THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Washington Foreign Press Center telephonic briefing, and thank you for your flexibility on the format for this briefing. Today, we’re pleased to welcome on the call the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cuba and Venezuela Carrie Filipetti, who will brief us on U.S. and international support for Interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaido and the legitimately elected National Assembly. She will discuss Secretary Pompeo’s recent trip to Germany, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Florida, and as well as Colombia, where the Secretary met with Venezuela’s Interim President Juan Guaido, and she will speak on the Secretary’s call for increased international support of the people of Venezuela during this political and humanitarian crisis. Ms. Filipetti will speak, and then after she’s done with her remarks we’ll take question and answer at that time.
And with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Secretary Filipetti. Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: Thank you very much, Jean, and I’m sorry to not see everybody’s faces in person today, but I’m really grateful for the opportunity to brief. As Jean mentioned, this was a really critical week for Venezuela and a really important week for Secretary Pompeo, who recently traveled to Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Florida. And really, the purpose of the trip was to highlight the U.S. commitment to supporting the people of Venezuela in their struggle to restore democracy and prosperity to the country as well as to talk broadly about the importance of promoting freedom and democracy within our hemisphere. So of course, I know there’s been a lot of developments over even just the last few days and few hours, so I want to leave a lot of time for questions.
I’ll just go through a little bit of what the Secretary experienced during his trip, as it also was the same time as Interim President Guaido was able to defy an over-year-long travel ban to visit some of his key allies, both in the region as well as Europe, to ask for their help in really bringing social and political solutions to Venezuela. We so frequently focus on the need for a political solution, the need for presidential elections, but it’s critical that we’re also focused on the social support, the humanitarian aid that the people of Venezuela so desperately need immediately.
Secretary Pompeo was, as you all know, very happy to meet with Interim President Guaido. He met with him in person for the first time, and he reiterated the same promise that we have been making to the people of Venezuela since a year and a day ago when we recognized Interim President Juan Guaido, which is that we’re doing everything we can to ensure that the Venezuelans get the chance to live their lives with dignity, democracy, and freedom. And of course, these were messages as well that Interim President Guaido noted in his remarks at Davos just yesterday.
It was also the objective of Interim President Guaido as he traveled to Europe to meet with foreign ministers to do what presidents really do, which is seek solutions that their people desperately need. And so it’s a unique moment for us to be talking about this, because a year and a day ago Interim President Guaido became the president of Venezuela.
But it’s not just within a year and a day as the only measurement that we can use for Maduro’s incompetence and corruption. We can also measure it in GDP. We’ve all seen the statistics that it’s contracted over 60 percent since Maduro first came into power. We can measure it in loss of population, with over 4.8 million people, which is, as you know, more than 15 percent of the population, fleeing Venezuela due to the Maduro-caused crisis. And we can measure it in health. Malaria in Venezuela is now the fourth highest rate in the entire world despite it having been eradicated over five decades ago. So – and most of all, we can measure it in lives, whether that’s the thousands of murders committed by FAES, the detention of hundreds of political prisoners, including American citizens like the Citgo 6, or the human trafficking along the border, the human rights violations against indigenous communities in Maduro loyalist mines. There’s a number of different ways to measure this past year and a half under Maduro’s dictatorship.
And so what’s happening in Venezuela because of the former Maduro regime is not only catastrophic for Venezuela but for the entire region, and this, again, is why the Secretary wanted to host conversations with leaders stressing the U.S. commitment to the Venezuelan people and to regional security. And Secretary Pompeo spoke with our partners about how our international cooperation can bring about a peaceful restoration of democracy, stability, and rule of law in Venezuela, and how it’s urgent that we do more for the Venezuelan people who are now living both inside and outside of the country. And so, again, I know that there has been a lot of developments, but thanks to Secretary Pompeo’s engagement and Interim President Guaido’s, we’re continuing to secure support for a Venezuelan transition, which we hope will lead to free and fair presidential elections.
Once again, we really appreciate everybody’s time here, and I’m more than happy to take any questions that you may have about the Secretary’s trip, next steps, and of course, the major international developments that we’ve all been seeing over the last few days.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone, and you will be put in queue. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question at this time, please press 1-0 on your touchtone phone. Our first question will come from the line of Alejandra Arredondo from VOA. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey, hello. This is Alejandra from Voice of America. My question is – well, since one of the messages Secretary Pompeo repeated during his trip was that Maduro has provided a safe haven to Hizballah and ELN, why hasn’t the U.S. included Venezuela on the list of countries as a sponsor of terrorism? Thank you very much for doing this.
MS FILIPETTI: Thanks, Alejandra. Obviously, we’re constantly looking at the Maduro regime’s violations, and it’s safe to say that not only are they providing safe haven to groups like the FARC and the ELN, which the United States recognizes as terrorist groups, we are seeing Iranian presence, we are seeing a Hizballah presence. We continue to evaluate exactly the extent to which this is happening.
I think one major area that we’re focused on is the mining sector, where we’re seeing how the Maduro regime builds a patronage network that includes not only criminal elements, but also terrorist elements in order to secure loyalty from Maduro while simultaneously repressing indigenous communities committing human rights violations and being involved in human trafficking.
So absolutely, we would say that the Maduro regime has close alliances with these terrorist groups, and it’s something that has the attention, as you noted, of our Secretary of State directly.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question, then, will come from the line of David Alandete from ABC Newspaper, Spain. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask about the recent developments in Spain, specifically two things. One is how the prime minister in Spain is not meeting with President Guaido and how the vice president referred to him as leader of the opposition. And second, how minister of the Spanish Government met with the Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in the Madrid airport. So I wanted to know if you see any change in policy from Spain and what is the opinion of the American diplomacy towards these two actions that seem to undermine Guaido from the Madrid point of view. Thank you very much for doing this.
MS FILIPETTI: David, thank you for the question. I mean, as you pointed out, we’ve all seen the reports that the Spanish minister of tourism has met with Delcy Rodriguez. As we also know, Delcy is sanctioned by the European Union, so she is barred from traveling to Europe. It’s very surprising that this would be coming from the Spanish Government.
As you pointed out, historically the Spanish Government has been very forward-leaning on the issue of Venezuela, and so as you can imagine, such actions such as meeting somebody who’s sanctioned undermine not only the joint policies that the United States and the EU have put forward on Venezuela, but would also really undermine the European Union framework which relies on cooperation and implementing these kinds of sanctions.
We have a lot of questions and we are engaged with the Spanish Government to try to get some of those answers, but certainly, this is not a very welcome development.
OPERATOR: All right. Thank you. We have a question from the line of Gabriella Perozo from VPITV. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for this opportunity. I have two questions. There is not much expectation about whether it’s a possibility that President Guaido will visit Washington. Do you know if it’s possible that the President Trump receive him or another senior official to meet with him soon?
And the other question: At least five high authorities in Europe meet with Guaido. Do you think that Europe will finally join to the United States in their strategy about sanctions? Thank you so much.
MS FILIPETTI: Sure. So when it comes to the interim president’s upcoming travel plans, I’m not going to get into that specifically. But obviously, he had a fantastic meeting with our Secretary of State. I think we are all incredibly impressed by his courage, by his loyalty to the Venezuelan people, and by his single-minded commitment to really bringing a solution to all of the people of Venezuela. And so that was very evident in his meeting with the Secretary of State and with the other U.S. and international leaders with whom he met.
In terms of your second question, I absolutely think there’s a growing consensus between the United States and the European Union that we need to be solving this crisis with real urgency. We heard that in High Representative Borrell’s remarks following the January 5th re-election of Interim President Guaido. We’ve seen that in subsequent statements by the European Union that there needs to be more pressure brought to bear against the Maduro regime. And at the same time, you’re seeing how both the United States and the European Union are coalescing around the idea of a political settlement, a negotiation process where there is a transitional government overseeing free and fair presidential elections is the way out of this crisis.
So we’re seeing an increase in unity that was brought on by the complete brutality of the Maduro regime. Maduro has isolated himself because of his actions on January 5th and January 7th, but the people of Venezuela are stronger than his guns, and the international community is uniting in support of them.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We have a question from the line of Beatriz Pascual from EFE. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much. I wanted to follow up a little bit on the questions about Spain. Juan Guaido is meeting today with Emmanuel Macron from France, he has met with Boris Johnson from the United Kingdom, but he’s not meeting with Pedro Sanchez from Spain. What message do you think this is sending? How the U.S. sees the decision of Pedro Sanchez not to meet with Juan Guaido? Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: I think it’s really important that members of the international community continue to see Venezuela not as an issue of right wing versus left wing, but as an issue of right versus wrong. This is what all of the other international players are doing. They recognize that Interim President Guaido does not support or represent a political party; he represents the people of Venezuela and the desire for a peaceful settlement and for freedom and democracy. That’s why he was able to secure meetings with these international leaders and heads of state.
I don’t know the specifics of President Sanchez, but certainly we would be encouraging all heads of state to meet with Interim President Guaido so that they can hear from him exactly what the situation on the ground is like, hear from him how difficult it is to be dealing with all of his deputies and all of the deputies in the National Assembly having their immunities revoked, facing constant violence and repression by the FAES, the DGCIM, the SEBIN. It’s really important that we hear from the Venezuelans, and we would encourage every – all of the leaders in Spain as well as leaders in any country where Interim President Guaido is to take the time to hear from him exactly what’s going on.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We have a question from the line of Alex Aliyev from Turan. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Alex Raufoglu Aliyev of Turan News Agency. Two questions here. How much does the support that Maduro enjoys from international organizations such as Non-Aligned Movement, currently led by Azerbaijan, matter to him? How important do you think is that, and what role do you think those organizations should be playing?
And my second question is about, like, sort of getting your personal sense: Why do you think Maduro has survived so far? Like when you have an economy that is crumbling, people flee the country by millions, and what it seems like a vast majority of the country actually despising him, as you said. So why has he been able to hang on? Thank you.
MS FILIPETTI: Sure. Thanks for those questions, Alex. I’m going to take your second one first. Part of why we think the Maduro regime has continued to survive is because they fundamentally don’t care about the Venezuelan people, they just care about the few individuals that they need to pay off in order to maintain their grip on power. And so they’ve been able to sort of send all of the money, all of the finances that they are able to still receive – connecting to your first question, often from some of those countries that they have – whose international support they have – and in – and empower them.
A perfect example of this is as we’re seeing them lose money from petroleum, thanks largely to U.S. sanctions, we’re seeing them pivot to other industries. One of those industries is gold mining. We are seeing how the Maduro regime is using these illicit networks in order to continue to empower itself, to continue to buy off loyalty, and continue to allow a few corrupt individuals to survive at the expense of many in Venezuela. And so we think that’s a major way that he’s able to continue to survive, is through turning to these illicit networks.
The second major way that he’s able to survive is by the international support that you mentioned. Russia and Cuba are two of the largest and most responsible nations for the Maduro regime’s continued grip on power. In Cuba’s case, they’re continuing to provide intelligence support, military support, surveillance. They’re constantly doing loyalty checks on members of the Venezuelan military to make sure that they continue to be loyal to Maduro. We are seeing a lot of Venezuelan military officers being thrown in prison because they’re failing these checks, and so that’s a second way that they’re able to maintain power.
And then the third way is the way that all dictators maintain power, which is through brutality and fear, and we’re seeing them use that brutality and fear far more than we have historically, even as bad as it has been. So a perfect example of this is the January 5th elections and January 7th, when Interim President Guaido was able to physically break the blockade that the national guard had placed on the National Assembly building. The Maduro regime had tried everything in order to secure its power. They had tried to manipulate elections; that didn’t work. They had tried to buy off members of the National Assembly; that didn’t work because there weren’t enough votes to buy. And so then they had to focus on the one thing that they had left, which was just violence and brutality and physical blockade. The fact that they had to defer to that shows their weakness.
And so while they are able to maintain themselves in the various ways that I’ve mentioned, it’s important to focus on the fact that they really are losing support. They really are desperate. They really are weak. We’re seeing it in the confused messaging from the regime, we’re seeing it in the increase in repression from the regime, and we’re certainly seeing it from the international community, which continues to isolate the regime.
And your question on the Non-Aligned Movement – I think part of that is – was sort of mentioned in my previous answer, but the Non-Aligned Movement is questionably non-aligned at this point. I mean, it’s really a misnomer. The Non-Aligned Movement is a movement which now continues in its support for Iran, in its support for Venezuela under the Maduro regime, in its support for Cuba. We’re starting to see the Non-Aligned Movement really start to align itself with some of the worst actors, the largest human rights violators in the world, and so it’s something we need to keep our eye on. These are countries that wanted to be independent of either the U.S. view or the Soviet view back during the Cold War, and now they are very much aligning themselves with a particular view. They should be focusing on the independence that was so important to them at their – at the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 at this time.
And currently I have no one queuing up.
MODERATOR: Okay, I think that will be it, then. I want to thank Deputy Assistant Secretary Carrie Filipetti for her time today on this very important subject, and thank you to all the journalists for participating.