Yet more than any other nation in our hemisphere, in Venezuela, the tragedy of tyranny is on full display. And the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of one man: Nicolás Maduro.
Maduro promised his people he would restore prosperity, but delivered only deeper poverty. He promised them safety and security, but Venezuela is now riven with chaos and rampant crime. Maduro promised the people of Venezuela renewed greatness, but he has only brought that nation suffering.
As this body knows well, Venezuela was once one of our hemisphere’s richest nations. It is now astoundingly one of the poorest. At this very moment, nearly 9 out of 10 Venezuelans live in crushing poverty. Opportunity has evaporated, with an economy that’s already shrunk by half, and is still growing smaller with every passing day.
Venezuela’s grocery stores are all but empty, with food and daily necessities nearly impossible to find. Hospitals lack the most basic medical supplies. And in the last year alone, the infant mortality rate in Venezuela jumped 30 percent, and maternal mortality rates skyrocketed by 66 percent.
And every day, some 5,000 Venezuelans flee from their homeland. It’s the largest cross-border mass exodus in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet some of the families impacted by this exodus and swept up in it.
Last summer, in Cartagena, Colombia, a Venezuelan grandmother told my wife and I about how Venezuelan children would have to rise at four in the morning in her village to get a ticket that they could exchange late in the afternoon for a single piece of bread. She had rescued her grandchildren only the week before we had met. But most haven’t been so fortunate.
In the last month, in Lima, I met four courageous leaders of the Venezuelan opposition — two of whom I’m told are actually here today — Julio Borges, Carlos Vecchio, David Smolansky, and Antonio Ledezma. These four men are great defenders of democracy in their homeland, and they have our respect. (Applause.)
Having taken a stand for freedom in their homeland, they were forced to flee the regime’s wrath, but they described to me — they described to me, in painstaking detail, how Maduro has systematically corrupted the upcoming election and how he’s replaced that nation’s once-great democracy with dictatorship.
The truth is, the Venezuelan people would choose a better path if they could. But under Nicolás Maduro, they will never have that chance.
The so-called elections in Venezuela, scheduled for May the 20th, will be nothing more than a fraud and a sham. The Maduro regime has already stacked the Venezuelan courts and Electoral Council with its cronies. It’s banned major parties. It’s barred opposition leaders from standing for office, and stifled a free press, and jailed its political enemies, including more than 12,000 politically motivated detentions.
On Election Day itself, the Maduro regime has already given every indication that it will resort to its standard authoritarian playbook: manipulate voting data, change polling places at the last possible minute, and engage in widespread intimidation, and even violence.
In short, there will be no real election in Venezuela on May 20th, and the world knows it. It will be a fake election, with a fake outcome. Maduro and his acolytes have already ensured that their reign of corruption, crime, narco-trafficking, and terror will continue.
And that’s why today we call on Maduro and regime: Suspend this sham election. Hold real elections. Give the people of Venezuela real choices because the Venezuelan people deserve to live in democracy once again. (Applause.)
With every day, Venezuela becomes even more of a failed state. And we do well to remember, failed states know no borders.
Venezuela’s collapse is already affecting economies across the region. It’s spreading infectious diseases that were once eradicated in our hemisphere. It’s giving drug traffickers and transnational criminal organizations new opportunities to endanger our people. And as Venezuela continues to collapse, the consequences will radiate across the wider hemisphere, affecting all of our countries.
President Trump has made it clear: The United States will not idly stand by as Venezuela crumbles. (Applause.) We have already imposed strict financial sanctions on more than 50 current and former senior Venezuelan officials, and we cut off the so-called “Petro” from the United States’ financial system.
And today, I am pleased to announce that the United States is designating three Venezuelans with direct ties to the Maduro regime as narcotics “kingpins.” We have frozen their assets, blocked their access to our nation, so they can no longer poison our people with their deadly drugs. (Applause.)
We’ve also been demonstrating the heart of the American people. The United States is also providing $2.5 million to help meet the needs of vulnerable Venezuelans now living in Colombia. And last month, in Lima, it was my privilege to announce that our nation will devote nearly $16 million across the wider region to support Venezuelans who have fled the tyranny of their homeland.
To be clear, the United States, along with so many of you, stands ready to do more –- much more -– to directly support the Venezuelan people. But once again, as in the case of democracy, when it comes to humanitarian aid to the suffering people of Venezuela, one man stands in the way.
For months, Nicolás Maduro has refused to allow humanitarian assistance into Venezuela. He actually claims that there’s no humanitarian crisis, even as his country collapses into poverty all around him.
So today, we say to Nicolás Maduro and his entire regime: The time has come to open Venezuela to international aid, and do it now. (Applause.) Every day you don’t — every day your don’t is another day innocent people starve and die –- men, women, and children — and millions flee your country for a better life.
Allow me to take a moment to thank the many nations here that have already taken action to shelter and assist the Venezuelan people. Let me also thank all those who have stepped up to rebuke and isolate the dictator Maduro and all the members of his regime.
Over the past year, many of your nations have already taken a variety of praiseworthy steps to send a message to Maduro. Last month, at the Summit of the Americas, we were pleased to see 15 nations join with the United States to declare that Venezuela’s upcoming elections lack credibility and legitimacy, and to demand that Maduro hold a real election that is free, fair, and transparent. This declaration in Lima, Peru was in keeping with the best traditions of this hemisphere of freedom, and I commend every nation that signed on.
And on the world stage, just last week, the International Monetary Fund censured Venezuela for its repeated failure to meet treaty obligations and its lack of economic transparency. This is one more sign of a growing international consensus that the Maduro regime must be held accountable, and we’ll continue to bring more pressure in the future.
But all these steps are not enough. We believe it is time to do more –- much more. Every free nation gathered here must take stronger action to stand with the Venezuelan people and stand up to their oppressors.
Today, on behalf of President Trump and the people of the United States, I call on all of our freedom-loving neighbors in this hemisphere to take three concrete actions:
The time has come first and foremost to cut off Venezuela’s corrupt leaders from laundering money through your financial systems.
Secondly, the time has come to enact visa restrictions that prevent Venezuela’s leaders from entering your nations.
And finally, we call on all freedom-loving nations across our hemisphere to hold Maduro accountable for destroying Venezuela’s democracy.
This leadership, exemplified by the Secretary General and by so many of the leaders gathered here is essential to achieving the objective of restoring democracy for the good people of Venezuela, and we encourage you, with great respect, to consider these actions and to do them quickly.
We’ve all signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which declares, and I quote, “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy… and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend [democracy].”
Venezuela has repudiated this promise, men and women. And the proof is playing out before our very eyes. So today, on behalf of the United States of America, we call on the members of this institution to uphold our long-standing commitment to democracy and freedom. We call on members of the OAS to suspend Venezuela from the Organization of American States. (Applause.) This is an institution dedicated to democracy.
We must do this because, as President Trump has said, a “stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of our entire hemisphere.” But most importantly, we must do this just because it’s right. The people of Venezuela deserve democracy. They deserve this institution — all of their neighbors to live up to our word — a word we gave one another some 70 years ago. The people of Venezuela deserve to regain their libertad.
And as I close, let me thank you all for the honor of addressing you. And also to close with confidence because I believe the day will come, as Simón Bolívar declared, the day will come when “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.” Venezuela will be a free and democratic nation once again. (Applause.)