Remarks by Vice President Pence on Venezuela and Colombia

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Office of the Vice President
August 13, 2017

Remarks by Vice President Pence on Venezuela and Colombia

Casa de Huespedes Ilustres
Cartagena, Colombia
6:26 P.M. Local ET

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: President Santos, thank you for the warm welcome you and Maria Clemencia have shown to me and my wife, Karen.

It was an honor, along with President Donald Trump, to welcome you to the White House during your historic visit in May. And now it is a personal honor for me to be to be the first member of our new administration to visit Colombia.

And on behalf of President Trump, I’m here to deliver a very simple message to you and to the people of this great nation: The United States stands with Colombia. Colombia has no better partner and friend than the United States of America.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first. But as I hope my presence here today demonstrates, America first does not mean America alone.

The United States stands with Colombia because our security and our prosperity are inextricably linked. Our interests are aligned. Our values that you spoke of so eloquently are the same. And the birthright of freedom belongs to both our people.

Colombia won its independence less than a half-century after the United States. And, last week, Colombia celebrated the 198th anniversary of the Battle of Boyacá, when your forbearers cast off the shackles of foreign oppression.

The United States was proud to be the first democracy to recognize your independence. Colombia signed its first treaty of commerce with the United States, back in 1824. And over the generations, our citizens have stood shoulder-to-shoulder to protect our most precious values of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

The United States has stood with Colombia through times of great challenge, and we continue to stand with you today, in this time of hope and opportunity for the Colombian people.

Mr. President, under your leadership, Colombia has signed an agreement that ended the longest-running conflict in the history of the Western Hemisphere. But now, Colombia faces the greater challenge of consolidating that peace. The greatest risk, as we discussed, to that peace is practical and real: the absence of infrastructure, basic services, the rule of law in war-affected areas that’s creating a haven for criminal activities, drugs and violence.

Mr. President, know that the United States will continue — continue to partner with Colombia to address these issues, because we’ve long recognized the importance of Colombian security and prosperity to our own.

This year, on trade, marks the 6th year of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. It’s an agreement that has created jobs and opportunities in both our nations. Colombia is the United States’ third-largest trading partner in Latin America, with a two-way goods trade of nearly $27 billion in 2016 alone.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the United States has reached an agreement to allow Colombian Haas avocados into the U.S. market. I want to congratulate you, President Santos, and your government. I also want to thank you for expanding access for U.S. rough rice in Colombia.

We welcome this progress, and we’re confident that our nations’ leaders can continue with further progress in the days ahead.

To that end, as I told you today, the United States supports Colombia’s aspirations to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. As a concrete demonstration of this support, I’m pleased to announce today that the United States will provide Colombia up to $2 million in technical assistance to achieve that objective.

In spite of all this progress, our greatest concern, as President Trump discussed with you at the White House — and we discussed again today — is the dramatic increase in cocaine production, which has now reached an all-time high in Colombia. This worsening crisis requires swift action to protect the people of both our countries.

The drug trade is a wellspring of violence, crime, and corruption, victimizing the Colombian people. And in the United States, illegal drugs coming from Colombia have poisoned our children, torn apart our families, and devastated too many communities. Mr. President, this must end — and this must end soon.

I can assure you, under President Donald Trump, the United States will continue to take decisive action to address our nation’s demand for illegal drugs, with border security, internal enforcement, and a renewed effort to remove dangerous criminals, gang members, and drug dealers from the streets of our country.

Last week, I stood with President Trump as he declared a national health emergency to combat the scourge of opioid abuse and addiction all across our nation.

And to protect the people of the United States, we will also continue to work directly with Colombia to combat drug production and transnational criminal syndicates. And, Mr. President, we will support efforts to strengthen the Colombian judicial system to deal with traffickers more effectively.

Under your leadership, Mr. President, Colombia represents the future of Latin America. It is a future of freedom, security, and prosperity. And America stands with you.

As we look toward that future, Colombia stands not only with the United States, but with free nations and peoples all across our hemisphere. The last three decades have seen the flowering of freedom and democracy from the tip of South America to the top of Central America.

And while Colombia and other countries across the region have achieved such rapid progress toward freedom, as the world watches we see your neighbor to the east has gone in the exact opposite direction.

In Venezuela, we’re seeing the tragedy of tyranny play out before our eyes. As President Trump has said, in his words, “The [Venezuelan] people are suffering and they are dying.” They’re experiencing grinding poverty. Families cannot find the food and medicine they need to survive. Innocent children are perishing every day from hunger.

Today, the once-free people of Venezuela are being forced to endure this fate by the brutality of the Maduro regime. No free people has ever chosen to walk the path from prosperity to poverty. No free people has ever chosen to turn what was once, and should still be, one of South America’s richest nations into its poorest and most corrupt.

The Maduro regime has ignored and undermined its National Assembly. It’s stifled the voices of a free press and the masses alike, and imprisoned countless political opponents. And more than 130 brave Venezuelans have already died in the desperate fight for democracy.

The United States, Colombia, and free nations of Latin America will not be silent. Venezuela is sliding into dictatorship, and as President Donald Trump has said, “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.” We will continue to stand with free nations across our hemisphere until democracy is restored for the Venezuelan people.

Let me take this moment to thank you, President Santos, for Colombia’s regional leadership in this cause. Colombia has publicly denounced the Maduro regime and increased financial surveillance of its ill-gotten assets.

Last week, 12 nations, including Colombia, jointly issued the Lima Declaration — a strong statement of the region’s opposition to the Maduro regime’s abuse of power and abuse of the Venezuelan people.

At President Trump’s direction, the United States of America has issued three rounds of targeted sanctions, including new sanctions just last week, against Maduro and his inner circle. And you can be assured, Mr. President, we will continue to take action until the Maduro regime restores democracy, holds free and fair elections, releases all political prisoners, and ends the repression of the Venezuelan people.

As President Trump said just a few days ago, “We have many options for Venezuela.” But the President also remains confident that, working with all of our allies across Latin America, we can achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing the Venezuelan people.

Working with free nations across this hemisphere, the United States will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power until democracy is restored in Venezuela.

We do this because it’s right. The Venezuelan people deserve freedom. We do this because, as President Trump has said, in his words, a “stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of the entire hemisphere.” Failed states know no borders. A failed state in Venezuela will drive more illegal drug trafficking, with its murderous criminal consequences, radiating outward. A failed state in Venezuela will drive more illegal migration, compromising our borders, damaging our economies. And ultimately, a failed state in Venezuela will endanger the wellbeing of all who call this hemisphere home.

And know this, Mr. President: What we do for Venezuela, we will do together. We all live in the same neighborhood. We succeed when our neighbors succeed. We suffer when our neighbors suffer. And so we will continue to act, together, to support the people of Venezuela in their struggle for freedom.

And we call on our neighbors and your neighbors in Latin America to do more. And I promise you, the United States will not rest, we will not relent until Venezuela is restored to a full and prosperous democracy.

The Venezuelan people will be free once more, for here in the New World, freedom always wins. And as Simón Bolívar said, “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.”

The United States is grateful for our partnership and our friendship with Colombia. And, Mr. President, you can be assured that we will continue to work hand-in-hand with Colombia, in security, in prosperity, and in defense of the timeless values that gave birth to our nations and that have brought us closer together ever since.

We share a past and we share a future — and we will meet that future together.

Thank you, President Santos, again for your hospitality. It’s my great honor to be here.

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