U.S Department of State
Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela
June 25, 2019
MR PALLADINO: Thanks for coming. We are lucky to have with us today our Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. Mr. Abrams will make some opening remarks and then be happy to take some questions. Please.
MR ABRAMS: Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. A number of comments to make about the situation. First, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited Caracas last week. There are over 715 political prisoners and military prisoners being held arbitrarily in Venezuela, and we are hoping that the high commissioner’s representatives, who are currently in Venezuela, who stayed there when she left, will visit the country’s most notorious prisons and visit political prisoners. And we hope that her report, which is due out July 5th, will reveal the brutal truths that victims of the regime suffer every day. We hope the report will call, as so many democracies around the world have, for free elections as a central part of the solution to Venezuela’s crisis.
A word on the humanitarian situation: Instead of caring for or worrying about the millions of poor, sick, or hungry citizens, the Maduro regime is spending millions of dollars on military purchases. We learned recently of a $38 million purchase of military uniforms. In May, Venezuela signed a $209 million air defense contract with Russia to repair an air defense system, to buy nine Sukhoi fighter jets, and to buy eight transport helicopters. The regime also continues giving foreign aid to Cuba, providing oil without payment in exchange, unless the payment is the repressive intelligence apparatus, manned by about 2,500 Cuban agents that Cuba maintains in Venezuela to help keep the regime in power.
Yesterday, Russian military aircraft arrived in Caracas, which the Russians say was carrying additional technicians to service previously sold arms systems. What we do know for sure is that it carried no humanitarian aid. And right now, the USNS Comfort hospital ship is heading into the Caribbean and South America, and will dock at a number of ports to bring medical care to Venezuelan refugees and local residents while Russia is sending its warship the Gorshkov and more military technicians to Venezuela.
Inside Venezuela, the Maduro regime continues to undermine democratic institutions, to carry out human rights abuses, and to engage in rampant and extremely widespread corruption. The Maduro regime continues to drive the economy into the ground. Even Russian and Chinese officials have expressed frustration with Maduro’s poor decisions. It’s very clear that Maduro is not capable of solving Venezuela’s many crises.
The last remaining democratic institution in Venezuela is the National Assembly, but now, 20 National Assembly deputies have been stripped of their immunity. More than a dozen of them forced into exile; two have been arbitrarily detained. The regime is methodically working to destroy Venezuela’s democratically elected parliament. So we ask the nations of the Lima Group, the International Contact Group, the members of the European Union, and indeed all democracies to stand behind the National Assembly and denounce the regime’s systematic persecution.
This is one of the reasons why the notion that Maduro might remain president to preside over free elections and a transition to democracy is laughable. These attacks on the only remaining democratic institution in Venezuela are yet another proof that the Maduro regime cannot be trusted to organize free and fair elections.
Interim President Juan Guaido continues to travel throughout the country distributing humanitarian assistance, organizing health clinics, and spreading an important message: that he seeks a peaceful, democratic transition. Maduro’s security forces oppress Venezuelans who demand a better future and they censor communications involving Guaido. But they’ve been unable to suppress the rallies when Interim President Guaido travels throughout the country. Those rallies have been large and impressive, including very recently, for example, cities like Barinas, Hugo Chavez’s birthplace, cities that were once Chavez strongholds. We support Interim President Guaido’s efforts. The barrier to a peaceful resolution remains Maduro’s refusal to step aside.