QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: One year after imposing sanctions on the Maduro regime and the Cuban Government, they haven’t changed course. So can you say why do you believe U.S. policy towards Cuba and Venezuela is working, and if the administration is actually testing a plan B?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’re determined. We’re determined to support the Venezuelan people in their cry for democracy. Maduro has destroyed the lives of so many Venezuelans. Now some 6 million people by the end of this year will have fled. That’s almost 20 percent of the Venezuelan population, so our mission has been to build out a global coalition. We’ve done that.
There’s now more than four dozen countries that recognize Juan Guaido as the duly elected leader. I had a chance to see him just a couple days ago. He’s strong. He’s building out his support throughout the country. Maduro’s still there. He’s being supported by the Cuban security forces, being supported by Russia. We’re doing our best to deny the Venezuelan regime the resources and capabilities to continue to impose tyranny on the Venezuelan people and trying to support the Venezuelan democracy movement along with all of our allies in the region, the Organization of American States, the Lima Group, European countries, all of whom want a better life for the Venezuelan people.
All we’re asking is for a free and fair election. We’re confident when the Venezuelan people get that, we can begin to rebuild this once great democracy and their economy.
QUESTION: Russia supported Maduro’s latest attempt to seize the control of the National Assembly. Is the U.S. ready to impose sanctions on Russia?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I never get out in front of decisions on sanctions, but we’re looking closely. We’re looking closely at every element, resources. How is the Maduro regime still getting money? We know that much of its behavior is cartel-like, is terror-like. It’s like the old days, where he’s now running something that looks more like a drug cartel than a real government.
We’re confident that the people of Venezuela will never again support Maduro and his thugs from being their leaders. He may still have control of the military today, but we know what the Venezuelan people ultimately want. We’re determined to do all that we can to assist them in achieving that end.
QUESTION: He has said that he want negotiations with the U.S., but has he given any signal that he wants to negotiate his exit? And is the U.S. still willing to offer guarantees that he’s not going to be prosecuted if he leaves?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve seen no indication, in spite of many conversations – the Norwegians led a conversation; other people from around the world have had a lot of conversations with those around Maduro. We’ve seen no indication that he’s prepared to permit there to be free and fair elections in Venezuela. That’s the standard that we demand. We’re going to continue to work to achieve that. We don’t know – just like we didn’t know the precise date that the Soviet Union would fall, we don’t know precisely when the Maduro regime will leave, but we know that day is coming.
QUESTION: We heard that Interim President Juan Guaido is planning to come to the U.S. How likely is a meeting between President Trump and Mr. Guaido?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll have to see. I was able to meet with him in Bogota. It was great. He’s now traveling to Europe. I think he’s still there. He was meeting with European leaders while he was traveling to Brussels and then I think onto Davos and then through Spain and then back home. I think Juan Guaido wants to spend a lot of time with the Venezuelan people. Those are the people who elected him. Those are the people who have made him the duly elected leader of that country. And those are the people that he has taken an enormous personal risk to serve.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering further sanctions against the Cuban Government? And if so, how can you assure that those measures won’t hurt Cuban families already affected by some restrictions on visa and air traveling?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so it’s a great question. It’s always something that we consider very carefully. We love the Cuban people. We wish them enormous success. Indeed, we expend a lot of energy and time to try and help them have that success. At the same time, the policies of the previous administration were putting lots of money in the pockets of the regime. The very leaders, the very dictators, the very communists that have repressed the Cuban people for so many decades now were being bolstered and supported by some of the commercial activity that’s taking place.
So our mission set has been to do our best not to harm the Cuban people – indeed, just the opposite of that: to create space where there’ll be an opportunity for democracy and freedom and the economy inside of Cuba to flourish while not lining the pockets of the corrupt leadership there.
QUESTION: One question on Guaido – when he returns to Venezuela, if, for example, Maduro arrests, would that be a redline for the U.S.?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the Maduro regime understands very clearly that arresting Juan Guaido or other senior leaders of the National Assembly is something that we would – we, not just the United States, we, the leaders all across the world who have supported Venezuelan democracy – would view as a very serious attack on the freedom and the rights of the Venezuelan people.
QUESTION: One last question. Haiti’s president is ruling by decree and he’s speaking now about reforming the constitution rather than holding elections. What’s the U.S. position on this? And what would you say to critics who say the U.S. is helping – keeping him in power, despite the charges of corruption he’s facing in his country?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There were elections in Venezuela on the 5th of January where the National Assembly came together and once again selected Juan Guaido to be their leader and —
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I was talking about Haiti.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, I’m sorry. I misunderstood your question. Can you ask it again?
QUESTION: Sure. Yeah. I think – well, Haiti’s president is ruling by decree right now and he’s speaking about reforming the constitution rather than holding elections. So I would like to know what’s the U.S. position on that.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. We’re very concerned about that. I met yesterday while I was in Kingston, Jamaica with the Haitian foreign minister. We urged them to set a timetable, set a firm date for those elections. That is the most important thing. We think the Haitian Government has the capacity and the capability and the lawful right to do that. We need to have the elections. That is important. Once those elections will be held, there’ll be a duly elected government. We won’t have to be concerned about ruling by decree.
QUESTION: Do we have question for one more time or we’re good?
STAFF: We have about 30 seconds.
QUESTION: Okay. Just quick. Do you get any reassurances for European governments that they’re going to do more regarding Venezuela?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. I’m confident that European governments share the same concern that American citizens all across Florida and the United States have about what’s taking place in Venezuela. We work closely with them on this matter. They, too, understand that time is short to get Maduro to leave.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.