• WHAT: On-the-Record Briefing
  • WHEN: Friday, December 6, 2019 at 2:00 pm
  • WHERE: National Press Building, 529 14th Street, NW, Suite 800
  • BACKGROUND: Acting Assistant Secretary Kozak provides an update on U.S. policy priorities in the Western Hemisphere, especially with respect to democratic governance and human rights.


MODERATOR:  Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center.  Today we are pleased to welcome Ambassador Michael Kozak, who’s the Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He will make his remarks, and then we’ll open it up to question and answer.  At that time, I’ll call on everybody; just please state your name and media outlet for him.  Thank you very much.  I’ll now turn it over to Ambassador Kozak.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Thank you very much for the introduction, and a pleasure to be here today.  Before I begin, I’d like to make a few short remarks about democracy in the Western Hemisphere, and then we can go to questions and answers.

In the last few months, we have seen protests – sometimes violent – in capital cities across the Americas.  Some critics have once again cast the United States as a foil in these events.  It’s a very old and tired narrative that relies on an outdated Cold War-era ideological framework.  It’s also false.

The United States may not always agree on policy or rhetoric with all of our neighbors, but we respect our neighbors.  We respect their right to democratic self-determination.  But respecting democratic self-determination means that we all share the responsibility that comes with living in this hemisphere of freedom.  Democratic self-determination requires a commitment to respecting human rights.  It means the separation of powers in our governing structures.  It calls for the rule of law.  When our neighbors are tested and when authoritarians subvert the democratic rule of law, we have an obligation to come together.  Through diplomacy, we must push back against the authoritarianism in all of its forms.

This applies in Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro rigged an election by disqualifying his opponent, censoring the media, and engaging in outright vote fraud in May 2018.  This applies in Bolivia, where now former President Evo Morales tried to subvert the democratic process.  And the United States foreign policy is to work with all political leaders who support democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.

We respect the rights of our neighbors to find the best political path forward.  We cannot allow authoritarians in government offices to fix elections, stifle dialogue, and deny political opposition a voice.  But we also cannot allow violent actions in the streets to replace democratic procedures.  This is our policy, regardless of where voices fall on the political spectrum.  The old Cold War paradigm of left and right is over.

This administration has led the way in supporting our family of Western democracies.  We want the will of the people to be heard.  U.S. policies in the hemisphere are designed to support the overwhelming majority of the people in the hemisphere, to defend their inalienable rights, to strive and restore their democratic dignity.  If we are committed to democracy in our region, we must help each other to find the way back to democracy.  We call on our Western Hemisphere neighbors to unite in support of these shared goals and make the hemisphere one of freedom and democracy for all.

Thank you, and with that, I’d be happy to take questions.

MODERATOR:  We’ll start in the front here.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Ambassador, for doing this.  President Trump accused Brazil of massive devaluation of its currency.  Could you please help to clarify the basis for his accusation?  And also, when will the tariffs take place?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Yeah.  I think on any of the specific questions about tariffs and so on, I would refer back to our colleagues in the White House and U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, Commerce Department.  That’s not our business.  But in general, our policy worldwide has been to seek fair, free, and reciprocal trading relationships with others.  But I’m not the one who’s responsible for each of the tactics in that.  So I think I’ll defer to my – to the other agencies.


MODERATOR:  I’ll go to here, and then the front next.  Great.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up on something quickly?

MODERATOR:  Please state your name, outlet, and country.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  My name is Paula Lugones from —

MODERATOR:  Is it a quick follow-up?

QUESTION:  Yeah, do you mind?  I just wonder how much his decision has to do with China.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Again, I would refer to the agencies that are dealing with that.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, I’m Paula Lugones from Clarin newspaper, Argentina.  You know that next week, a new government will be in Argentina, will take office, Alberto Fernandez.  I would like to know what the U.S. is expecting for the future of the bilateral relationship, and also if Alberto Fernandez can play a role in the Bolivia conflict in the future.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Yes, well, we – in fact, I’m going to the inauguration as part of our delegation next week, so looking forward to seeing the change of government in Argentina and to meeting with President Fernandez.  We’ve had contact with his team during the transition period, and we’ve always worked diligently with elected governments of Argentina.  I think there’s a lot of shared interests and shared values there, but we’ll be working through with his team the approach on specific issues.

On Venezuela, we look to all the countries in the region to help bring about an early and successful conclusion to that crisis.  I was just earlier this week in Bogota for the meeting of – the ministerial-level meeting of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, something that some of you may not have heard about because it hasn’t been used in decades.  But this was essentially the model for NATO and it’s kind of the model for what was the Chapter Seven authorities of the UN.  The inter-American system had that same set of authorities and they just hadn’t been put to use in many, many years, but they’ve been renovated.  The parties to the treaty, which are most of the countries in the region, came together and said we need to show collective action against the Maduro regime and its continued obstruction of any kind of a satisfactory democratic political solution to the conflict.

So the first action they took was to impose travel restrictions on Nicolas Maduro and 28 other senior Venezuelan officials, so it was a pretty significant action.  Argentina was part of that under the current government, but we will look – Argentina’s been a player in many of the groupings that are relevant to Venezuela, and we’ll look forward to working with them to see what contributions we both can make to that process.

MODERATOR:  Okay, (inaudible).

QUESTION:  A few days ago —

MODERATOR:  Please state your name.

QUESTION:  Juan Camilo Merlano, Caracol TV, Colombia.  A few days ago, there was leaked a conversation between Ambassador Francisco Santos and the new minister of foreign affairs, Claudia Blum.  I was wondering if you are moving forward with the investigations to establish who made and how was made that recording.  And what do you think about what Ambassador Santos said, quote, “[The] State Department is destroyed,” unquote?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Well, I’m not going to comment on allegedly pirated conversations of people, but in terms of our relationship with Colombia and on the idea that the State Department is irrelevant or something, that’s certainly not the case, and I think any of the senior officials of the Government of Colombia would tell you we work very closely together.  Obviously, there are other parts of the U.S. Government that also work with our counterparts in other areas, and we work very closely with them, so I think we’ll just leave it at that.  There’s no reason to be commenting on a pirated —

QUESTION:  We can say that there are investigations indeed, or —

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  I’m not aware of any law enforcement action on this or where this occurred, but it’s unfortunate.

MODERATOR:  To you and then to you in the front.

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you.  Alejandra Arredondo from Voice of America.  Taking into account that the United States has supported Interim President Juan Guaido, do you have – does the U.S. has any plan in case that he doesn’t get re-elected as the president of the parliament, of the National Assembly in January?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Yeah, well, first, I have no reason to believe he won’t be re-elected.  He remains in all the polling and so on that we see the most popular politician in Venezuela by a long shot.  He continues to have a very strong support of the major non-Chavista political parties.  There’s a coalition that have worked with him and is working very effectively with him.  But that said, our support has been for democratic institutions in Venezuela.  Juan Guaido – not to Juan Guaido as a person, but Juan Guaido is – as the elected president of the National Assembly, and therefore by the operation of their constitution the interim president, is the reflection of our – of those democratic processes, and that’s what we support.  So we would support anyone who occupied that position, but I have every reason to suspect it will continue to be Interim President Guaido.

MODERATOR:  Here and then —

QUESTION:  Hi.  David Alandete from ABC, the Spanish newspaper.  I wanted to ask you, is the United States aware of any attempts in the last months of some parts of the Venezuelan regime – not Mr. Maduro himself, but Defense Minister Padrino or Maikel Moreno – to have a transitional government with some figures of the opposition?  And in case that this happen, would the United States support this type of transitional government towards elections?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Well, this has been what our aim has been all along, is a transitional government that could organize free and fair elections so that the Venezuelan people can pick their own leadership in the future.  So I think if you look at our past statements, that is exactly the goal.  Our view has been you can’t conduct free and fair elections with Maduro still controlling the security forces, controlling the colectivos, controlling the election machinery.  I mean, we saw what happened the last time he did that, and that was the cause of the crisis, was a rigged election.

But a transitional government obviously implies a government that is broadly acceptable for that purpose of bringing about the free and fair election, and then people will choose what policy direction they want to take.  So I’m not going to comment on the specific personalities you mentioned, but just on the idea that our – I think we’ve been clear from the beginning we’re – we see the Chavista movement and the PSUV party as a – they represent a significant portion of Venezuelan populace and they’re going to have a role in Venezuelan politics in the future.  It’s – this is not a question of pushing or trying to repress that party.  It’s a question of trying to decide things through democratic means and not by authoritarian means, which is what Maduro has done.

QUESTION:  May I follow up?


QUESTION:  Just a question:  Any comment on Mr. Calderon Berti’s accusations of corruption against Mr. Guaido?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Well, I don’t – I’m not aware of any accusations of corruption against Mr. Guaido himself.  I am aware of two sets of allegations that are out there.  One has been a rumor or something around that people in the Guaido administration are taking the U.S. assistance money that has been provided.  That’s absolutely false, because they have not – nobody has handed them any money.  They couldn’t have stolen it if they didn’t have it in the first place.  Our money goes to implementing partners who are providing training and services and so on to help advance democracy.  So these aren’t – there’s no – there’s this assumption that there’s some kind of a cash flow that’s – and that’s just wrong.  There isn’t anything there.

The second is that there were reports I think in the last week or so that several members of the National Assembly had taken bribes from a money man who works for Maduro.  And I think President Guaido very rapidly ordered an investigation of this and to get to the bottom of it.  If those allegations are true, they’re obviously reprehensible.  But I would say there the corruption lies with Maduro trying to buy members of the National Assembly rather than with anything to do with the Guaido administration.

QUESTION:  A follow up about that.

QUESTION:  Thank you – sorry.

QUESTION:  Can I make a little follow-up?

QUESTION:  No – sorry – no.

QUESTION:  But they were saying – I’m sorry.

MODERATOR:  He has his – but we’ll go to him and then (inaudible).  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Thanks.  Over here.  Rafael Mathus from La Nacion newspaper from Argentina.  I have a follow-up on the tariff issue.  Both Argentine and Brazilians officials were caught completely off guard with the announcement what – that was made through Twitter.  There was, like, no pre-warning or anything.  Both Argentina and Brazil are strategic allies of the U.S. in the region, so is the State Department bringing any sort of message regarding this issue to the inauguration that you’re attending to in Argentina, or are you completely being blindsided by the White House on this?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  I think I will again leave that to the White House.  But we – there will be White House representatives as well in the party that goes down there.  They’re talking to each other, and let’s see where it turns out.  I don’t want to try to predict the outcomes of a process that I’m not a good spokesman for.

QUESTION:  But you – are you responding (inaudible) concerns —

MODERATOR:  Sorry.  Sorry.  Please repeat your question.

QUESTION:  Has there been any response to the concerns raised both in Argentina and Brazils about the economic impact that this will create, especially given that I know that you —

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  There are discussions going on between the governments of the two countries and our trade negotiators and authorities, and I’d have to refer to them again.  This is not something that the State Department is involved in anywhere in the world.  When we set up the special trade negotiator’s office 30 or 40 years ago, that function went to that office.  And obviously, when you’re engaged in negotiations, you have one negotiator.  You don’t have every agency chiming in.  So that’s why I keep referring you back to them as they’re the right people to talk to.

QUESTION:  Are you in the loop of the negotiations or —


QUESTION:  Are you in the loop?  Do you know what’s being negotiated at all?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Yes, and the State Department does, but at a – it’s – we have a different part.  We have an economic and business office and so on, Secretary of State.  It’s not something that’s within my area of responsibility to be looking at the details of trade negotiations, so I’d – I’m just the wrong person to comment on it.  It’s —

MODERATOR:  We’re going to go to the next question.

QUESTION:  But from what you are hearing – what are – what exactly President Trump would like for Brazil and Argentina to do?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Again, I would refer back to that to the trade negotiators.

MODERATOR:  Okay, we’ll go to our next question.

QUESTION:  Hello.  This is Alina Dieste from AFP, Agence France-Presse.  My first question – I have two questions.  One, I’d like to know if you’re going to support Luis Almagro as he’s seeking re-election at the Organization of the American State.  And the second question has to do with the fact that you mentioned this week the State Department was looking at the appropriate tools to tackle the issues with the cartels, the Mexican cartels.  I’d like to get more information about that, what exactly you’re doing in that respect.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Okay.  On the first one, the answer is yes, we strongly support Secretary General Almagro’s bid for a second term.  We think he’s done a tremendous job with the organization, brought it back into strong relevance now in dealing with crises in the region.  Would also note – I mean, there’s been a tradition in the OAS that secretary generals are – generally serve two terms unless something really untoward happens, and so we think he’s a super well-qualified candidate.  He’s got a good track record, and that’s why we’re supporting him fully.

QUESTION:  Do you think he’ll get the votes to be re-elected?


QUESTION:  You think so?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  (Inaudible) intend to do everything we can to make sure that that is the case, yes.

Now on the drug cartels, again, I think you’ve seen, from everybody from our President on down, expressions of concern about the power that those cartels have developed in Mexico particularly, but this is spreading into other countries in the region as well.  So it’s not just the poisonous drugs that they ship to the United States and other countries or to people in their own countries, but it’s also the fact that they have gradually taken over where they have a practical control over some areas of countries, and that’s a real threat to the sovereignty and democratic institutions of other countries.  So we’re trying intensively to work with the governments of those countries to say how can we help you get these – this situation under control, get you to – your authorities to be able to regain control of your own territory where these guys can’t murder people with impunity or push the state authorities around and so on.  Very, very difficult problems.  It’s not a new problem, but it’s reached sort of critical mass in some parts of Mexico and in other places, and so we’re extremely concerned about it.

There are all kinds of authorities under our laws for different kinds of sanctions you can take and so on against – to interrupt financial flows that these guys depend on, so that’s – we’re looking at all those things.  And we’re – I think you just saw the attorney general’s been down in Mexico talking with everybody from President Lopez Obrador on down to try to see, amongst other things, what we can do jointly to help on that problem.  But that’s where – I think what you should take away from that is the real concern over the drug cartels gaining effective control over parts of territory and threatening the control of the proper authorities of the Mexican Government, and that’s really concerning.  I think it’s concerning to the Mexican Government as well, and it should be.  So we’re really trying to see if – what we can do to help.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  For the next question we’ll go in the front next to that gentleman.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Secretary – Assistant Secretary, I wanted to ask you about the deliberations for classifying the Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations.  It was reported that the President was going to have today a meeting with advisors to talk about this.  Could you please confirm if that meeting happened, if you participated in that meeting?  And if you could please clarify if this new movement is a response to the killing of nine U.S. citizens in Mexico last month.  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Certainly the concern about the power of the cartels was exacerbated and dramatized by the murder of the American citizens, just a terrible, brutal set of acts, and also by Culiacan when the drug cartels basically were threatening Mexican civilians unless the government would turn over the son of El Chapo, to turn him back to them.  So those were not – those sort of concretized people’s worries about this.  I’m not going to comment on internal meetings and processes other than to say that, as I was mentioning, there are all kinds of authorities.  There are drug – we have statutory authorities for dealing with drug kingpins, so if you designate somebody that gives you certain powers; terrorist is another one.  There are different kinds of sanctions authorities we have.  There are immigration restrictions for people who do this.

So we’re looking at the whole range of tools available under our law that could potentially be of service in dealing with these people who are committing acts of terror.  I mean, it’s – the formal designations are one thing, but you can’t look at something like what the drug cartels have been doing to terrorize the Mexican citizens without saying this is a serious problem.  But what is the best and most effective set of U.S. legal authorities to help the Government of Mexico deal with this is – that’s the kind of thing we’re studying and consulting with the Government of Mexico on.

QUESTION:  Could you please – a follow-up.  What is the response you have received from the Mexican authorities?  What do they think about this?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  I think let’s just – I won’t speak for the Mexican authorities on – I mean, I think you’ve seen some public comments, but also sometimes things get caught up in a name or a misperception of what an authority actually does.  So I’d just say stay tuned.  We’ll see how this plays out.  But what I want to get across is we’re coming at it with the spirit of how do we help the Government of Mexico regain control over its own territory and minimize the – or reduce the power that the cartels have amassed for themselves?  And we’re looking at what is the best way to do that, and obviously that’s something we do in consultation with the Government of Mexico.

MODERATOR:  For our next question we’ll go in the back.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador.  My name is Jorge Agobian.  I’m with Voice of America.  The question that I have:  You mentioned the U.S. don’t give money directly to the Guaido’s government, but the U.S. says in its (inaudible) questions that in some cases, they gave compensation – they paid for compensation, travels, and other costs for the interim government.  My question is:  Where are those cases and what means compensations and when and how they paid – you paid for – the Government of the United States paid for travels for Guaido’s representatives?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Go just on this particular – because they’re different programs and so on.  But this is how our system of assistance works generally when we’re providing assistance, like, to pro-democratic NGOs or sometimes it’s for nondiscrimination NGOs.  But say that you’re taking somebody to a training.  For example, let’s say we were training domestic election observers on how to have the technical capacity to do a good job of that.  They have to travel someplace.  They have to eat lunch and stay in a hotel when they’re there, and they have to travel back.  So our implementing partners, the grantees who receive money from the United States, would say, “Okay, mister member of the National Assembly, or mister, miss person who is the head of an election NGO or something, we will give you a ticket to fly to the training, we’ll give you $35 a day or something to pay for your meals while you’re there, we’ll pay for your hotel room.”

So there’s benefit going to people to – as they get that training or that authority, but it does – it doesn’t provide much opportunity for corruption because the person’s getting $35 a day or something.  The misperception I was referring to earlier, as I think somebody thought we were handing $7 million to one person who then was doing this stuff, and that that person could steal a good part of it, and that’s just not the way it works.  Our programs are very carefully designed and heavily audited to be sure, whether it’s with Venezuela or anyplace else, to be sure that doesn’t happen.  So that was why I was trying to knock down the idea that that was even a possibility, because it’s just – it’s physically impossible to do much.

Now, somebody could falsify a taxi voucher or something maybe, but that’s not going to – (laughter) – that’s going to be – not going to be much corruption.

MODERATOR:  For our next question we’ll go here and then we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.  Isabelle Morales with CNN Espanol.  Ambassador, Mexico has been very clear saying that they think that it is a really bad idea in order to include the terror – the cartels on the terrorist list.  Is the U.S. going – going forward to do that?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  I would just go back to what I just said, that we are looking at the whole range of tools that we have available under our law that are potentially of help in dealing with this.  We’re consulting with the Government of Mexico as we do so.  At the end, we will presumably decide that okay, we can accomplish this by using this, this, and this authority, and maybe we don’t need to use this one, or we – or we do.  But I think it’s a consultative and iterative process.  It’s not an on/off switch here at the —

MODERATOR:  Okay, go to Juan Camilo, then to you.

QUESTION:  We heard yesterday about – from officials of State Department about the criminal activities of ELN and FARC dissidents in Venezuela in illegal mining.  I want to know if you have an update and information about the presence of particularly Ivan Marquez in Venezuelan territory.  Do you know where he is?  What is he doing?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  I think, as my colleague testified yesterday, we don’t – we know – and I think it’s open information in Venezuela that FARC and ELN are there and are active, and they’re doing things.  Where individual members might be is another matter, but there – they have – I would say, though, there’s a lot – been a lot put on, like, Ivan Marquez and so on.  Somebody leaves because they got caught going back to drug dealing and corruption, which took them out of the —

QUESTION:  Peace process.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  The special jurisdiction for peace in Colombia.  So he took off, but that – there was a big concern at the time.  Does this mean that the FARC is going to back away from the peace agreement?  The answer is that didn’t happen.  It was, like, one or two guys who got caught being criminals again, and the rest of them have stayed with the peace process and are continuing to work.  So if we can – I’m not going to say whether we know where somebody is or not if we’re – especially if we’re looking for them.  But the upshot is a couple of people going bad is not a threat to the whole process.

QUESTION:  A little follow-up.  We know alias Jesus Santrich, he’s indicted here in the U.S., but Ivan Marquez, he went out of the peace process because he returned to arms.  But do you know if there is any indictment against Ivan Marquez here in the U.S.?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, so – (laughter) – you’d have to ask the Justice Department.

MODERATOR:  Right here, please.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Carolina Valladares (inaudible) 360, Voice of America.  Ambassador, you mentioned earlier – I would like you to be, if possible, more concise – that the U.S. would continue to support whoever is elected as the president of the National Assembly in Venezuela.  However, a question is:  Does it mean that you will then recognize as interim president of Venezuela whoever – whoever, I mean whoever – is elected by the assembly?  And second question is:  Will you consider tighten or have conversations with Russia about the future of – democratic future of Venezuela?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Okay, on the first one, as I said, we fully expect that Juan Guaido will be reelected to that position, so in the way, it’s hypothetical.  But my understanding, and I think our general understanding of how the Venezuelan constitution works, is that when the presidency – the executive president is vacated, that whoever is the head of the National Assembly becomes interim president by operation of the constitution.  So it’s not a question of a choice for the United States or any other country.  It’s if you – if you recognize the constitutional line in the Venezuelan constitution, then whoever the National Assembly elects to that position would be that person.  It happens to be Juan Guaido right now, and we fully expect it will continue to be Juan Guaido in the beginning of next year.

So that’s – it’s sort of a series of hypotheticals that I wouldn’t worry about, but I think stick with the idea that the – we’re following what our understanding of the – and not only we, but almost 60 countries are following the understanding of what the constitution of Venezuela provides for, and there’s been no – if anything, there’s been more countries recognizing Guaido as interim president for that reason.

Let me go back, too, to be clear.  I mean, the reason we accept the National Assembly president in that capacity is that the National Assembly is the one remaining democratically elected institution in Venezuela.  Everything else has been taken over by the – Maduro and his Cuban and other allies.  So this is the one that still represents the will of the people as voted in the last election, and that’s why we respect it.

MODERATOR:  Okay, we have time for one more question here with Raquel.

QUESTION:   Do you mind – I want to —

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) have a question about the 5G.

QUESTION:  So sorry, I asked a second question about the relations with the U.S. Government and Russia regarding Venezuela.  Please.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Oh, yes, yes, I’m sorry.  On that, yes, we have had conversations with Russia and will continue to have them as we think that they’re useful.  Russia is right now playing a very unhelpful role in resolving the crisis in Venezuela.  Both Russia and China are owed a lot of money by Venezuela because they gave – I think foolishly gave huge loans to Maduro, and then it was secured by getting payback oil.  So they’ve been getting oil shipments nevertheless.  But when you look at their – on the economic side of their interests, Russia has been getting paid back.  China has a long, long ways to go, and it’s going to be harder and harder for them to get paid back.  The oil production in Venezuela has dropped – I think in its heyday, it was something like three million barrels a day.  A year ago, it was like 1.2 million barrels a day.  Now it’s down to 600,000 and they can’t sell most of it.  They’re giving it to Russia and China.  They’re giving it for free to Cuba.

But Russia has also – or, let’s say not Russia the state, but Rosneft, state-owned oil company, has been doing some very clear maneuvers to try to help the Venezuelans get around the sanctions that the United States and other countries have put on.  And they’ve also, by sending their planeload with a hundred military technicians, tried to give a bit of a political boost to Maduro.  None of that helps.  It’s not going to solve the problem.  They’re selling arms to Maduro when he’s crying about his situation of his economy and then you see him entering into $200 million deals to buy more arms from the Soviet – or the —

QUESTION:  Russia.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  — probably Soviet-built arms that the Russians still control.  This is not helping anybody.  So in our view, the right play for Russia would be stop helping him put their weight behind what I think most responsible countries see, which is this idea of a transitional government leading to free and fair elections and then let the Venezuelan people decide what their future is going to be.

MODERATOR:  Then for the last question, we’ll go to Raquel.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  It’s a question about the 5G, because Xi Jinping was just in Brazil last month and offered financial supports to Brazil if Brazil chooses Huawei, and we know that Huawei installations in Brazil would be faster and cheaper, it’s – and a very good offer for Brazil and other countries not to take.

And my question is:  Would the U.S. offer financial – any kind of financial incentives to try to make countries like Brazil to turn down the Chinese offer?  And if Brazil choose the Chinese deal, what would be the impact for the bilateral relationship between the two countries?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK:  Well, look.  What we are talking to other countries about with respect to China, it’s not to say don’t trade with China.  We trade with China.  It’s a very large economy.  It’s a fact of life we’re all going to be trading with them.  But what we’re saying is don’t do trade and investment deals with China based on Chinese models and terms.  China’s model is basically 19th century imperialism.  They want to go in and get a – take over a chunk of your territory.  They bring their own workers in.  They – their transactions are totally non-transparent.  There’s corruption involved and all of this.

And what we’re saying to other countries is it’s in your own interests, not to please the United States.  Don’t fall for that.  Make them deal with you on 21st century terms of open, above-board, freely competed contracts and so – and China will win some of them.  But make them be transparent, make them be like anybody else would be that you were – that you’d want to deal with.

We also have urged other countries when it comes to 5G or other aspects of procurement that have a security effect on people, you don’t want somebody installing your phone system so that they can spy on you and steal your trade secrets or your government secrets or whatever it might be, or get – so we’re saying think about that, see what your – what security precautions you can put in place.  We have a system in our country when we’re thinking about allowing a big investment in some sector that has potential security ramifications.  That just becomes part of the process, is people can bid but then you need to look and say, “Is this bid compatible with national security or not,” and if it’s not, you explain why and push it out.

So we’re not going to out-China China on trying to pay people to buy our products or something like that.  We’re not even a direct competitor on 5G.  We’re saying look at Ericsson, look at Nokia, look at Samsung.  But what – our concern is not so much trying to take trade away from China, but to say make China deal with you on your terms, deal with you on 21st century transparent, open, honest terms and not this obscure way that they seem to be insisting on doing.  So that’s been our pitch throughout the region.  I think a lot of countries have woken up to it and are starting to take precautions and share with each other best practices to be sure that Chinese trade and investment is done in a way that benefits the countries in the region and not just China and maybe a few officials who get a little benefit from them.

MODERATOR:  I want to thank you, Ambassador Kozak, for coming here today, and that concludes our on-the-record briefing.

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U.S. Department of State

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