ask – or I would ask that you would speak to Roberto Marrero, who will have been detained for six months as of this coming Saturday, also without cause. I would ask that you speak to the family of murdered navy captain Rafael Acosta, or any of the families of the over – almost 7,000 people who have been murdered by the Maduro regime.
You can also speak to any of the 500 political prisoners who remain in Venezuelan jails today, or you can speak to any number of the 26 deputies who have had their immunities illegally revoked by the Maduro regime. Because all of them will point to the same thing – that despite the efforts of the Norwegians and of the democratic opposition in Venezuela, the former Maduro regime never had an intention to engage in good faith, only to use the tools that it always uses: brutality, coercion, and intimidation. Their goal is to exhaust the opposition, but the opposition will not be exhausted. The continued suffering of the Venezuelan people means that the opposition realizes they do not have the luxury of waiting.
I started by saying this is a critical period for the people of Venezuela, and that’s because while we have seen more of the same from the Maduro regime – more desperation, more brutality, more manipulation – we’ve seen powerful new successes for the democratic actors inside Venezuela. Since Interim President Juan Guaido assumed constitutional leadership in Venezuela, 55 countries have recognized his leadership and the leadership of the National Assembly. The region has invoked the Rio Treaty for the first time in 18 years, the last of which was on September 11, 2001, which signals its commitment to pursue collective action for a collective response.
On September 11th, the Organization of American States passed a resolution condemning the Maduro regime for its manipulation of the Oslo process and attempts to undermine democracy by illegally revoking the immunities of these 26 National Assembly deputies. The United States and allies such as Canada and the Europeans have imposed economic sanctions, including over 200 sanctions from the United States alone, and many countries have underscored the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime through travel restrictions, freezing of assets, and indictments for corruption or narco-trafficking. So the international community has signaled its support for democracy in Venezuela in hundreds of ways and has proven its commitment to maintain that support.
And there’s something else that we don’t talk about as often, which is that, despite the Maduro’s regime’s every effort to stop them, the government of Interim President Juan Guaido has done everything it can to continue to provide support to the people of Venezuela. They have held regular meetings of the National Assembly, discussing topics of key concern for the future of Venezuela every week. They’ve provided food and medicine to the people of Venezuela and developed concrete plans for stabilization and recovery of the country. They have held thousands of protests and rallies, showing the mass popular support that they continue to hold. And they have continued to keep the Venezuelan people in the hearts and minds of the international community, refusing to cower under the Maduro regime’s oppression.
So this is a powerful moment. The international community has made it clear and we have said numerous times Maduro and his cronies are the reason why this hemisphere is facing the largest forced displacement of persons in its history. That’s why over 15 percent of the Venezuelan population has now had to flee Venezuela. Maduro and his cronies are why the Oslo process and all attempts to negotiate prior to that has been suspended. And Maduro and his cronies are what stands between the Venezuelan people and the free and prosperous country they once were and we know will be again.
So the United States will continue to answer Interim President Guaido’s call to help the people of Venezuela cope with severe food and medicine shortages. We’ll continue our efforts to support the people of Venezuela during their humanitarian crisis. And, of course, we’ll continue to work closely with the region’s leaders, particularly of the Lima Group, in multilateral fora to support the Guaido administration’s attempts to restore democracy in Venezuela. And with that, I will be happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Great. If you can all please wait for the microphone and state your name and outlet. We’ll start right here in the front.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much. Beatriz Pascual with EFE. Can you hear me?
MS FILIPETTI: A little. It’s – I don’t know if the mike’s on, but I can hear you.
QUESTION: Is the mike on? Now it’s on. Okay. Great. Beatriz Pascual with EFE. Now it’s working. Thank you. I wanted to ask you, some questions have been raised after some photographs appear showing Juan Guaido next to Colombian paramilitaries. What is the U.S. opinion on this? Have you talked with Juan Guaido about this? Has he provided an explanation? What is the situation surrounding this issue? Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: Sure. Thank you for that question. So President Guaido has come out in public explaining those images, and describing how he was taking photographs with a number of individuals throughout the course of that day and every day. He goes to thousands of protests and rallies and takes pictures with those who ask him to, as many politicians and political leaders do.
I think the main thing to focus on here is that if we’re – if our concern is about association with narco-traffickers and terrorists, then we really need to look at the Maduro regime. We know for a fact that they’re providing safe haven to members of the FARC and the ELN and that, in fact, there has been discussion about how the video of these terrorists was done inside Venezuela. We have a number of indictments against Maduro regime officials and insiders showing that they are associated with the narcotics trafficking. And so the fundamental reality is that the Maduro regime is the entity that is associated with these groups and certainly not Interim President Guaido or other members of the National Assembly.
QUESTION: So just a follow-up on that. Just a follow-up on that. So the U.S. is not worried about possible links between Guaido and these groups?
MS FILIPETTI: We are not worried about Juan Guaido being linked to narco-traffickers.
MODERATOR: All right. We’ll take our next question in the back, please.
QUESTION: Thank you for this opportunity. Many believe that with the exit of ambassador —
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. If you could just state your name and outlet. Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. Carla Angola, EVTV Miami. Many believe that with the exit of Ambassador Bolton as the national security advisor to the White House, it would mean that softening of foreign policy towards Venezuela. Instead President Trump said that Bolton was holding him back. What does that mean, exactly? And without Bolton, what would this administration do against Maduro, who remained held back due to the presence of the ambassador? Now that the horses has been released, what comes next, in addition to the sanctions that we have been seeing in the last hours?
MS FILIPETTI: The United States has been really strong in our response to the crisis in Venezuela, as many of you know and have been covering. But of course, the President was very clear when he stated that he was going to be doing even more to facilitate a transition.
The reality is every single day that passes where there is not a solution to this crisis, we are seeing the refugee crisis increase. We’re now at the second-largest refugee crisis in the world is coming from Venezuela. The only crisis that has more refugees is Syria. We’re seeing how every single day more people are starving, losing access to medical care in Venezuela. And so the President is sympathetic to that and wants to make sure that we see a transition quickly. We’ve already seen that since the departure of Ambassador Bolton, there have been a number of new steps that have come forward. The first is the TIARR, the invocation of the Rio Treaty. We’re seeing a growing international consensus with which the President intends to work to bring a transition back to democracy in Venezuela.
So you’ll see actions like that as well, and a continued pursuit of course of any additional sanctions and measures like that that we can impose in order to reduce the Maduro regime’s access to capital.
MODERATOR: Next question we’ll go in the front here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. I would like to ask: Are you share – do you share the concern of many people is saying that Interim President Guaido is losing his momentum? And how patient are you to wait this status quo is to be changed? And what role would you like to see Chinese Government to play in this crisis? Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: Great, thank you. Those are great questions. So in terms of Interim President Guaido’s support, we have continued to see people turn out in very, very large numbers, and most recently just earlier this week we saw the National Assembly declare its full support and backing of Interim President Guaido until the end of the usurpation. So we’re actually seeing a lot of symbols of his support. So we’re not nervous about the fracturing of the opposition. We have also been focused on making sure that we are giving him the amount of support that we can continue to provide.
With respect to the Chinese Government, I noted that there is cooperation between the Chinese Government and the Maduro regime that is very inappropriate. We’ve seen them provide surveillance technologies, we’ve seen them continue to cooperate with the Maduro regime, and of course we’ve seen the Maduro regime prioritize paying back loans to China over and above providing assistance to its people. The Chinese Government needs to take a look at what is in its best interest both regionally, where the entire region opposes the Chinese involvement in the Maduro regime, and also with respect to the loans that it is owed. Because I question whether or not the Maduro regime can actually pay back all of these Chinese debts. They’re not able to pay back anything. They have no – they have very limited access to resources. And so I think it is in the best interest of the Chinese to reassess its relationship with Maduro and to come on the side of the entire region to support Interim President Guaido.
MODERATOR: Great. For our next question, we’ll go to this gentleman right here.
QUESTION: Hi. I am David Alandete with ABC from Spain. Thank you for the briefing. Thank you for talking to us today. I hate to do this, but I have two questions. I hate when people ask two questions, but I have two questions. The first one is the United States asks Spain to extradite Hugo Carvajal, who we assume has a lot of information from the regime. The result of the justice court that was deciding this was in the negative. I wanted to ask you about this decision of the court, not the government.
And the second one, you just said something very important, which is the support that Juan Guaido has with the opposition and the Asamblea Nacional. And my question is: Would the United States support Mr. Guaido going beyond the fixed term of one year? Which is if the situation continues to be as it is, would the United States support the fact that Mr. Guaido leads the process of – in the country towards the new elections? Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: Thanks, David. The question about Carvajal, this is an individual who has been indicted for trafficking five tons of cocaine. The United States, in our position on narcotics trafficking, is extremely clear. Notwithstanding the fact that Carvajal has been associated with providing some information that has been helpful with respect to the Maduro regime, we continue to follow the laws that we have in this country, and we want to see him brought to justice. We do hope that there is reconsideration on the part of the court. There is – there are serious charges that have been levied against him, and we are engaging with the Spanish Government to try to identify what the next steps are. It is very important that people who behave in this way are brought to justice, and we will be committed to that and hope that the Spanish are as well.
With respect to your second question about the year term, this is part of what the National Assembly voted on earlier this week, in which they said that Guaido would have their support until the end of the usurpation. We are obviously very, very hopeful that the end of the usurpation is well before Interim President Guaido’s one-year term would end, but that language makes it very, very clear that he continues to have the support not just of the major opposition parties but also the minor opposition parties who are part of the National Assembly to continue in this capacity until the end of the usurpation, whatever length of time that may be.
MODERATOR: Great. We’ll go over here to Juan Camilo.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Juan Camilo Merlano, Caracol TV from Colombia. You were talking just a moment ago about the former leaders of FARC that are at Venezuelan territory. The most relevant of these leaders are Jesus Santrich, who has been indicted here at the U.S., and (inaudible) Marquez. Is the U.S. Government looking forward to request formally the extradition of Ivan Marquez?
MS FILIPETTI: So I don’t want to speak to any formal requests, but obviously we are very concerned by the fact that these individuals are operating in Venezuela, that they have continued to call for a return to arms, which would be a violation of the peace accords, and are working very closely with the Colombian Government to make sure that their national security is not threatened by the presence of these illegal armed terrorists on their borders.
MODERATOR: Our next question will go here, and then to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. This is Ariela Navarro from Agence France-Presse. Regarding to that, Colombia wants to invoke the Resolution 1373 at the UN to denounce the presence of FARC elements. Will the U.S. support that resolution in the Security Council?
MS FILIPETTI: We obviously stand very closely with our allies in Colombia. We share their concerns about terrorism on the borders, and it is very clear that harboring and providing safe haven to terrorists is a violation of UN resolutions. This resolution, like many counterterrorism resolutions in the UN, was generated largely after September 11th to make sure that the international community had a better opportunity to collectively address the national security threats that terrorists have. So yes, we would support the Colombians in this effort, and we would support the Colombians in their efforts to address the threat that’s on their borders as well.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Cristobal Vasquez, Caracol Radio. I was wondering if you have received a formal petition from the Colombian Government to increase the financial assistant – assistance to Colombia, and also in that line, are you planning – is the U.S. planning to help militarily increase their assistance and the help that you provide already in Colombia?
MS FILIPETTI: So I’m not aware of an increased request, but we can check in to make sure that it hasn’t gone through other individuals. And with respect to the military question, we have not been asked to provide military support at this time. We are focused on trying to address this in the way that the Colombians have argued, which is things like invoking 1373. And, of course, there’s a priority for all of us to try to avoid any kind of military confrontation when possible.
MODERATOR: Great. For our next question, we’ll go in the back.
QUESTION: Jacob Luzi, Voice of America. I have two questions. The first one is about the migrants that are escaping from Venezuela, as you mentioned before. What the United States is planning to do to attend these people? We’re talking almost 5 millions of people fleeing Venezuela, so is there a response to this crisis?
And the second one about the foreigner influence inside the country. We mentioned China, but there is also Cuba, Iran, and Russia. So the United States can do something to stop these countries to interfere in the Venezuelan crisis? Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: Thank you. I’ll take your first question first. So this has been a crisis that we’ve been really focused on, and not just addressing the drivers, the root causes of this refugee crisis, which is of course the Maduro regime, but also making sure that we’re providing the support that our allies in the region need. 1.5 million refugees are currently in Colombia alone. We have seen some countries – in the Caribbean, for example – become 10, 15, 20 percent Venezuelan refugee of their total population. So it’s a really severe crisis, and this is partially why we focus on the Maduro regime not just destabilizing Venezuela but destabilizing the region as a whole.
The things that we’re doing to address it – number one, we’re focused on continuing to provide regional support and assistance. So the United States has provided over $370 million, single largest donor, to this crisis. Number two, I am certain that this will be part of the discussion when the Rio Treaty’s organ of consultation comes together to meet to discuss exactly what can be done to generate even more of a response to this crisis. So we’ll continue to use those mechanisms to address it and work with our allies as well to determine what it is that they need. They have been enormously generous in absorbing these refugee populations, and we are so grateful to them and we know that the Venezuelan people are as well.
Your second question, which is sort of the inverse of your first, talking about the countries that have been helpful and now we’re talking about the countries that have been unhelpful. Cuba is, in our view, the main patron of the Venezuelan dictatorship. We have seen how they have traded oil for repression. Essentially what happens is the Venezuelan regime will send oil – about 50,000 barrels – to Cuba every single day, and in exchange, they receive surveillance equipment, they receive intelligence professionals, they receive security professionals, they receive training in how to repress the population of Venezuela. A lot of the tactics that we see the Venezuelan regime use are tactics that are borrowed from the Castro and Cuban playbooks. And so this is a relationship that needs to end.
President Trump, when he noted that he was going to be stronger on Venezuela, also said he would be especially strong against the Cuban regime, which has continued to oppress not just its own people but is now oppressing the Venezuelan people. We have implemented a number of measures against the Cuban regime already as a result of this behavior. We have implemented even stronger actions with respect to Title III and an increased effort on Title IV, which are both actions that were legislated in the Helms-Burton Act. And we are also, of course, continuing to consider travel restrictions that will ensure that no U.S. tax dollars are going to support the very same intelligence and security services that are involved in these repressive practices.
When it comes to Russia, we’re seeing some similar kind of relationship where Venezuela is prioritizing paying down its debt to the Russians by hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of this last year, as opposed to paying for food and other medical supplies for their population. The Russians have continued to provide military support and some financial support to the Venezuelan regime. And again, we say the same thing as we’ve said with respect to China, which is that these countries need to really understand what is in their best interest for the region. This is not just a relationship with Venezuela that’s at stake. The other countries in the region have made it very, very clear that the continued presence of any Russian military, any Cuban military is antithetical to the principles of democracy, has not been invited for by the legitimate Government of Venezuela, and therefore, has no place in the country.
So we hope that they change their behavior, and of course we’ll continue to implement sanctions, we’ll continue to implement other practices that will ensure that they understand exactly what the cost is for their continued support for abuse.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right, we have time for one or two more questions. We’ll go to the middle and then to you right there.
QUESTION: My name is Gilles Paris, Le Monde newspaper. Thank you very much for doing this. Coming back to the question of immigration, granting Venezuelans the TPS could help a lot. What is the position of the administration?
MS FILIPETTI: You’ve heard, I’m sure, our special representative talk about TPS, talk about other types of mechanisms. Obviously we – we’re very concerned about any Venezuelan who has to leave Venezuela for obviously clear reasons, which is the continued Maduro regime abuse of power. We continue to have discussions about exactly what we can do to help alleviate that suffering and, of course, are focused on making sure that we are addressing the root cause of that migration, which is, of course, the Maduro regime and its economic mismanagement, its human rights abuses, and its oppression of its people.
MODERATOR: Okay, last question.
QUESTION: Sitki Ozcan, Kronos News. Another government which is close to Maduro regime is the Turkish Government. Earlier this year, a newly founded, mysterious Turkish company bought $900 million worth of gold from Venezuela just two months after Maduro’s visit to Erdogan. So what would you say about this move from a U.S. ally, Turkey?
MS FILIPETTI: Our sanctions policies are focused on trying to restrain the amount of access that the Maduro regime has to financial resources, because we’ve seen exactly how those financial resources are used. The sale of gold or the sale of oil from PDVSA – these are all things that do not funnel back to the people of Venezuela, they just go to line the pockets of the Maduro regime and its insiders. Of course any behavior that encourages more money to go into these pockets, more money to then be used for oppression, is something that is completely against not only our sanctions policies, but also against our principles. And so we take that very seriously, whether it’s from a U.S. ally or whether it’s not. We will make sure that that kind of behavior stops. When it comes from an ally, of course we have other options available which is to make sure that we engage with them, help them understand the situation first, and then see whether or not it was some kind of intentional behavior that resulted in those practices. But of course, we have no patience for any country that chooses to support the dictatorship in Venezuela.
MODERATOR: All right. With that, we’re going to wrap things up.
MS FILIPETTI: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for coming here today, and thank you to our journalists for coming today. This briefing is concluded.
MS FILIPETTI: Thank you very much.