Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. State Department’s media hub in Brussels. I’d like to welcome all participants to this discussion of the upcoming Conference of Donors in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, to be held in Madrid, Spain.
Today, we are very pleased to be joined from Washington, D.C. by Carrie Filipetti, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cuba and Venezuela for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks and then we will turn to your questions. We’ll do our best to get to as many as possible in the time that we have today, which is approximately 30 minutes. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I’ll turn it over to DAS Filipetti for opening remarks. Please go ahead.
DAS Filipetti: Thank you so much, Justin, and I really appreciate everybody joining this call. We wanted to have this discussion with you all to help refocus attention on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, especially in light of a series of misinformation campaigns by enemies of the Venezuelan people and the United States. Even before COVID-19, we’re all aware of the extreme economic mismanagement and corruption that has caused the largest humanitarian crisis in the hemisphere, with over 5 million refugees fleeing into nearby countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and others.
It’s a situation that three U.S. special rapporteurs recently described as “teetering on the brink of survival.” And this is because there has been a collapsed healthcare system that’s been exacerbated by misinformation on the pandemic, and broader retaliation against those who are reporting accurate counts of COVID infection rates. We’re seeing that there are thousands upon thousands of cases inside Venezuela, and yet the regime continues to insist on only 824 total cases with less than a dozen deaths in the country. We see that there are only 84 ICU beds available for the country as a whole. Ninety percent of hospitals lack disinfectant, 76 percent of hospitals lack soap, and so the crisis in the healthcare sector is extreme.
We’re also continuing to see serious human rights violation and repression, including silencing of American citizens and Venezuelans. We’re seeing a systematic breakdown of security through the proliferation of weapons, the recent crisis that we witnessed in Petare, and rampant colectivos enforcing the will of the Maduro regime. And we’re also seeing that humanitarian needs are not being met. In the middle of the pandemic, people can’t socially distance because one-third of the country is desperately food insecure, according to the World Food Program. But the regime won’t allow the World Food Program into the country to help alleviate the suffering.
Humanitarian aid is continuing to be allocated not based on need, but of the politics of the individual, which is against every principle of the humanitarian and UN assistance. And so this is why the United States recently announced an additional $200 million in assistance from the State Department, USAID, and the Inter-American Foundation. This announcement made by the Secretary of State this past Wednesday includes more than 138 million in humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans in need. That brings the total contribution of the United States to the Venezuelan crisis to over $856 million since Fiscal Year 2017, and that includes $611 million worth of humanitarian assistance. And we’re very grateful that our commitment has been matched in action by over 16 countries across the region, who have also been influential in providing assistance to Venezuelans in need.
The purpose of this assistance is to address many of the concerns that I outlined at the top. It will meet critical life-saving needs. It will address food and nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene and health, temporary shelter and cash assistance, education services, and protection for vulnerable children, indigenous communities, the elderly, women, and other vulnerable populations. It also includes legal aid for those who are involved in the refugee crisis. In addition, it includes development assistance for countries surrounding Venezuela that have done an exceptional job opening their doors to the people of Venezuela in their moment of need.
And so we made this commitment because we want to highlight the importance of focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and doing everything we can as a global community to confront the challenges posed by the Maduro regime. We are very much in support of the upcoming donors conference that will be hosted in Spain by both the Spanish Government and the European Union, which will encourage both traditional and new donors to increase their support to this crisis. We very strongly support this action and we hope that our contribution will help inspire others to give significant additional aid to the Venezuelan people.
Now, the need for humanitarian assistance highlights the greater need, which is for a political solution. This is why the United States has recently announced our framework for a democratic transition, which is largely based off of negotiations that were had during the Oslo process in 2019. And so while we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela, it’s important to note that that assistance, as long as Maduro remains in charge, is only going to be a band-aid over an arterial bleed and will not actually stop the crisis. It’s important that we focus our attention on getting us to a political solution led by the Venezuelan people and supported by the international community. And with that, I am happy to take any questions that you may have.
Moderator: Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. We’re going to start with a question that was submitted to us in advance from Natalia Kochiashvili with The Messenger in Georgia. Her question is: “The fragility of healthcare systems throughout the developing world is alarming. Given the harsh socioeconomic situation in Venezuela and hardships brought by COVID-19, how do you view assisting the people of this country as well as others in need?”
DAS Filipetti: This is a great question by Natalia, and I think it dials down to two key points. The first is transparency. When we talk about the fragility of healthcare systems, when we talk about the ability to address not just current healthcare needs but those that are coming in the future, it’s critically important that governments are transparent about what they’re facing, what the infection rates look like, whether or not there have been any treatments that have been proven successful, how the epidemic is spreading within their borders, and whether or not there seems to be a relationship between the spread in their country and the neighboring countries. So the transparency of governments is critically important, and we’ve been very, very fortunate that the majority of the world has understood that it is their obligation to the international community to share accurate statistics.
Unfortunately, that of course is not the case for some countries. I’m speaking specifically of Venezuela, of China, and of Cuba. All three of these countries have manipulated their numbers. Again, if you look at neighboring countries like Colombia and Brazil, you’re seeing numbers of infections and deaths in the thousands, and yet Venezuela, which has very little soap, very little water, very little social distancing – essentially, none of the things that we have described and that the international community has understood is critically important to reducing the spread of COVID-19 – they’re reporting 10 deaths, so less than a dozen deaths. It’s obviously a complete fabrication, and the fact that they’re lying about that means that other countries cannot develop their healthcare systems and their medical systems so that they can anticipate what may be affecting them in the future. So that’s one piece of it.
And the second piece of it is, as I said, recognizing that humanitarian assistance is especially important. This is why the United States has given over $856 million to try to address the humanitarian crisis. But think about that vast sum of money, and compare that to how desperate the situation remains inside Venezuela. This is because humanitarian assistance alone will not solve the crisis. We need to have good leadership, we need to have responsible, democratic leadership, and that is why we continue to believe that the best way to address this humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is to find a political solution.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that answer. We’re going to go with another question that was submitted to us in advance. This is from Mikhail Turgiev with RIA Novosti. The question is: “I would like to ask you to comment on the recent statement by the Russian Rosneft company that said that the newly established Roszarubezhneft had acquired the Rosneft assets in Venezuela. This deal may be the formal reason to lift sanctions on Rosneft Trading Company. Will the State Department look into it and would it be enough to lift sanctions?”
DAS Filipetti: Thanks, Mikhail. So the United States will – is constantly looking at our sanctions policy. Our objective is to make sure that our sanctions are targeting those entities that are directly providing support in some capacity to the Maduro regime. Of course, that was enormously clear when it came to Rosneft. If there continues to be any associations between Rosneft and the Maduro regime, then we will not lift sanctions. We may consider adding additional sanctions on other entities that have picked up additional relationships with the Maduro regime. But we would need to make sure that there is no continued collaboration or cooperation with the Maduro regime.
Of course, we have removed our sanctions on some entities and individuals over time as they have decided to end their cooperation with the Maduro regime fully, or support a transitional government and support the advancement of democracy in Venezuela. And so I can’t comment specifically on the Rosneft question, but I can say that those are the principles that we use to assess when we add new sanctions or when we remove existing sanctions.
Moderator: Great. Thank you very much for that. Still looking for some folks in the queue, so we’re going to go with another question that was submitted with us in advance. This is from Andre Petre Popescu with Romania newspaper. “In the context of the forthcoming Donors Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, have you found similar situations in other continents? What are the differences in implementation of these strategic philanthropy policies?”
DAS Filipetti: Sure. Thanks, Andre. Of course Venezuela is a unique situation. It has seen one of the most significant and pointed economic downturns that we have seen in any country. But there are comparisons to some other refugee crises, humanitarian crises, though I would be reluctant to draw too many parallels. Of course, in terms of numbers, the Venezuelan crisis is getting very close to the amount of Syrian refugees. So Venezuela has over 5 million refugees right now, making it the second largest refugee crisis after the Syrian crisis, which of course has been going on for a decade at this point.
So I would say that there are parallels in terms of sort of specific numbers. But the truth is, the biggest thing that we need to learn from what we’ve seen in other countries is the importance of countries coming together, supporting the country in need, and making sure that they’re not allowing misinformation to corrupt a solution. What I mean by that is, it’s important that we provide humanitarian assistance. It’s important that we provide money and that we supply personnel, and we supply materials that are critical to meet the day-to-day needs. But that’s an unsustainable solution. The entire international community needs to come together, not only for wonderful actions like the donors conference which is coming up, but also to actively pursue political situations when there is a crisis of this nature.
When you look at where similar circumstances have been found, it always boils down to a failure of leadership. We see that in Syria. We see that in Venezuela. We see that around the world. And so it’s important that the international community recognizes that we have an international responsibility to ensure that people are being protected, to ensure that we are helping where we can, and to ensure that we are responding to the news of the individuals in those countries who are calling for help and who are asking for international support.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that detailed response. We have another question that was submitted to us in advance by Gilles Sangès with L’Opinion in France. And his question is: “What do you think of the failed coup in Venezuela? Was the U.S. aware of its preparation?”
DAS Filipetti: Sure. Thank you. This is a question, obviously, that we’ve received a number of times. So I can say very, very clearly, as our Secretary of State, our President, and our Secretary of Defense have said, that the United States did not have anything to do with this invasion.
We’re doing the same as you are right now, which is trying to learn what this is all about and how it came to be.
A few things that we can say is that it’s obvious that the operation was penetrated long ago by the regime. We know that the opposition had broken any ties it had with Goudreau months and months and months ago, and refused to pay him anything. So the question that I would ask is: How is it that the operation still went forward, even after the May 1st Associated Press story referenced it? Who was paying for it? Who bought the weapons? Who bought the night vision goggles, all of those supplies?
I think there’s a question of who urged this to continue despite the fact that it had no relationship with the opposition, no relationship with those who were associated with the opposition. And so our investigations right now are going into those questions to try to understand exactly how this came to be. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we ultimately found that there were strong ties between this operation and regime entities.
Again, Diosdado Cabello himself spoke about this operation in detail, showing pictures of Goudreau, back in March. So it’s very strange to me that something like this would continue to move forward. So as we get more information, we’re very, very happy to share that information. But I can say, again, that the United States did not have any information about it, and we’re trying to learn as much as we can right now to prevent something like this from happening in the future.
Moderator: Thank you very much. It looks like we have time for one final question. This was submitted in advance from Momchil Indjov with Club Z Media in Bulgaria. “Does the U.S. see the possibility for a Bolivian scenario and therefore a peaceful transition in Venezuela?”
DAS Filipetti: This is a great question. I think it goes back to where we were as the Bolivian situation started to be working itself out with Interim President Áñez. The President of the United States said that it’s possible that we have something like this in Venezuela. It will entirely depend, I think, on the Maduro regime, and it will entirely depend on the supporters of the Maduro regime. It’s clear that the vast majority of Venezuelans want to see a peaceful solution. It’s clear that the United States wants to see a peaceful solution. This is something that we’ve been promoting through our framework. It’s something that we have been fighting for over the last 18 months.
I, in fact, can’t think of anyone who supports anything other than a peaceful solution, other than the Cubans, and of course, the Maduro regime itself. I would also say that the Russians seem not very invested in a peaceful solution, either, given the fact that they continue to provide support to the Maduro regime, and they have in the past provided personnel, including military personnel, to the borders of Venezuela despite the fact that they were never authorized to do so by the legitimate Government of Venezuela.
So I think if we are to get to a peaceful solution, it will really rely on the Russians, the Cubans, and others convincing the Maduro regime that they are – that they need to pursue a peaceful solution. Now, of course the Cubans will never do that. So I think that that, unfortunately, makes it challenging. That said, we’re up for the challenge. We will continue to fight for a peaceful solution. We will continue to do whatever we can to make sure that there is a political negotiation that helps with all this because that is what will ensure the safety and the success of the Venezuelan people, and that is our core interest.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, that was the last question we have time for today. DAS Filipetti, do you have any closing words you’d like to offer?
DAS Filipetti: Sure. Well, just thank you to everyone who’s joined. I think this is a really great opportunity presented by the Spanish and the European Union, with the support of IOM and UNHCR, in hosting this donors conference for us to refocus attention on the crisis happening in Venezuela. Of course, the regime has used an expansive disinformation campaign in an attempt to hide what they are really doing in Venezuela. And so we are making sure that our policy remains focused on the severity of the situation in Venezuela, that we are remaining focused on addressing the humanitarian crisis, and we appreciate all of our European partners who intend to donate at this conference and highlight the importance of the international support for the Venezuelan people.
So thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us, and we’re always happy to answer any questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. I’d like to thank DAS Filipetti for joining us today, and thank all the reporters on the line for your participation and your questions