New York Foreign Press Center Briefing on the “Overview of U.S. Engagements at UNGA on Western Hemisphere”
Our briefing will be on the record, and we have today Julie Chung, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. She’ll be speaking about the readout from the UN General Assembly as it pertains to the Western Hemisphere. Thank you.
Good morning. Thank you for being here today. As you can see from our extensive engagements this week with our regional partners in the Western Hemisphere, the hemisphere is a priority for this administration. The United States is a steady and enduring partner for the countries of the entire hemisphere. Working with our neighbors to promote democracy, prosperity, and security. Our activities here, at the high-level week, have shown how we are confronting the challenge and threat posed by the former regime of Nicholas Maduro, and I’ll say that we raised Venezuela at almost every single meeting we’ve had throughout the week. We have also exposed the Cuban government for its exploitation of medical professionals, highlighted how we are working together with our Caribbean neighbors to make our third border more secure, more wealthy, and more resilient in the face of natural disasters, and how we are investing in our partners throughout the Americas based on free-market principles and transparency to the benefit of American workers and business. The president, President Trump, made it clear during his remarks at the General Assembly when he said, “For all of the countries in the Western Hemisphere, “our goal is to help the people invest “in the bright futures of their own nation. “Our region is full of such incredible promise: “dreams waiting to be built and national destinies for all. “And they are waiting to be pursued.” Now let me go into a few more details of our engagements this week. Earlier in the week, President Trump met with Western Hemisphere leaders to discuss the urgent need for Democratic transition in Venezuela. At that meeting, Secretary Pompeo announced nearly $119 million in additional assistance to Venezuela and neighboring countries as they respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. I joined the Deputy Secretary, Deputy Secretary Sullivan, as he led our delegation to a ministerial level meeting of the Rio Treaty, DR, officially the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a demonstration of the depth of collective concern over the Venezuelan crisis, which is an urgent one. We discussed how to increase the pressure on the Maduro regime and to promote a peaceful and secure Venezuela and region. I also met, on the margins of these meetings, with Foreign Minister Jorge Bolet and Ambassador Carlos Vecchio, from the Guaido Administration. And on Tuesday, Administrator Mark Green announced $52 million in development assistance in support of Interim President Guaido, the National Assembly, and the Venezuelan people, as they seek to restore citizen-responsive democratic governance to their country. This, and the $119 million in humanitarian assistance announced this week, brings a collective USG assistance response to $568 million for the Venezuelan crisis and the regional response. Just yesterday, we heard firsthand harmful accounts from two Cuban medical professionals who told of the abuses they experienced as participants in Cuba’s overseas medical missions programs. We have documented indicators of human trafficking in Cuba’s overseas medical missions each year since the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, including, most recently, our 2019 report. Each year, Cuba sends between 34,000 to 50,000 health care workers to more than 60 countries. Some former participants allege experiencing abuses including coercion, nonpayment of wages, withholding of passports, and restrictions on their movement. The department remains deeply concerned about these allegations that Cuban officials threatened and coerced some participants to remain in the overseas medical program. And on Wednesday, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Hale and I held a high-level meeting with Caribbean foreign ministers where we announced a new $25 million loan guarantee under the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative to support private sector investment in non-oil energy products. This engagement underscored our commitment to enhancing cooperation with our Caribbean neighbors under the U.S.-Caribbean 2020 Strategy, including promoting prosperity, security, health, education, and energy throughout the region. It was a wonderful followup from our previous meeting in Miami, in April, of the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership. And yesterday, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and I met with Haitian foreign minister Edmond, and discussed the need for Haiti’s executive and legislative branches to identify a path forward to form a government that remains firmly rooted in democracy and respecting the rule of law. Haiti’s leaders need to establish conditions that will attract investment and achieve sustained economic growth. Our economic engagement with the Americas cannot be overstated. The United States is a top trading partner for over two-thirds of the hemisphere’s countries and the source of over $1 trillion of investment in the region. As President Trump said in his remarks to the UN General Assembly, “For all the countries of the Western Hemisphere, “our goal is to help people invest in the bright futures,” as we have reiterated earlier. Not only that, we also spoke in various meetings throughout the week about the importance of transparency, good governance, investment screening, rule of law, and making sure those are done with trusted partners. For example, Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment and I met with Ecuador’s Minister of Trade, taking advantage of renewed relationships to discuss trade, foreign investment, and cyber security. Later today we will be meeting with Panama’s foreign minister as well. So in addition to these various priorities and discussions that we’ve had throughout the week with partners in the region, we’ve also talked with many of our like-minded partners on issues like Venezuela and other shared concerns and issues. Partners like the Japanese, the Republic of Korea, EU, the Holy See. Again, many of our challenges that we’re facing in the hemisphere is not those relegated to just the region. It is a global responsibility. And we must seek global and international community responses to them. These issues are just a few among those that we raised. Thank you for being here today, and I’ll be happy to take any questions.
[Moderator] For your questions and then when you start, I’ll pass you the microphone and you can say your name and outlet. So I’ll just start here and then I’ll come to you.
[Journalist 1] Hi, good morning. Thank you for being here. Maduro is trying to change the correlation of the parties within Venezuela. If they arrest or are still intimidating the opposition people, even if they try to make an election in December to try to rid of Juan Guaido, what will United States can do for this?
Well, we’ve been very clear. Our consistent message is we are calling for a transition to democracy and free and fair elections. And that means Maduro has to go. So in terms of our relationship with the former Maduro regime, we call on them to stop the abuse. Stop the extrajudicial killings. Stop the tensions and torture. And those have all been recently outlined very carefully in the Bachelet report. And I think anyone reading that report with an objective eye can see with over 7,000 extrajudicial killings just in the past year, how can we turn a blind eye? And so, it goes beyond elections. It goes to the depth and core of our humanity and the fact that over 4.5 million people have left Venezuela and 90% still live in poverty, this is beyond just politics. It’s about getting rid of a dictator who has completely terrorized his nation.
[Journalist 2] Thank you. Carla Angola from EVTV Miami. Thank you for this opportunity. Secretary, Diosdado Cabello is in North Korea right now. Maduro is in Russia. Tareck El Aissami is fleeing the U.S. justice system, and Maduro’s vice president comes to New York. And all the heads of the regime are out of Venezuela right now. Venezuelans wonder how come being that they are closely associated with organized crime and no one goes after them? Especially after Tareck El Aissami.
Well, the United States have brought upon a series of sanctions on individuals and entities throughout the past year, throughout the past many months. Just this week, I think we also designated four companies related to the oil sector in the Venezuelan country. And so there are ongoing pressure points, I think, ongoing sanctions that we’re discussing. And it’s no surprise to us that the numbers of friends the Maduro regime has is dwindling. They are desperate to go to the DPRK and Russia and Cuba. And those countries are not helping in the case of democracy of Venezuela. So we call on all countries, including those countries, especially Cuba, Russia, and North Korea, as well as China, to step up and respond to the calls for democracy from the Venezuelan people. And we will do everything in our power, we will continue the economic sanctions, and other means to also put pressure on the regime. And I would say earlier this week we met with the DR, the Rio Treaty, as I mentioned previously, that was a moment of collective action and a collective message to the Maduro regime. Enough is enough. And this Rio Treaty has not convened since 9/11. And the fact that we have waited so long for this historic time, for this historic collective action, and I think as a group, as members of this treaty that we will be looking forward to more measures of economic sanctions and more pressure.
[Journalist 3] Hi, good morning. I’m LucÃa Leal with Efe. I wanted to ask about the Cuba medical missions event you had yesterday and you denounced human trafficking in that program. I was wondering, is the U.S. considering in any way restoring the parole program that was finished a couple years ago and that allowed the Cuban doctors to seek asylum in the U.S.?
I think on that question we have to refer to the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t have an answer for you on that right now.
[Journalist 4] You worked as the Deputy political counselor in Bogota, where you managed the U.S. government’s largest extradition program, including paramilitary and narco trafficking case. I would like to know your opinion about Maduro protecting criminals. There is something that U.S. can do and what you, and especially you can recommend. There is any possibility that they can be arrested inside Venezuela? – Well, I think it’s been very clear that the Maduro regime has been supportive of and harboring terrorist elements of ELN and FARC. And that’s been very clear and documented. In addition to that, his narco trafficking connections are very strong and very well documented as well and we’re very concerned about not only the narco trafficking, but the harboring of ELN FARC terrorists. This is unjust, this is something the international community should call for, again, collectively, to call upon to stop this continued actions. And as for the Rio Treaty, we talked about this during our Rio Treaty meeting this week. How Maduro’s acts as harboring terrorists and supporting narco trafficking network is harmful to the region, to the Venezuelan people, and to regional security instability. So as I said before, we are doing everything possible with additional sanctions of individuals, of entities, and we will be also coordinating very closely with countries in the region for any next steps.
[Moderator] We have time for one more question.
[Journalist 5] Thank you very much. In fact I will abuse and I will do two. But shorts. One is Special Advisor [mumbles] said that Russia has been meeting with Guaido, but what can be negotiated if given the fall in Venezuela and oil production the Russians have kept the market. What can be negotiated with the Russians if keeping the crisis going works on their behalf? This is one, and the other is that this next Monday there are some military exercises for humanitarian aide and disaster relief between the U.S. and Columbian forces. Could you explain how they work? Where they will take place and if they have any plans to be deployed in Venezuela. Thank you very much.
Thank you. On your first question of Russia, I refer you to Special Representative Elliot Abrams, because he is the one who spoke about that. And I’m not going to hypothesize about potential negotiations or discussions with the Russian government. What I will say is we have talked to the Russian government repeatedly about their involvement in supporting and abetting the Maduro regime and his actions of torture and repression against the Venezuelan people and the repression of democracy. That is something that is dependent upon the Russians to come up and join the international community in changing this dynamic and answering the call for that transition to democracy. We ask Russia to join us and all the rest of the more than 55 countries who have now recognized Guaido, so that will continue, on that point. On the U.S.-Columbian exercises I believe you’re referring to something that’s happening regularly, I think this is periodic, that we do regarding humanitarian exercises and I don’t have further information on that, but I refer you our embassy in Bogota.
[Journalist 5] Thank you very much.
[Moderator] We had one more question from EFE. And then that will really be the last question.
[Journalist 3] Thank you so much. I wanted to ask about the agreements that were signed this week. One was signed this week with the government of Honduras, and others have been signed with the countries of Central America, on asylum. And I was just wondering, from the perspective of the State Department, isn’t the U.S. worried about sending these migrants to some of the most dangerous countries in the world?
Well, the president has been very clear on addressing the issues of illegal migration together in partnership with the countries of the Northern Triangle and Mexico. And we’ve taken several steps, we’ve signed several agreements. Those issues did not come up on the margins of the UN General Assembly, so I can’t address them, and I refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for further details.
[Moderator] Thank you. This concludes today’s briefing. The transcript will be posted when it’s available.