Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
April 30, 2019
QUESTION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is joining us now from the State Department. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You bet, Wolf. Great to be with you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. Did you know, did the United States Government know this uprising was coming?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to get into precisely what we knew, but we’ve had good information all along as we’ve been working with the Venezuelan people, and Juan Guaido, and the National Assembly to restore democracy inside of Venezuela. We’ve been on that mission for a while, we’re still on that mission. We’ve watched the events unfold today. We’re urging there to be a nonviolent solution. Maduro simply should leave. It’s his time. He has no answers for the Venezuelan people, and the United States is determined to assist the Venezuelan people in restoring democracy and beginning to build back their economy.
QUESTION: Did the United States back this push by Juan Guaido, or give any assurances to Guaido that the U.S. would support him?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, we have made clear assurances, Wolf, all along that we’d support Juan Guaido and the National Assembly. They’re the duly elected leaders of the Venezuelan Government. So yes, we have provided strong assurances to them. I indicated that again this morning, as has the President throughout the day.
QUESTION: We’ve seen the violence on the streets of Caracas and elsewhere. It certainly looks like Maduro is not going to go without a significant fight. So here’s the question: What specifically is the United States prepared to do if Maduro arrests Guaido?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics, but we’ve made very clear we would consider that a major escalation. Wolf, we’ve watched throughout the day, it’s been a long time since anyone has seen Maduro. He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay. We think the situation remains incredibly fluid. We know that there were senior leaders inside the Maduro government that were prepared to leave. They told us as much over the past few weeks, and we’re convinced that the Venezuelan people are going to get their democracy back.
QUESTION: So if you say he was getting ready to head over to the airport and the Russians talked him out of it, are the Russians responsible now for what’s going on?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve made clear all along, Wolf, that Maduro’s surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we’ve told the Russians and we’ve told the Cubans that’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to starve people. It’s unacceptable to allow sick children not to be able to get their medicine. The nations of the region, the Lima Group, the Organization of American States, are all demanding that we get democracy restored and that we get dignity back to this once great nation. It’s a country that has the capacity for great wealth, and the United States is prepared to stand with the Venezuelan people to support the interim government to help a free and fair election take place, and then to build back this country.
QUESTION: Well, you say you’ve spoken to the Russians, you’ve spoken to the Cubans. Clearly, they’re not listening, because their support for Maduro continues. So what are you going to do if that continues down the road and looks like this violence is simply going to escalate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’re continuing to work. One should measure the progress that the Venezuelan people have made. They’re continuing to accrete influence and power, and I’m convinced that will be the case not only today, but in the days ahead as well.
QUESTION: What’s very concerning is the Russians – and correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Secretary – they have missiles on the ground in Venezuela right now. That in effect could restrict U.S. military options if in fact there are any U.S. military options. I ask the question because you and your colleagues keep saying all options are on the table.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Wolf, the President’s made very clear that all options are on the table. That certainly includes a military option. We’re working to make sure that doesn’t need to be the case, that we deliver this outcome for the Venezuelan people in a way that doesn’t put life and limb at risk, and there’s not violence. But I don’t think anyone should be fooled that if the President makes that decision, if he chooses a military option, that the United States military has the capacity to execute that option in a way that will achieve the outcome the President intends.
QUESTION: How violent does it have to get before the U.S. does unleash a military option?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re working to make sure there’s not violence, Wolf. We’re working to make sure that we stop what it is Maduro is doing, relying on Cuban thugs to protect himself from his own people, from the Venezuelan people. I hear people talk about military intervention; well, that’s happened. There’s Cuban military on the ground, and they’re doing so without the consent of the lawful government in Venezuela. They did it at the behest of Maduro but without permission from Juan Guaido and the National Assembly. That’s the incursion, that’s the invasion, and it’s what the Venezuelan people are demanding be overturned.
QUESTION: But there’s a lot of violence going on right now. We’ve been showing these images, horrible images all day of what’s happening on the streets of Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela right now. It looks like it’s continuing, so once again, how much more violent does it have to get before the U.S. intervenes?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Wolf, we’re not going to talk about exactly where our redlines are and where our triggers are for this. We’ve been determined, we remain determined. The nations of the region remain determined. Ten percent – ten percent – of the Venezuelan people have already had to flee their country. The United States stands ready, as we do in many places in the world, to support democracy and freedom and protect the rights of the Venezuelan people. We’re going to continue to do that.
QUESTION: I understand you don’t want to discuss military options. Let’s talk about diplomatic options right now, political options. What are you doing right now to try to stop the violence from escalating?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, first of all, we’re making clear to everyone that we’re watching. We will hold accountable those who turn to violence or inflict violence upon the Venezuelan people. So there will be a day for accountability for all those who engage in this, and we’re encouraging all the parties on the ground to solve – resolve this peacefully. This is a duly elected leader, interim leader, Juan Guaido, and it should be a political process for free and fair elections that should lead to the handover of all of the power inside of Venezuela. It’s what the State Department is determined to achieve.
QUESTION: The average American watching us right now, Mr. Secretary, what does all that mean from the U.S. perspective?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Wolf, it means that we have a nation that has demanded democracy, it’s demanded to have food for starving children and medicine for sick kids. These seem like basic things. I think every American can understand that. And the United States and, frankly, nearly every country in the region is working to support that. The American taxpayers have been most gracious and put a couple hundred metric tons of food on the Venezuelan border, and Maduro denied the ability to get that food in to them. This won’t stand, the Venezuelan people won’t stand for this. It may take just a little bit longer to get there, but I’m convinced – I’m convinced that democracy will return to Venezuela and then all of us, the entire world, the coalition of 54 nations, will stand together to help the Venezuelan people restore their economy as well.
QUESTION: And I just want you to elaborate, Mr. Secretary, on what you said earlier that he was apparently ready to leave, head off to the airport, Maduro, but the Russians talked him out of that. Is that right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. He was headed for —
QUESTION: So you blame Russia for the violence right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He was headed for Havana.
QUESTION: Well, talk about that. How do you know?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t tell you. There’s – you see this – you see all the open source material that’s out there. There’s lots of information. We’re talking to scores and scores of people on the ground – civilians, we’re talking to folks in the military, we’re talking to opposition leaders – many, many conversations that have given us every indication that the fact that Maduro’s plane was parked on the tarmac and he was preparing himself to depart is a fact.
QUESTION: So you’re – so you want him to leave the country? You don’t want him to stay in the country even if he gives up power, is that what I’m hearing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. There’s no way – there’s no way that Maduro can stay in the country, in a nation that he has so decimated. It just simply – we can’t imagine a way that that would possibly work, so it’s time for him to leave Venezuela and it’s time for those who join democracy and freedom to understand that we’re prepared to make sure that they get to be part of a transition and to begin to work alongside all of the nations in the region, as well as the Venezuelan people in restoring that very democracy.
QUESTION: So if leaders in Cuba are watching us right now, what’s your message to the Cuban leadership? And the same question as far as the Russian leadership is concerned.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, with respect to the Cubans, we’ve had the opportunity to communicate to them that we find it unacceptable that they’re protecting this thug. You’ve seen the actions that the State Department has taken in terms of Helms-Burton Act waivers that we no longer have in place. We’re about to put another set of restrictions in place. The President has communicated that we’re going to continue to raise the cost for this malign activity that the Cuban Government is engaged in. It’s the same kind of human rights violations that there are inside of Cuba today they are now foisting on the Venezuelan people all for 50- or 75,000 barrels a day of sub-market priced crude oil. That’s unacceptable and we’re going to raise the cost for the Cuban leadership if they continue to engage in this behavior.
QUESTION: So who’s – who’s been worse from the U.S. perspective in preventing Maduro from leaving? The – you’re calling them the Cuban thugs who are on the ground over there in Caracas and elsewhere, or the Russians?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Cubans are the ones that are the deepest, have been there the longest, have the most direct relationship, are closest to the protection that is being provided to Maduro, and so they are at the center of this malfeasance.
QUESTION: The – Maduro also gets support from other countries; Iran, for example. But what’s surprising to me – and maybe you can explain this – the NATO ally, Turkey, supports Maduro right now. I’m sure you’ve had conversations with the Turkish leadership on that. Why?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve had conversations with any country. You spoke about Iran, I’ve talked about Russia, we’ve had conversations with the Chinese Government as well, we’ve talked to the Turks. We’ve urged each of them to get on the right side of history, to support Venezuelan democracy. That’s the plea we’ve made to them, it’s the request we’ve made to them, it’s the thing that will drive us to raise costs for them in the event that they don’t choose to head down the right path. This is all about helping the Venezuelan people, and we’ve urged every nation to engage in that.
QUESTION: Has the President spoken with President Putin about this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to get into all of the conversations that have been held between us and other parties. Suffice it to say I am confident that the Russians understand the American position on this and understand the harm that is being inflicted on the Venezuelan people.
QUESTION: I want you to speak directly to Maduro right now. What is your message to him at this very, very sensitive, potentially explosive moment?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Fire up the plane.
QUESTION: And if he doesn’t?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The cost for he and those who protect him will continue to increase, and unfortunately, I’m not sure he cares as much about this as I would hope and pray that he does, the destruction that he will do to the very people he pretends to care about, the harm that he will bring to them will only increase. We implore him, it’s time for him to leave, it’s time for him to depart Venezuela, and we’d urge him to do this at the earliest possible moment.
QUESTION: And if he gets on that plane, the U.S. will ensure that he can fly safely to Havana?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mr. Maduro understands what will happen if he gets on that airplane. He knows our expectations.
QUESTION: What does that mean?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He knows our expectations, Wolf.
QUESTION: But he will be able to fly safely to Havana. Is that right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Wolf, he knows our expectations.
QUESTION: I’ll leave it on that note. Mr. Secretary, it’s a sensitive moment and you were very generous with your time to join us. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, sir.