Remarks to the Press
Secretary of State
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s going to be a great trip, something we’ve been working on for quite a while. It came together six, eight weeks ago. The administration has spent a lot of time on South America. The Vice President has been down there a number of times. The President has been down there. I’ve been down there a handful of times as well. It’s a historic opportunity when you have all but a handful of countries that are truly market-driven, democratic in ways that you haven’t had in South America for decades, and we think it creates real opportunity. We’ve seen it (inaudible). They’re out in front of us on Venezuela. They’re truly leading in the OAS. I don’t know if you saw that yesterday that they credentialed the Venezuelan – Guaido’s guy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. And so we just think there’s tremendous opportunity for the United States to have real long-term partners, to help build them (inaudible) our markets and deliver really good outcomes for the American people. (Inaudible) part of the trip that are specific to each country that we’ll be addressing for sure, but broadly, that’s what we’re working on.
QUESTION: Can you say a little bit – like, if you had to quantify this administration’s Latin American, South American policy, like, there’s definitely been more of a focus, like, in this administration, but is there something driving that? Is it confluence of events in Venezuela? Like what --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So I think that – no, I wouldn’t say Venezuela, but it’s certainly the evolution that’s taken place there, right? Big changes in Brazil, big changes in Peru, big changes in Chile, although it’s made progress for quite some time. You now have nations that are prepared to engage in the international community, who are working diligently to make sure they have access to American markets. And so our effort is designed to create this really solid (inaudible) across the Western Hemisphere. So the trade deal with Mexico and Canada, so not just South America, but all the Western Hemisphere, is to build out with these democracies, friendly nations where we can create economic --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there a reason that Mexico’s not on the trip? Like you said, the countries we’re visiting were strong partners (inaudible).
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mexico – I deal with the Mexicans every day.
QUESTION: I just raise it because they weren’t helpful in that vote to recognize Guaido’s representative, and that seems like an area where we might want to seek help from them.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I talk to Foreign Minister Ebrard with great frequency about a wide – not just about issues related to the border but a wide range of issues. They are not as prepared to engage in Venezuela the way some of these other countries are. We’ve talked to them about it. We’ve urged them to take a more active role. And I actually think – I think over time they will. That’s not the reason, we just – so many hours.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is there a concern that as the stalemate drags on, as the humanitarian situation gets worse, the U.S. could be seen as issuing sanctions that hurt the economy and exacerbate and become part of the humanitarian situation in Venezuela?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t think so. I give the Venezuelan people more credit for that, more – having more savvy and intellect. This is a problem that is seven years on. We all may not have noticed, but the Venezuelan people did. They know that the difficult economic environment, the absence of political freedoms, the absence, frankly, of security in a way that they – they get it. They see Cubans around. This is not – American sanctions didn’t drive the Cuban regime to inflict so much harm on them. I don’t think that will happen in Venezuela. I think they understand who the malign actor is here, and I think they’ll see all the countries in the region, including the United States, as truly trying to help them.
QUESTION: Are you – I imagine you’ll talk about Northern Triangle countries on this trip with leaders.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I will.
QUESTION: Do you find it hard to explain the aid decision to them? Can you talk a little bit about that’s being perceived in this region? And then if you could explain to me – because I’ve asked so many times – how exactly – has the aid officially stopped? Has --
SECRETARY POMPEO: It has.
QUESTION: It has?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It has. It is officially stopped.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay.
SECRETARY POMPEO: There are a handful of things that are pre-existing – pre-existing contracts, things that have to wind down.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And they’re (inaudible) to undo.
QUESTION: Okay. Is this like millennium (inaudible) things, or is that not – so is that a different account?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So what you’ll see is – here’s the best way (inaudible). There’s no additional American resources going to these – there’s no more cash that is being expended by the American taxpayers (inaudible). Ongoing things that were out there, commitments that have been previously made, we’re looking at each one of them and trying to make a good decision.
But (inaudible) look, remember the objective. We’ve been asking them for almost the entire term of President Trump to engage in a set of processes that will cause their people not to make this dangerous trip. They haven’t been able to achieve that. I had senators ask me yesterday, “But you have to spend money to stop them.” Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars over decades, and here we are. So the senators would get out there and say, “Yes, it’s really bad, they’re not doing this and it’s really bad. We need to give them money.” And they would – they’d make the case. It’s really bad. And so --
QUESTION: Does that augment in the region? Like, when you – like have you gotten any pushback?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, they get it too. Every country (inaudible) in the same way that Colombians are being burdened by the refugees from Venezuela. We go to Peru, we now have the same issue. I think it’s now – I don’t have the number now exactly – somewhere on the order of a million five by the end of this year. Everyone – every country understands that nations have to protect their borders and establish sovereignty. I haven’t heard any pushback from those countries about our efforts to do that.
QUESTION: Chile’s foreign minister has suggested recently that if the stalemate drags on, you might have to look at different diplomatic solutions – engaging with the Europeans, maybe a new tactic, new track with Maduro, which the U.S. has ruled out talking to Maduro. Do you worry that this could break up in terms of not everyone having the same strategy when it comes to dealing with Maduro?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No.
QUESTION: You think it’s going to remain strong?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve spoken to Foreign Minister Ampuero (inaudible) again today. We’re all – what everybody’s looking for the thing that will ultimately deliver democracy for the Venezuelan people. I am, so is he. We’re trying to find the right path forward. No one thinks that having a conversation about Maduro participating in an election makes any sense at all. None of the South American leaders I’ve spoken to thinks that makes any sense at all, and I don’t think they’ll change. There is a deep recognition that this is a years and years long problem, almost exclusively the result of Maduro handing over the keys to the country to Cuba, and that’s not the guy who you want being part of the conversation about how to move democracy forward.
QUESTION: Any thoughts on Julian Assange, the charges against him?
QUESTION: You have – I know you’ve been following this character for a long time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t have anything to say. There’s a legal proceeding now.